by Tim Learymchistorylogo

Shortly after WWII, an interesting form of entertainment sprang to the forefront of carnival attraction popularity: the Motordrome, “Wall of Death.” The attraction featured daring cyclists riding various stunts on the walls of a vertical, 16 foot high cylinder, 30 feet across. One Minneapolis print shop owner and longtime motorcycle enthusiast, Marlin Klunder, still operates a traveling motordrome.

Marlin’s enthusiasm for motorcycling began at 9 years old with his first bike, a 1927 Harley-Davidson. Marlin became a Harley dealer on his South Dakota farm near Mitchell until moving to the Twin Cities years later.

Selling Harleys for Belmont’s on West 7th in St. Paul, Marlin became friends with Royal American Shows motordrome operator George Murray. Each year George would bring in his bikes for repair in exchange for allowing Belmont’s to display their newest models on his motordrome stage during the fair.

mchist20_bAlthough Marlin moved on to the promotion of highly successful motorcycle rallies, swap meets and indoor races at the Armory (where he pioneered the use of Coca Cola syrup on the floor for traction), he always had the motordrome in the back of his mind. Finally, in 1985, after a laborious and costly effort, he bought one. But with no one to ride for him, he had to learn how to do it himself–at age 50.

“When the truck delivered the semi-trailer containing the ‘drome, I opened the doors of the trailer and out fell a pair of crutches. I should have realized…”

He set up the motordrome in his back yard and practiced for two years. Marlin’s learning years resulted in one torn-up ankle and one body-long bruise from the back of his neck to the back of his knees after a fall near the top of the wall. Other than those, his injuries have been slight.

Thirteen years later, Marlin still operates his motordrome a few months a year. “The dizziness goes away fairly quickly,” after being away from it for so many months, he says. Marlin now bills his attraction as a clean, family, thrill show. “The shows used to have a real ‘motorcycle’ feel to them. I put the riders in silk shirts to change that image.”mchist20_a

During his 15-minute shows, Marlin makes a point to explain to his younger crowds the importance of staying off drugs and that motorcycling is about riding for personal enjoyment, not about who you think you should be. “You don’t have to be a jerk to ride a motorcycle,” he states.

Although its popularity has waned since its peak in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Marlin continues to draw substantial crowds. The young people are attracted to the daring and the older ones the nostalgia. Thanks to Marlin, this unique and historical aspect of motorcycling can still be experienced.

M.M.M.

7 Comments

  1. Please see if Marlin Klunder will respond to my email. We have a lot in common, since I rode the “Wall Of Death” with George Murray, who sold the wall to Marlin.
    I do not have Marlin’s email address.
    Thank you.

    Johnny Chambers
    professorjohn@tampabay.rr.com

  2. Hi Marlin, I have often thought about you and wondering how you are doing! Well I know you are still kicking lol! Because I seen you on American Pickers, that was pretty cool my friend and I see you still have that same hat that you wore when you had the print shop. I hope you get this message, it would be nice to talk to you. Take care and would love to hear from you. Cindy Wild

  3. If you write an article about someone, I think you should spell his name correctly.

    I believe his name is Marlyn

    1. We apologize. Researching him, his name came up spelled Marlin, Marlyn and even a Marvin.

  4. Marilyn. I saw you on pickers and was wanting to talk to you about some of your motorcycles and some of the other stuff. I race outlaw tracks in north Carolina with will Davis. Lance cherry. Steve mendenhal. Ricky freeman don Hadley. I don’t know if you have heard that Mr.DL cherry has passed this week.1-4-2017 thanks.
    Please call me.

  5. Hi Marlin……I used to flattrack with you at different tracks! Rochester Motor Sports (Richard Christenson and Gordy Hughes) sponsered me along with Tim Fruitiger at Wheels Unlimited both in Rochester Minnesota!! Hey the good old days—No Brakes! I’m still riding and will be in Sturgis for “pre-week” along with several old riding buddies I’ve been scootering with for over 50 years! Is good to know some of us are still able to “get-up-n-go”. Back in 1963 after Sturgis we came through Rapid city and stopped at the county fair going on at the time, Anyhow they had the “wall of death” silo set up at the fair and I talked the guy(?) that owned and rode the wall into letting me ride double with him!! Man what a trip-loved every minute of that ride, my buddies thought I’d lost my mind! So I know what it’s like and I know why you do It! Anyhow I’m still kickin !! Would love to hear from you !!

  6. found an article written back in june 1995 that I kept because I have not seen one of these shows since I was a kid over 50 years ago and wanted to know if anybody is still riding in one of these shows please let me know via email tonkafun@aol.com where I could go summer of 2018 to catch a couple of these shows thanks dave

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