by Victor Wanchena
I pull into the oncoming traffic and begin passing cars. Up the line of cars I go and roll into the next intersection. The traffic is whizzing by, but my whistle and red lights stop them. Sound a little dangerous? Well, it is, but that’s what I’ve been hired to do. I am a rider for the nations oldest privately run motorcycle escort service.
Delmer Kuehn started the escort company in 1938. While on a cycle trip in California, Kuehn saw Highway Patrol officers escorting a funeral. This gave Del the idea. Upon returning to Minnesota, he approached several of the local funeral homes about using escorts for their processions. They liked the idea, and Escort Service Inc. was born.
Scott Kuehn and his wife, Gayle, now run the company, which is in its 59th year of existence. They employ five riders. The bulk of the business is funeral processions, but they also accompany oversized loads, run traffic control for film crews and even escort the occasional celebrity.
I began escorting about a year ago. I was looking for a part time job that would keep me busy in the mornings and was a little interesting. While searching the want ads, I spotted an ad looking for a motorcyclist. I am an avid rider, so it sounded like the right thing for me. I applied; soon I was sliding into a pair of polyester pants and strapping on a half helmet.
Escorting works like this. I assemble all the cars in a line behind the hearse. They turn on their headlights and put on those little orange flags. The number of vehicles in the procession varies widely. I have escorted processions as short as two cars and as long as two hundred.
When we come to any sort of traffic control device, I stop the cross traffic and clear the lane where the procession will travel. While I hold the intersection, the procession goes on ahead. I stay there until the lead cars approach another controlled intersection. Then, I race ahead to do the same thing. Escorts do this, because a funeral procession has the right-of-way in most states over all traffic except emergency vehicles.
Most of the time I work alone, but some of the larger services require two or more bikes. At first, the ideas of riding into oncoming traffic and stopping busy intersections were a little intimidating, but Scott trained me well, and I have become quite used to the rigors of escorting over time.
From the beginning, the company has used Harleys, and it continues to do so today. Most of the bikes are late-model big twin police specials, but we still have one 45 cubic inch servi-car from the early seventies. Many people worry about the longevity of the Harleys, because we ride them so hard. They perform remarkably well. Escort Service has a top notch mechanic who makes sure the bikes are always in perfect running order. I have enjoyed riding the police specials. They are smooth running and comfortable.
We ride the bikes all year. When most people are putting their bikes away for the long winter, our mechanic is converting the bikes into trikes using a specially built swingarm and axle unit. They do not handle nearly as well in trike form, but this is the price you pay to ride through a Minnesota winter. It can be difficult to keep warm, but you soon learn what is necessary for survival.
If you see us out there this winter, wave, say hello and check out the trike. But please don’t ask if it is cold enough for us.