August 2000 Club Feature 
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The Southern California Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America
By Harry V. Sucher

Ever since mankind’s development of a conscious mindset of interest in nostalgic events connected with the past, along with various artifacts attendant to it, an inherent preoccupation with items of an antique nature has become an integral part of the human psyche.

In more modern times, interest in past developments in the United States was enhanced in 1875, when the Smithsonian Institution put together an exhibition in Philadelphia to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the country’s founding.  Kept open for a whole year, the exposition was universally declared significant enough that the whole exhibit was later moved to a permanent home in a special wing of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Following the original exhibit of most of the significant inventions and artifacts developed throughout the nation’s first one hundred years, much interest following this was centered on the development of powered vehicles, as the supplanting of the horse that had been man’s principal means of transport since time immemorial had attracted the world wide interest.

It was due to this significance that large numbers of examples of the early inventions of Otto, Daimler and Markus in Europe, and Haynes, Apperson and the Duryea brothers were at once preserved in recognition of the significance of the primitive automobile.

It followed that large numbers of pre-World War I automobiles were at once preserved by private collectors, which led ultimately to the founding of the later prestigious Horseless Carriage Club of America in the 1920’s.  Incidental to this, interest in individual makes of machines led to the formation of clubs dedicated to one make.

Interest in the collection of early-day motorcycles was somewhat late in coming about, as the once viable domestic industry had all but collapsed during the First World War.  What with the market severely decimated by the competition from the cheap mass-produced automobile, motorcycling in general enjoyed but minimal public support.

AMCA logo
The AMCA in one of the premier societies in the world, dedicated to the preservation and use of antique motorcycles. The Southern California Chapter has probably the longest list of of members whose names ring of myth and legend to the ears of vintage enthusiasts everywhere. It was with feelings of slight awe but great pleasure that I received the offer from Marc Gallin (webmaster of the AMCA SoCal website) of reprinting Harry Sucher's Chapter history here. Apart from the good reading, this article shows, if nothing else, that modest beginnings can develop into great and wonderful things as long as enthusiasts work together. Kind of like what we hope for with the VI endeavor.
Moen (AMCA #9359)
SoCal Chapter logo
Perhaps the initial attempt to preserve early-day machines, even if of one make, was undertaken by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company whose management in 1918 began to collect examples of their past production, reaching back to their earliest days from outside sources.  This formed the basis for their museum, as they then saved models of contemporary production to keep the collection up to date. Click on pictures for full size.
While up to this point there was no formal organization for antique motorcycle collectors, numerous individuals throughout the country, many of them pioneer dealers, preserved old machines of both current and defunct makes as a matter of personal commitment.

On the Western motorcycle scene, which is of primary interest to this present discussion, several individuals began to start private collections of old machines.  Among these were Marion Dericks, Seattle Harley-Davidson dealer, Ray E. Garner, Portland, Oregon Indian dealer and former early-day factory employee, and James Forrest (Bud) Ekins, noted Enduro rider and later Hollywood motion picture and television stunt man.  The Dericks’ collection was started in the late 1920’s, as was Garners, but Ekins, as a teenager, began his collection in 1948.

A later prominent collector was Lyle Parker, later to be followed by another restorer, Rusty Kay.  A one-time California State Highway patrolman, Charles Pollard, also acquired a sizable collection of old machines, alleged to have been originally confiscated as stolen or unregistered.

The first formal organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of antique motorcycles in the United States occurred in New England when a group of enthusiasts who had been meeting informally since the end of the Second World War formed the Antique Motorcycle Club of America.  Founders were Henry Wing, Senior and Junior, Ted Hodgdon, and Emmett Moore.  The founding of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club of Great Britain by C.E. Allen in 1947 had some influence on the founding of the New England Group.  This club had much initial impetus, as motorcycle registration between the wars had paralleled that of automobiles, with sidecars a popular mode of transportation for families as well as extensive employment in commerce.

Interest in antique motorcycles in Southern California was stimulated by Cycle World magazine, founded in the early 1960’s by Joseph Parker.  In the mid 1960’s he promoted a series of motorcycle shows in the Los Angeles Coliseum, which were attended by the author along with Charles Vernon and Johnny Eagles, all of whom had already started to collect old machines.  An early mentor was J. Worth Alexander of Tustin (1900-1975) who by then had already collected and restored a number of old machines, together with a neighbor, Gerald Williams, who with Alexander also had an interest in antique automobiles.  (1905-1980)


Bob Ross
 
 
 


Bob Stark
 
 
 


Chuck Vernon

In 1963 at a Cycle World show, one Frank Conley formally announced the formation of the Classic and Antique Motorcycle club.  With himself announced as its secretary, he led court in a booth and sold memberships at $5.00 per year.  The following year the author, along with Johnny Eagles and subsequently Charles Vernon, bought memberships. More pictures of the AMCA SoCal Chapter Founding Fathers here.
The nucleus of a southern California CAMA Chapter was subsequently organized.  Early membership roster included J. Worth Alexander, Charles Vernon, Johnny Eagles, Ernie Skelton, Bruce Aikin, Robert Robbins, Jack Mathis, Gus Kelly, Bob Ross, Del DuChene, Ted Williams, Ed Carlson, Bob Stark, Russ Harmon and a few others who were only briefly associated with the group, have passed away, or with the passage of time, have been forgotten.

It must be emphasized that this early group functioned in a rather informal manner.  Meetings were held irregularly … either monthly or semi-monthly at non-specified times.  No formally elected staff of officers was elected, and Robert Robbins conducted meetings.  A collection was taken up at each meeting to pay for postage for a single-sheet mailing of incoming meetings and activities.

After a few CAMA Chapters had been formed throughout the California valley area, Frank Conley began publishing a quarterly magazine.  It featured articles solicited from club members and offered an advertising exchange for machines and spare parts.  Harry Sucher was a regular contributor.

The principal activity of the CAMA as a statewide organization was an annual get-together and swap meet, initially held in Conley’s home city of Visalia.  The first one was held, according to the best recollection, in 1969.  Charles Vernon, Johnny Eagles, Bruce Aiken, Ernie Skelton and Harry Sucher attended it.  These initial meetings were generally well attended, as being the first venue oriented toward antique enthusiasts.

In the meantime, the New England based Antique Motorcycle Club of America was somewhat expanding their scope in that area as antique enthusiasts were attracted to the activity.  This was aided by the publication of a magazine.  Along the way, some enthusiasts in other parts of the country were attracted to the AMCA – mainly because it offered a venue for the exchange or acquisition of machines and spare parts.  Johnny Eagles, Charles Vernon, Ernie Skelton and Harry Sucher became members in the early years.  It had been suggested from several quarters that the AMC should expand its scope by chartering additional chapters in other areas. Ralph Mundell, a member living in Florida was able to promote the establishment of a branch chapter in that state.  The New England group, however, remained the core of the organization.


Dewey Bonkrud
 
 
 


Ed Carlson
 
 
 


Ernie Skelton

In the meantime, John Cameron, an antique enthusiast and pioneer competition rider, joined the local southern California group, with the later welcome addition of his younger brother, Jim.

It was about 1972 that the local group decided to join the national AMCA, as the existing policy was modified to allow the chartering of other chapters throughout the country.  Commendably, the parent group made sure that prospective chapters were on a firm footing as to membership strength and dedication to the antique philosophy.

So it was that the Southern California Chapter received its charter and the first president elected was John Cameron, with Charles Vernon contributing much as secretary.  An initial somewhat ambitious project was the inauguration of an annual swap meet; first venue selected being the La Mirada Shopping Mall – the owners of which were anxious to participate in special events as a means of economic promotion.  The club then added some political clout by nominating Charles Vernon for membership on the National Board of AMCA Directors, and he served in that capacity for two years.

Following John Cameron’s tenure of office as Chapter President, Charles Vernon was elected to that office, dropped his membership on the National AMCA Board of Directors. At the same time, former Chapter President John Cameron was elected to represent the club as a Director on our National Board.  Two years later Bill Hoecker was elected to the National Board, replacing John Cameron who declined to serve further due to health reasons. At the same time of being elected to serve on the National Board, Bill Hoecker was also elected President of the Chapter, succeeding Charles Vernon. 

The main interest of the Southern California AMCA Chapter during these years was the operation of an annual swap meet, along with judging of antique motorcycles in various categories, and a field meet conducted by Bob Stark.  These meets attracted a large following, and the income was then used to establish a club treasury.

The next Chapter President to succeed Bill Hoecker was Johnny Eagles. The Chapter continued to hold the annual La Mirada Swap Meet and Show.  It came to pass that, to a greater extent as time went by, all of the member’s energies were focussed on that activity to the exclusion of general social activities, club rides and pleasure outings.  Bill Hoecker’s tenure of office, while well supported by all the members due to his energy and dedication was noted as soon to come to an end with the sad news that he was suffering from Leukemia.  It was also coming more and more to the attention of the club that the continuing attention to the swap meet was draining club interest.


Harry Sucher
 
 
 


Johnny Eagles
 
 
 


Lance Tidwell and George Gunther

 

In this situation, and the deteriorated state of health of Bill Hoecker, the latter relinquished his office.   Active member John Eagles agreed to assume club presidency to oversee reorganization and assist in heading the emphasis in a new direction. John Eagles served in this post for three years, during which time the annual meet was moved to El Camino.

John Eagles’ tenure of office was successful.  The membership felt a sense of relief at not being preoccupied with the total commitment of their energies to the swap meet, and more attention was given to social gatherings and the institution of club rides.  New members were now being attracted to the club.  For the five years following, Troy Ross, Max Bubeck, Bob Tryon & Chuck Vernon all served terms as Club President.  During this period the El Camino meet was dropped by the Club and passed to new management.

What with a renewed spirit of dedication and enthusiasm to the revised chapter goals, further impetus to progress was given with the election of newly affiliated member Tim Graber as president, ably assisted by wife Janis.  With accelerated emphasis on enjoyable club outings, more new and subsequently active members now swelled the chapter rolls.  Ably aiding Tim were Tom Lovejoy as Vice-President, Michael Steckley as Treasurer and Marc Gallin as Secretary/Editor.  As professional journalist, Marc then established a quarterly newsletter which was shortly expanded to magazine form, which was of signal advantage in keeping membership informed of coming events and of sustaining chapter interest.  With presently several annual Club rides established as fixtures, the SoCal Chapter is one of the most active in the National AMCA.

It has been most difficult for the author to feel that he has portrayed the history of the Southern California Chapter of the AMCA with exact accuracy. Beginning as a loosely organized group with few records preserved, the brief period of CAMA affiliation which in itself appeared to preserve its own records, together with the passage of over three decades, many events fade into obscurity.

Perhaps one indelible record is the copy of the original 1972 AMCA chartering of the SoCal Chapter.  This was applied for in the Spring of 1972, and was ultimately granted by the National AMCA Board later in 1972.  A list of the members at its founding is as follows:  John Cameron, Bill Hoecker, Ed Carlson, Dewey Bonkrud, Del Duchene, Francis Blake, F.R. Miller, George Gunther, Lance Tidwell, Bob Stark, Ernie Skelton, Russ Harmon, Johnny Eagles, Charles Vernon, Harry V. Sucher.


Lance Tidwell and John Cameron
 
 
 


Russel Harmon
 
 
 


William Hoecher

The only members still on the Chapter roster out of the 1972 chartering group are Johnny Eagles, Charles Vernon and Harry Sucher.  The author is greatly indebted to Johnny and Chuck for their help in putting this account together.  The author must assume responsibility for any regretted errors or omissions. AMCA main website here.

AMCA SoCal website here.

 
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