December 2000 Event
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Death Valley Run
By Fred Johansen

Here in America, and most likely in other parts of the world, one can constantly be harrassed by Max Bubeck: "Ya comin' to Death Valley this year?"

His ever-presence is punctuated by his constant drum for his own run, albeit different than any other run I've ever attended (although I've yet to do Paris-Dakar). I first attended Max's Death Valley run in '91, and it was a blast. Way different terrain. And a great bunch of characters. But the sun and I don't get along, so I've kinda avoided it since. (Not that I didn't want to go, but when it rains it pours, and its either feast or famine. Too much stuff going on!)

This year was different. Max is 83, rumors of his last run circulated, and lots of good characters were chalked in, so I needed a break: We went to Death Valley! I always try to kill at least three birds with one stone, so we incorporated as much as we could on this venture, about 12 hours away from home in San Francisco. The run would start Tuesday morning with a driver's meeting in Max's room Monday night, so we left work at lunch time on Friday, taking the long scenic way via Mike Fisher's Rancheria: site of previous California Indian Runs and the big one next year. Mike's spread is on 25 gorgeous acres along a river in Oakdale, where he had aquired quite a collection of original paint Indians, along with some wild custom creations. Last year he suffered a devastating fire that wiped out his business, collection and home. He is rebounding, and the 2001 Indian Run will be a high point for him, as well as the rest of us.

Motoring along in our '33 Ford PU, loaded to the gills with the '47 Chief and vintage camping gear, we pulled up to Indian 4our cylinder guru Larry
Struck's next. He lives in an airplane community just outside of beautiful Yosemite. It takes some getting used to, sharing the road with airplanes. Larry has a few of my 4our motors (along with quite a few other peoples'). He has gone through some changes lately, but all seemed very well, with much progress. (Just none on my motors!)  We had a blast in the hangar where he lives, and awed at all of his machining marvels that he's accomplished doing the 4ours.

The next day one of his neighbors had a fly-in party. There were 15 vintage biplanes attending by 1:00 pm. A margarita machine (homemade) was in full swing, and the planes where doing fly-bys and dog-fights. The hosts had a huge collection of aviation goodies (besides many, many '20's-'30's planes), but they also just started collecting scooters: Doodlebugs, Cushmans, Powells, Mustangs, etc... Glad I don't like scooters, or I woulda been side tracked! We had to tear ourselves from this free-for-all and head due south on our hellish journey.

Things got desperate as we travelled south in the heat of the desert sun. It had been fun going through Yosemite, and the 6000 foot Tioga pass, but here we were in an iffy vehicle, and surrounded by desolate nothing. The few towns we rolled through were populated by America's finest. Clem and Zeke who ran the gas station had seven teeth between them! Night was falling, and we were already six hours late for meeting our buddies from Ohio. We pulled into Death Valley around dark on Saturday night. Max's run officially started in three days. There were a few Chief bobbers, and barn-fresh '38 in the restaurant lot: A good sign.

L.A. hellraisers, and Death Valley Run regulars, John Parker and the Reverend Stu were already there for the action.  Rocky Halter, Toney Watson, and the Dale Walksler contingent (Wheels Through Time Museum) were present for action. Michael Breeding was sporting a fresh bobber, and a few other well known Indian names (who must remain anonymous for various reasons) were there for the extracurricular activities. An early morning rise resulted in a drunken golf game on the beautiful Death Valley course, lined with datepalm orchards, and trafficked by slow moving coyotes. I'm not much of a golfer, but neither was anyone else. In the afternoon we gathered for a nonchalant cruise through Titus Canyon.

I should have known something was up when Parker donned moto-cross gear on his Hydro-forked, upswept-piped, 80" bobber. It seemed 19" tires were to be the norm . Parker managed to flip his '40 Chief last year in the Canyon (It is pictured on page 77 and 80 of Jerry Hatfield's Chief book; Parker still managed to get 29K at auction for it after the endo!!!).This year he was prepared with the proper machinery. I've never seen so many hot-rodded Chiefs in one place. Dale and Rocky worked all year long since the last Death Valley run just to make this years' bikes: Dale had a 80" HD flatty with the longer XA forks and a raised transmission, plus XR style exhaust, not to forget the ever-present 19" enduro tires. We set out not unlike the Gilligans Island theme, "on a three hour tour". Little did we know that it would turn out to be a survival mission, with two less bikes left on this earth!

Click on pictures for full size

Fred and Max at the Devil's golf course.

'37 bobber Sport Scout was supposed to have gone on the run. Bonn cams and lifters, Linkert carb, Sport bars and that's about it. Still a pig, and uncomfortable 2-up, but light weight for the truck, and I don't have to worry about the paint. I shoulda brought it.

Notice narrow tank on the right and "Quasimodo" tank on the left for more range (Also notice custom wiring. Fred's an electrician... Moen) '33 Ford pickup lurking in the background.

Stacks of cases at 4our cylinder guru Larry Strucks air plane hangar

Fly-in party, note the prop blades forming the railing on the loft. That's a 40 Ford PU towing a 40's Airstream trailer up there. It served as the guest house!

Original paint '28 101 with 19" rims. 
It went 70 mph! 

Grace, famous for still riding her '51 HD 45 that she bought new, whacks a golf ball from the highest point in DV to the lowest (Bad Water, 263 ft below sea level). Grace has just purchased a '47 Chief, so now she's really cool! 

We motored along the perfect asphalt for about 40 miles after squeezing as much gas in out tanks as we could. Then we turned offroad on what seemed to be a three mile dirt path. Within the first mile, I hit 10 inch deep gravel which bogged my poor lowered Chief to the frame in no time.

We (I brought the old bag to boot) got off, and the bike stayed standing upright in the gravel: No side stand needed. Parker motored through for about half a mile and motioned that the road firmed up again. Poor Dumplin' walked this stretch as I pulled my bike out backwards (unknowingly clogging the oil tank vent line) and floated through this stretch solo, rear wheel spinning, feet stretched behind me, acting like tillers, gravel flowing over the running boards. Since I was probably set up the worst  for this kind of riding, the others soon caught up. Little did we know that there were 35 more gruelling miles of this.

Low-rider, rigid (no more plungers) '47 Chief.  Front forks cut down; can't make it over a speed bump (so I ruined another Indian).  That's my family tartan on the front fender. This is our most comfortabe (that runs) bike for 2-up. 
Michael Breeding's fresh Bobber certainly proved itself on this initial run. But when the dust finally settled, Titus Canyon had claimed a barn fresh '37 Knuck, end over end. (At least it was just a Harley!) On a sad note, we saw Oregon legend Roy Burke chase his flywheels from his home-built '16 single down the road.

I managed to squish my crankcase breather line on a rock (good thing my lowrider has a skid plate). This, combined with the clogged oil tank breather, caused 2 quarts of oil to expell out of the cap during out adventure. Talk about a gooey mess. There were other thrills and spills, but I'm afraid that they must go unmentioned as they happened on borrowed bikes with the true owners unknowing!!!

Dual exhaust was the norm on the DV run. These are HPC coated. 
Late night in the warm pool was the final meeting ground for all the road warriors. Stories were told and trails were compared.  All this,.. and the official run hadn't even started yet. Finally we were beckoned to the Fuhrer's room for the riders meeting.  It was like a who's who of motorcycling history. There were 4 guys in their 80's riding. Harry Sucher was a 5th in a sidecar piloted by his son. Oregon, California, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada were some of the states that I know were represented. Also Canada and England had a few attendees. And then there was the Southern California contingent, including Kiwi, along with a vast array of fine machinery. But no Steve Adams. You ride Indians don't you Steve?
Tarantula attacks my lowered Chief!
Indian Dan Reese surfaced (on a borrowed pan head). John Bivens of Jerry Greers, Matt Blake (the guy who makes the Indian fenders -claims he has time to make them for the real Indians now, along with some NEW welded tanks!!) and a host of other movers and shakers in the Indian world were in attendance.

Unlike most of the antique club runs, this one was pretty hell bent on performance. On one hand we had the HD/Indian rivalry with custom offroad hotrods, specially built for the event. One the other hand we had groups of guys in their 70's who had riden against each other all their lives. They were still at it in a very big way on their vintage brit-shit. John Cameron (son of the Hollister-reknown Boozefighter) was there on the same Velo he rode as a kid. (By the way, he won the coasting contest by travelling unpowered for over 40 miles!)

Ron Links' candy blue 640 with ghost star. Initial break-in run. Not your average military bike.
Max tried to keep us all in line like a school teacher with a bunch of pranksters.  He knew what was going on: he'd been there and done that. But we still had  fun pasting an "Adolf" sign on his back, and heckling him whenever we could.  We were blessed with perfect weather (it wasn't too hot), and we saw coyotes and tarantulas every day. Max threw a classy out-door BBQ on the 19th hole of the golf club on the last night. We all received informal awards mounted on cool plaques.

One could tell by the excitement in the night air that next year is going to be a biggy. Maybe that '32 chief with the '41 forks, '48 motor, 16" rear and 18" front project in the corner will be ready then? I'll make sure I have a skid plate!

Roy Boy Reeves (Bubba) of Texas managed to pin the "Adolf" sign on Max's back.
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