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Review The Wild Ones

Friday, January 19, 2007
In the immediate years following World War II a group of like-minded veterans banded together as a club over their love of fun and motorcycles. During a weekend rally to Hollister, California, the club painted the town red with a rowdy night of drinking and street racing. One of its members, Wino Willie, participated in a staged photo, in which he posed drunk on a bike where photographers had heaped used and broken bottles all around. The infamous photo made its way onto the pages of Life magazine and helped kick off the notion of "biker" culture. That club, The Boozefighters, continues to this day, and author Bill Hayes has chronicled the early days with his book The Original Wild Ones: Tales of The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club.

The Boozefighters' place in motorcycle history is forever secure. The infamous Hollister rally of 1947, which all told was a rowdy but harmless affair, spurred the public's imagination about bikers. The club provided much of the inspiration for the film The Wild Ones, which starred Marlon Brando. In fact, Wino Willie was believed to be the inspiration for "Chino," Lee Marvin's character in the film. The Hollister incident was then followed up by a pair of rallies in Riverside, California, which were also sensationalized by the press. An unrelated motorcycle death, miles away from the rally, made it sound like there were marauding bandits pillaging the town. It was an account which the county's under-sheriff went to great pains to correct with a public statement, but the damage had been done and the biker-as-wild-outlaw myth was cemented.

Readers get a glimpse of the beginnings of biker culture inside the pages of The Original Wild Ones: Tales of The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club  which is penned by Bill Hayes - a current member of the club.
Readers get a glimpse of the beginnings of biker culture inside the pages of The Original Wild Ones: Tales of The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, which is penned by Bill Hayes - a current member of the club.
Hayes, who is himself a current member of the club, presents the book as less a historical record than a vault of Boozefighter stories and lore. Getting help from current club historian, Jim "J.Q." Quattlebaum, Hayes relates the origin of the club's three-star bottle insignia, which the original members had forgotten (it is derived from a Hennessey cognac bottle). You also get other interesting snippets of info, like how the current members only ride bikes made in countries which were Allied powers in WWII is out of respect for the original members' war service (although there are occasional exceptions made, like one member who rides a Moto Guzzi in honor of his grandfather who fought in the Italian resistance).

Hayes moves the story along with humorous effect, but, depending on your perspective, the book suffers from being geared for a cruiser-exclusive crowd. The dismissive tone is summed up by Hayes when he says of real riders: "Eliminate the kids on the 'crotch rockets,' and the sedate 'touring motorcycle enthusiasts' on their Gold Wings and the like, and you have a very, very elite group." Jabs like that will have some readers pound there fist down saying "hell yeah!" while others will be rolling their eyes. The modern cruiser-rider as viking/cowboy/renegade motif tends to get a bit heavy handed, as does the I-can't-believe-motorcycle-clubs-get-a-bad-rap-from-the-police shtick.

As far as the outlaw tag goes, clearly the Boozefighters, both current and original members, have always been on the up and up. In fact, law enforcement officers are members in the current club. The jail time original members served was for drag racing and drinking too much. Nothing approaching the criminal enterprises of later groups who made the full jump from club to gang; yet Hayes goes out of his way to let it known he is less than impressed by the efforts of undercover officers in criminal gangs. Minor quibbles, but the editorializing is enough to be a put-off for some potential readers. Not that a free spirit like Hayes would give hang anyway. But we can't complain too much, because overall he's fabbed up an entertaining read and, also, we don't want to get beat up.

The reading flows best when Hayes lets the originals do the talking, which is the majority of the pages. There is a wealth of great yarns spun by the original members: Like when they had a motorcycle scavenger hunt for ridiculous items and one member, Walt Porter, returned dragging one of the items on the list from the back of his bike with a tow rope - it was a hot water heater! My personal favorite was when some originals hustled their way across the country and back, from California to Daytona, by burning the locals in drag races and making $500 in the process (a sizeable sum at the time). They had to take a different route home because they were worried that the townsfolk would be waiting to settle scores on the way back.

When the originals start telling their tales, you'd think you were sitting around listening to grandpa tell you about all the hell he raised as a youngster. Like many good stories, the recollections are sometimes a little hazy, and an embellishment or two might get thrown in there, but they sure are good stories!

As much as it focuses on motorcycles, The Original Wild Ones gives readers a closer look at the other side of post-war America, and California in particular. Instead of sitting in their chair a la Ward Cleaver, these fellas were out in the garage sipping a brew and banging knuckles while they turned wrenches with tattooed arms. Joints where The Boozefighters downed countless beers, like the All-American and Shanghai Red, jump out of the page like dives straight out of a James Ellroy novel. What really comes out in TOWO, however, are the adventurous characters that lived and rode together under the banner of the three-starred bottle.

The original members of the club seemed like the perfect combination of good guy meets tough hombre. Reading their tales one can't help but feel like it would have been an adventure running with the Boozefighters. But if you weren't in with the boys, you wouldn't want to cross them, because they could be a rough crowd. Racing, fighting, and drinking, with motorcycles thrown into the mix, pretty much sums up the original Boozefighter creed.

With its great stories and entertaining real-life characters, we have to give TOWO a thumbs-up. It is an entertaining read, to be sure, but some will enjoy it more than others. The mildly threatening, do-rag, dress-up cruiser crowd will eat it up like gospel truth. Even "the kids on the 'crotch rockets' and the sedate 'touring motorcycle enthusiasts'" will enjoy it too, that is if they can get over getting their wussy feelings hurt by the real free spirits out there.

The truth is most motorcyclists will enjoy TOWO on various levels. The Baby Boomer crowd will wax sentimental about the good old days and dad's post-war life, while rowdy Gen-X-Box youths will revel in the notion that, as a young buck, grandpa was a real bad-ass! Either way it makes for a good addition to the motorcycle library, and a perfect gift for the notoriously hard-to-shop-for men in your life.

Product: The Original Wild Ones: Tales of The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club
MSRP: $25.95 Hardcover
Buy It Now: The Original Wild Ones: Tales of The Boozefighters Motorcycle Club
Boozefighter's Website: www.bfmcnatl.com

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