Send in the Bikers: Rally Ruckus in Atwaterreaderlogo

by Crash Casey

Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly has stumbled on a story that has all the elements of a great drama. It’s the story of how a small town sets out to create a new motorcycle rally and of a dreamer who’s a young go-getter. A tale of how a visionary mayor and city council find themselves under fire. This anecdote has a can-do police chief who epitomizes the modern law enforcement officer. In this yarn you’ll meet a clergy that’s out of touch and a small town boy who lives the American dream and comes home a hero and most recently a villain. Lastly we have two boyhood friends at odds over the fate of a town they both love.

Atwater, Minnesota sits snuggled between Highway 12 and the train tracks that head endlessly west. It seems to be a town that represents all that is best in the few remaining small towns in America that are untouched by the modern national blight–the franchise signs that strip the character from small towns and make even the blue roads a homogeneous blur.

Looking down Main Street you see flourishing businesses like Vern’s Grocery, Larson’s Hardware, Jimmy’s Pizza and the Atwater State Bank. There’s a Laundromat and library; a Ford dealership and equipment dealer. And if you listen carefully there is a definite buzz. You can hear it everywhere you go in town. But it seems to emanate the loudest wherever people congregate to talk about the big happenings. It’s almost a pulse at the Atwater Inn and if you happen by Revy’s lounge and restaurant, its a drone. You’ve found the epicenter of a controversy that has this peaceful burg at odds: The Rumble to Revy’s.

Rick Kragenburg is a lifelong resident of Atwater. He makes his living as a traveling equipment salesman and is a firefighter, a member of the ambulance service and the Lions Club. He’s the kind of stand up guy that few communities today can lay claim to. Two years ago he bought Revy’s. His wife Leanne, who’s graced with a charming southern accent, works an unbelievable amount of hours running the place.

Last year Rick bought his first bike and with characteristic enthusiasm he set off to Harley’s 95th anniversary and also made the scene at Sturgis. When he returned home, he started to thinking. What if Atwater had its own rally? If he could lure 3000 bikers to Atwater, the benefits to the town could be phenomenal. The beneficiaries would include the gas stations, the restaurants and the bars, the grocery and even the hardware store. It would be an economic infusion like the town has never seen. He sat down and made a list of the charities that they could raise money for; the Fire Department would be made a partner, the Lions, the West Central Snow Drifters, two of the local hospices and the Fire Auxiliary would all receive a share of the spoils.

All that money we make will stay in our community, said Rick. We’ll be donating that money out to different people in our community. To benefit our children or and town. Rick set to on a line up of activities that would rival a rally that any city could put on.

He originally planned on using the local baseball field as his venue. He would have all the usual vendors of gee-gaws as well as food. On Friday night he would have a band and in the morning have a pancake feed. There would be a bike parade around midday down Main Street. He would have ABATE organize a Fun Run. They would keep the proceeds. Every participant in the Fun Run would bring a can of food that would be donated to the local food shelf. Another ABATE chapter was recruited to put on a Motorcycle Rodeo to offer an alternative to those who would elect not to go on the Fun Run. And that ABATE chapter would keep the proceeds to distribute as they saw fit. Rick booked bands to start playing in the late afternoon. In a major coup he was able to book Austin Healey and the Killer Hayseeds for the evening performances. In the morning another breakfast would be served and if things worked out, he was negotiating a surprise–while he hesitated to mention it directly he would give some clues–it involved a place where bikes could go as fast as they wanted to in a very straight line. Having put together a plan for a rally that could rival the best of them, it was time to involve the City Council.

Bob Powers is the Mayor of Atwater and is in his second term. He’s been a rider for a number of years and when he retires from his regular job next year plans on buying a Harley. When it comes to the welfare and growth of Atwater, Mayor Powers is nothing but serious. Having heard Rick’s plan in this first council meeting, his response was immediately enthusiastic. “My goal is to promote the community. I think that the economic impact that this is going to have, and all the things that are involved with it, the positives way out-weight the negatives.”

Pat Nelson has been on the council for fifteen years and is the owner of Atwater Ford–one of the most prominent businesses in Atwater. He is also the holder of a motorcycle endorsement on his drivers license. His response upon hearing Rick’s well construed plan was a resounding, yes.

Bruce Baker, another veteran council member, and a motorcycle enthusiast, immediately saw the positive impact that the rally would bring to the town. He has recently returned from Bike Week in Daytona and has seen first hand the unbelievable flow of funds that a rally brings to a town. Another instant convert.

Over an hour was spent discussing the details with Rick. The council wanted every possibility covered and let Rick know in their direct manner that he would be held to strict standards and was completely accountable to the council and the town as a whole. Permission was granted and the necessary licenses assured.

All parties immediately involved Reed Schmidt, a twenty-nine-year police veteran and Police Chief for the last three years. When asked, the citizens all seem to agree that the standard of law enforcement has risen dramatically with Police Chief Schmidt in office. He immediately took to studying the possibilities for this new challenge. He contacted James Bush, the police chief who rules over the granddaddy of all rallies, Sturgis. After a long phone consultation, P.C. Schmidt felt he had a handle on the logistics and was equal to the task. P.C. Bush gave him the basic frame work and an understanding of the fact that bikers would largely police themselves. Schmidt felt he had a good understanding of what his main challenge would be–that is to mingle the town folk and the various groups of bikers. The bikers themselves fell into the same category of all groups. “I’ve got some upstanding enthusiasts,” said P.C. Schmidt, “and some not so upstanding.”

Schmidt has set out to hire off-duty officers from the surrounding area, ala Sturgis, to augment his force of four part time officers. Naturally it was determined that Revy’s would foot the bill for security. When the job is done on Sunday afternoon, P.C. Schmidt plans to have a picnic in order for the officers to wind down, catch up and swap tales of small town law enforcement.

At this point all parties concerned felt they had a well constructed plan with all the concerns covered. This was an event that would bring a hitherto unknown financial windfall to Atwater as well as recognition for the great small town it is. Everyone set about their designated responsibilities with the common purpose that can only be found in small town America. The kind of collectivism that once made our country great.

This would be an interesting enough story as it is at this point…but it’s missing the one ingredient that all good stories must have; enter the villains. The scourge of modern American society. The infinitesimally small percentage of any population that feels the majority must bend to their will. Because of their “concerns”.

At the next council meeting a dozen or so objectors were present to express their anxiety. Regarding matters that were both legitimate and the other issue that is generally cloaked as a concern; A biker’s presence among stereotype believing citizens.

At this time the objectors stated concerns tended to center around noise and the ability of the ball field to withstand the crowd. One citizen was heard to fret about their ability to buy gasoline. They felt they would probably have to gas up on Thursday in order to make it through the weekend. The council fell under fire by the dozen objectors for going about it the wrong way. Said one Objector, they should have made their decision based on a bunch of facts, and not just one persons side of the story. Then they are the people who we have elected to be our council members. If we don’t like it then we can get them out.

As the council fell under fire the other main concern began to surface. Alcohol. In some ways one is forced to almost admire Pastor Dan Carlson’s naiveté. Pastor Dan said, “Community leaders went about this in the wrong way. And the person who is sponsoring this, well! I think they could have a nice rally without alcohol.”

Rick was never worried that he might be up against a series of concerns that were universal to the community. He said of the objectors, “They do not represent the town. Its just a little group of people who don’t do a lot of business in this town. They live here but they don’t go to church here. They don’t send their kids to school here.”

Mayor Power felt like he had a handle on what the real objection was. “The people we have attending the council meeting–alcohol is the big issue. But it’s also the persona of the motorcycle rider.” He felt that many of the objectors viewed all motorcyclists as being Hells Angels. As to the basis for the objectors worries, Rick said, “They don’t want to change. We’re in a small community and they don’t like to see change. They want to keep it like it was fifty years ago. They don’t see the benefits.”

Despite not having attended the council meeting Pastor Dan Carlson had a strong opinion. Apparently he was unaware of the huge commitment that had been made to charities along the way. He thought it’s going to be this one person, this Revy, that’s going to benefit mainly from this.

At the next council meeting the objectors had put their objections in a little more coherent form. They elected a spokesman who happened to be Atwater’s own celebrity. A seventeen year veteran of professional baseball, Mike Kingery. As it happens he is a childhood friend of Rick Kragenbring. Kingery had spent most of his time in baseball away playing at a variety of cities but still made it back for four months a year during the off season. He played at various times for Kansas City, San Francisco and Pittsburgh as well as a couple of seasons spent at Coors Field for the Rockies. At this the third council meeting, Kingery characterized the objections as such: There was no public forum, the possible damage done to the baseball field, security, liability and public use of alcohol.

The council suggested that the event be moved 3/4 mile outside of town to the threshing grounds. P.C. Schmidt reviewed what by this time was a tight plan and Rick explained how his policy gave him complete coverage as to liability for the event. This left the fact that the duly elected public officials hadn’t seen fit to ask the opinion of what amounted to 1.5% of the population and the fact that alcohol was to be offered at the rally.

Kingery characterizes himself as a strong Christian and an abstainer from alcohol. He’s active in the D.A.R.E. program and speaks often to the children of the town about the ill effects of alcohol. He also wanted to make it abundantly clear that the issue as far as he was concerned was not about bikers, “I get asked to speak at various functions sponsored by the Lions and Kiwanis and the high schools and the elementary schools. Almost to a tee to explain to them that it’s not proper to get involved with alcohol or drugs.” Pressed as to whether the goal of D.A.R.E. was to encourage children to abstain for life from alcohol or until they reached the age of twenty one, Kingery was unsure and could not comment.

And as it usually happens with objectors, the argument turned to the welfare of the children; an argument that is intentionally hard to refute. After all who wants to be seen as being against children? Kingery was worried about the long term effect that the rally could have on the children of Atwater. He said, “You’re not going to find out for ten years what effect something like this is going to have.”

At this point a favorite argument of objectors everywhere was fully let out of the bag. That those of us who are over twenty one should not pursue our own God given rights due to some unproven effect it might have an incredibly small percentage of children.

Although he said he understood the concept of camaraderie, etc. he failed to see the reason for the rally to go on if it couldn’t be done dry. When the council tried to assure him that these were responsible people that would attend, Kingery let fly with the crux of his argument which also displayed his narrow vision of the world; “I had a big concern with our city council promoting something of this magnitude, where alcohol was one of the primary reasons for having the rally. They brought up that what we’re going to have here was men of strong moral character. A good percentage of them would be good God fearing men. The natural question that came out of my mouth then was, Why do we need to have alcohol then?. So I’m led to believe that it is a main reason for the rally to go on.”

Although Kingery says it’s not for him to dictate another persons morality, he did say, “It is my business when this is being forced on the people of the community who don’t want alcohol in the community.”

And so the argument goes of the infinitesimally few who we call the objectors.

Most of the rational objections had been resolved and were resolved by the end of the third council meeting. The venue has been moved to the threshing grounds where most members of the community feel it should be. It’s better for security, won’t destroy the grass of the baseball field and affords a comfortable measure of distance for those that need to carry on their normal life during the rally.

P.C. Schmidt continues to work on a plan that allows for his firm but fair brand of law enforcement. The officers of Sturgis continue to be available for consultation as the event draws nearer.

Mayor Powers has talked to over 200 citizens and found them overwhelmingly in support–other than those who were among the original objectors. “If nothing else,” said the Mayor, “They raised enough concern so that those of us on the council are what-if-ing ourselves…we’re in a win/win situation.”

Although the town’s four clergy members were originally against the rally, three of the four have come around after Mayor Powers spent time discussing the rally with them. The pastor of the Harrison Presbyterian Church has seen an opportunity and is planning a Blessing of the Bikes. Perhaps some of these pastors will come among what some may consider a group of sinners and attempt some soul reclamation instead of avoiding the bikers totally.

As the date slowly draws nearer, more and more charitable groups have expressed an interest in participating. The notion pleases Rick who always wanted the rally open to all comers from the charitable sector.

In a twist that must horrify the objectors, the news item concerning the rally hit the Associated Press wire and the organizers have been receiving inquiries from all over the country. At this point Rick isn’t sure of how many to plan for but thinks that they may surpass the original goal of 3000 riders.

When July 30th and 31st comes and goes life will go on in Atwater. Will there be some bruised feelings? Maybe. But the majority of the people will come away with a big grin and some great stories to tell their country cousins. And although the objectors will still make their irrational voices heard, towns like Atwater will continue to thrive as communities. Police Chief Schmidt explained why. “When you have a small community, everything goes better when you work together towards the same purpose and goals.”

As a small community, motorcyclists have learned the same time honored lesson. We have fended off continual attacks by politicians and objectors who think they know what is best for our community. We have worked together to raise our image in the eye of the general public. And we have the financial clout that brings wonderful towns like Atwater to invite us in and cater to us for a weekend. And we will continue to spread the message to other Atwaters all over the state.

**I’ve been getting more communication from our readers, and that’s what it’s all about. If you have a ride to share and a story to tell let me know. Call me at (612) 750-5988 or e-mail me at jvcgw@worldnet.att.net.

M.M.M.

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