Category Archives: Motorcycle People

The 2014 Donnie Smith Show

A force to be reckoned with on today’s bike show circuit

Story and photos by Marilyn Stemp (Images added below)

Innovate, evolve or get out of the way! That’s not the mantra of a famous business guru but it might well be because it’s very good advice. More to the point, after talking with Neil Ryan, head honcho of the Donnie Smith Show, and later reflecting on the show’s remarkable success in 2014, it occurred to me that this is exactly what Neil has done.

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Long lasting events, especially ones centered on a specific topic such as motorcycles, beat the odds by making changes and additions while maintaining a sense of familiarity. That’s been Neil’s MO during his dozen-year-tenure as the Show’s promoter and it’s apparently been a good formula. The show continues to grow, not only in attendance numbers but in popularity and reputation, too. But in 2014 innovation pushed the Donnie Smith show to ever new heights.

The actual bike show has always been the centerpiece of this event and rightly so. Midwesterners itching to get riding by mid-March never fail to impress, bringing a striking variety of machines out to shine. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this show consistently brings out a stellar collection of custom bikes to the show floor. Custom builder Dave Perewitz says the quality of the bikes in the Donnie Smith Show is second to none, and he knows a thing or two abut the subject.

The swap meet aspect of the event was a mainstay in this show’s origins as one of J&P’s Parts Extravaganzas. The persistent quality of the swap meet adds both interest and grassroots authenticity. This year the entire swap meet space was packed with vendors who brought out genuine parts and gear at fair prices. I heard more than one parts hunter lament not grabbing something before it went home with another buyer, while still applauding the selection on hand.

A year or two ago, Neil added Saturday Happy Hour to the roster, bringing in a band at 5 PM and kicking the Budweiser wagons into high gear. Happy hour keeps people hanging out and lends a party atmosphere to the venue. And as this show always happens near Donnie Smith’s birthday, that’s appropriate. Beer and birthday cake? Bring it on!

But that’s not all. This time around the show expanded another gazillion square feet (okay, maybe just 50,000) into the adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium to include a classic car and hot rod show. A natural fit for a gearhead crowd like this, it also made sense as a way to further evolve the show. And it made more fun, too, adding another dimension, expanding the reach, and giving attendees more for their money.

A component of the Donnie Smith Show these last 11 years that we’re especially fond of is the Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge, a competition between students of shop classes in high and tech schools. The program has expanded and contracted in the last decade in response to economic changes and school restrictions but it persists, to the good of motorcycling and anyone who cares about promoting our sport. This team of Ironworkers, formerly for IronWorks and now with Iron Trader News, has sponsored the DSCCC since its inception and we’re proud to do so.

Two teams turned out this year, both of them veterans of the competition. Eden Junior/Senior High from Eden NY, led by instructor Steve Jones wowed everyone with a classic looking bobber sporting a diesel engine. Mitchell Tech in southeastern South Dakota turned out a slick, red, café-style racer looking slim, light and ready to roll.

Outside of the DSCCC more young builders and designers populated the show. Kevin “Teach” Baas was on hand with his class from nearby Kennedy High in Bloomington, MN. As the longest running of the high school programs they’d been busy with several different bikes in various states and made stunning progress in spite of budget cuts that have Teach running not only Chopper Class, but auto shop, woodworking and more. It’s due to dedication such as this that Kevin’s students have gone on to advanced training in motorcycle mechanics, welding and other trades. Setting a good example still matters.

Another high school group that, like Kennedy High, enters a bike in the open show classes rather than the DSCCC, is from Sturgis Brown High in Sturgis, SD. In their second year at the show, the students, along with a solid team of instructors and mentors, displayed their urban-bagger-style custom H-D Street Glide, complete with graffiti paint scheme and matching backdrop. The bike, which took first place in the high school division, was built through the Buffalo Chip Student Build Challenge, aided by Keith Terry of Terry Components, Black Hills H-D, and Nick and Randy Cramer of Dakota V-Twin. It will take center stage again at the Chip’s Legends Ride during the Sturgis Rally when it’s auctioned off for charity.

Finding a cool bargain at the swap meet; hanging out with friends at happy hour; reminiscing about hot rods back in the day; getting ideas for fixing up your bike from the customs in the show; catching on to the enthusiasm of high school kids just getting into bikes; knowing that riding time is just around the corner. It’s elements like these that combine to make the Donnie Smith Show such a standout. Another thing that made the 2014 version even better? The people waiting outside in line to get in didn’t have to wait in the snow this time!

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Historic cues enhance a classic Triumph on the show floor.

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Vendors showed some unique components.

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The Student-built bike from Sturgis Brown High.

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Using an engine frame provided by S&S Cycle, the Eden Junior/Senior High class built this bike for S&S Cycle’s 55th anniversary last year.

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This beauty from Blacksmith Motoring once graced an IronWorks cover.

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One of the many projects in the works in Kennedy High’s Chopper Class.

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Steampunk styling continues to play well.

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Classic choppers always turn up at the Donnie Smith Show.

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A ’46 Knuck from Hepcat Choppers.

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It’s always good to catch up with Skeeter and Marie Todd.

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Wyatt Harwood from Sturgis Brown High and the man of the day.

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Hamsters from the New England contingent.

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Overview of the car show.

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Biking legend Sugar Bear and show promoter Neil Ryan.

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Big Dan and Jody P – just smiling!

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You can’t see Jorg’s new tattoo here but the man in the Rat Fink shirt, Nolan, is responsible for it.

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There’s a ton of bike building experience in this picture: Donnie Smith and Dave Perewitz.

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Here’s the Chopper Class Challenge team from Mitchell tech, in Mitchell South Dakota. They too trophies for Presentation and Technical.

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The Chopper Class Team from Eden too top honors in Design and won the Overall trophy. They also took the Three R’s award for recycling and the Traveling Award, which they’ll bring back to the competition next year.

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Happy faces! Christine Paige Diers, Executive director of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, Kiwi Motorcycle’s Carolyn Tomas, and Darla crown.

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Darla Crown and Greg Wick.

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Feb Kevin and Big Matt Willyard crafted these trophies for the Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge. Everyone wanted to get a closer look at them.

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The show always happens near Donnie’s birthday so you can count on birthday cake. Rob Kenney shares with the nice lady in the booth next door.

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Bert hamming it up with Tony.

Bert hamming it up with Tony.

And there’s Bert Baker’s Organ Donor project bike, another alum from IW.

And there’s Bert Baker’s Organ Donor project bike, another alum from IW.

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Against the Grain – Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell

When most of us think about the people in Washington that run this country we think of a bunch of stodgy old men and women who don’t really get it. We view them as being well-to-do, having a stiff upper lip, and being mostly  conservative (no matter which party). To be sure there have been characters in this exclusive group who marched to the beat of a different drummer. One of the most glaring examples of this is former Senator Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell from Colorado who would quite often ride up to Capitol Hill on his Harley wearing a beaded fringed leather jacket.

bulldgAwhile back ITN Editor Marilyn Stemp had a chance to chat for a few minutes with him at a stop in Concord, North Carolina as he was hauling the  Capitol Christmas Tree from Colorado to Washington D.C. No, he wasn’t leading the caravan while riding his bike, or sitting in the back seat of a limo, he was driving the big rig that was pulling the trailer with the tree on it. You see Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell may have been the only United States Senator to ever have a legitimate CDL.

In fact he told Marilyn that he shows his own big rig on the custom truck show circuits along with a ‘29 Chevy fire truck, plus he has a Sterling made by Freightliner outfitted with a fridge, satellite TV, double bunks and a Toy Box to haul his Mini Cooper when he takes off to Tucson for the winter. To show that trucking is a true passion of his he related that when he was still in office and he’d get tired of all the hassles he’d go out and deliver beer for Budweiser and Coors. “Nobody knew it. I’d keep a low profile. I’d pull up to the loading dock and get a sideways look from the guys on the loading dock.”

While Ben may have fun with his trucks he’s best known as the motorcycle riding Senator. Ben said that he’s had a lot of motorcycles and started riding when he was 14. “When I was younger we were into Triumphs. You couldn’t pack enough tools to keep those old Harleys together in the old days.” “Then I lived in Japan for a while and worked for Honda so I rode Hondas for a few years. I started riding Harleys when I got elected and went back to Washington.”

Ben says that, “It didn’t always pay dividends though, I’ll tell you. I used to ride my bike to work (in Washington D.C.) cause it was easy to park. The other senators in the black limos would see me and say, oh no, not him!” and “One time Clinton called us to come over to the White House. I was following Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch who were in their cars in front of me at the back gate. It’s guarded, not open to the public.” At the gate, the guard said “Good morning Senator Kennedy come on in. Good morning Senator Hatch, come on in. Okay buddy, off the bike!” “I took off the helmet and he said, Oh, gee, I’m sorry, Senator!”

Like all of us longtime riders Ben said he saw when bikes were become popular for the “macho profiling BS stuff.” He said one senator told him he’d like to ride a bike and get a Harley. Soon after that he saw that senator  riding his bike on the stage of the Jay Leno Show. “3 weeks before he didn’t know the front end from the back end.” And that another senator bought a bike even though, as Ben put it, “He shouldn’t be around fast machinery at all. He wanted to ride so he bought a bike and we met him up at Sturgis and he was a terror. There were 4 of us, so we rode around him two and two, to protect him. Then he fell down and broke his foot and that was the end of his riding. I’ve seen them all!”

Even when he was in office Ben was a fixture at events like the Love Ride, Sturgis, Laconia, Daytona (I met him in Hollister, California at the “Return of the Wild Ones” rally in 1997) and of course he used to do Rolling Thunder every year. “I even got them a flyover when I was in office and a lot of that was before 911, but after 911 it was tough to even get helicopters. Now everything is top secret.”

Talking about Sturgis he said, “It’s fun it’s kind of a guy thing. Paint qualifies as clothing from the waist up for women.” “I took my wife to Sturgis one year about 2002 and were gonna meet some riding friends at the Buffalo Chip. She was hungry so we decided to get something to eat and went over to the gyro booth. There was a gal behind that booth and she had on two things: an earring and a smile. I was trying to look away and I’ll be damned if she didn’t say, “Hi Senator Campbell, how are you?” I said do I know you? She said yes, I saw you at the Ignacio Rally – but she had clothes on then.”

Right now Campbell said he has 2 Road Kings now, 1 for him and 1 for his wife. He also has an old bored and stroked Sporty chopper, “one of those ones that looks good to go to the bar but you don’t want to ride it very far.”  He says he’s had many other bikes in the past. “… so damn many I thought they were breeding in the garage for a while.” He‘s also built bikes including an FXLH with a red white and blue flame patriotic paint job that included a U.S. seal on the fairing. He built it during Bush’s second term for some displays for him around D.C. not only did it display well in D.C. but it got first at the World of Wheels, first at Denver, then when he  took it to Sturgis. Willie G gave him a trophy for best of show at Sturgis. But he says, “The trouble with those things is that you put so much money into it you’re afraid of getting a scratch on it. It became a trailer queen. It won a lot of awards but it wasn’t a lot of fun.” In contrast he and his wife ride their Road Kings all the time.

Soon it was time for the Ben and the Capitol tree caravan to continue their 5 week, 4000 mile trip time. The last time Ben hauled the tree, yes Virginia this isn’t his first time to haul the tree, it only took him 6 days. He said, “It was so damn much fun that when they called to say it was coming from Colorado again (they get a tree from a different national forest every year)… I said yeah, I’ll do it again.” He also said that motorists along the caravan’s route acted like they do around groups of motorcycles, “We’ve had a couple of near misses. People try to pull into the gap between me and the police escort. That would have been bad publicity: Senator crushes citizen.”

The Christmas tree caravan was sponsored by: Aspen and Snowmass, Mack trucks Colorado Tourism, Vail Resorts, Gibson guitars, US Forest Service, Meeker Chamber of Commerce, Skybits, c’ Chooseoutdoors.org. Mack donates the trucks.

Source and image: Marilyn Stemp
Posted by Sam Kanish