By Paul Berglund
Back when I was a child a magical thing happened. My father, who was not a caring man and very stingy with a dollar, bought me a mini bike. To this day I don’t know why he did that. I do remember standing in the show room with several Rupp mini bikes on display. The top of the line model was the Black Widow. It had a head light and was street legal. I was years away from caring about what was or wasn’t legal, and the model that was in my fathers price range was a blue Rupp Hustler. That’s the one I went home with. I even had a matching metal flake blue open face helmet to go along with it.
Together, the Hustler and I, roamed all about the fields and roads near my house. I came to love riding on two wheels. It was a gift of thrills and freedom that was worth far more than my father paid for that bike. I’ve had many other bikes since then. I’ve traveled much farther and faster and had bigger adventures on those bikes. Time. That’s the great thief in this story. It evaporates away much of the happy memories but struggles to erode the granite like bad ones. I’d forgotten that Rupp. It should have been given a Viking’s funeral and sent to live in the halls of Valhalla. We should all be singing songs about that mini bike.
Once again the editor of this fine publication called upon me. He wanted me to go to Vintage Torque Fest in Dubuque Iowa (vintagetorquefest.com) with him. It’s a celebration of hot rods and motorcycles that’s held at the Dubuque fair grounds at the end of April every year. I was told I’d be provided with a mini bike so I could keep up with the small band of hooligans that was driving down to partake in the festival. It was one of those horrible small wheeled mini bikes with no suspension. A short donkey compared to my beloved long forgotten Hustler. We were taking the scenic route down to Dubuque. The twisty roads connecting the rolling hills that flank the Mississippi river. Once more into the breach, I climbed into the Chevy 2500HD pulling a tiny trailer filled with tiny bikes, and we drove south.
I was looking forward to seeing Torque Fest. The Hooligans had been there for three years running. It’s a younger crowd than the 12,000 cars and their owners that descend on the Minnesota State Fair grounds every June for the Back To The Fifties car show. Torque Fest is smaller in size and the cars, most hand built by their owners in their own garages, cost a lot less. You can feel the excitement of youth all around you as you mingle amongst the cars, trucks and motorcycles that fill the fairgrounds. There are bands, playing. Vendors selling food, clothing, art work, car parts and a huge swap meet of car and bike parts. And there is a race track. A real dirt race track.
When we pulled into the fairgrounds and unloaded the mini bikes, it was clear I had the red headed step child of mini bikes. I was a guest and my captors had given me this mount and asked nothing in return, so I was grateful. I had helped them strap down mini bikes onto the mini bouncing trailer. Before my help, each time we stopped to pee (these are not young men) all the bikes would be in a jumbled pile on the trailer. Much like kittens lay in a pile in the barn. I had won their respect. Plus my wife had made cookies with mint and chocolate chips. I was in the gang. Into the fairgrounds we rode.
We glided around Torque Fest and took in the sights. We ate good food and bought tee shirts and stickers. I quickly learned to fear pot holes and gopher mounds. In less than an hour I managed to shorten my spine an inch or two. One large bump shot me off the seat a foot and the chain fell off the rear sprocket of my bike. I fixed the bike with out any tools. These are simpler bikes for simpler times and younger bones. At the appointed hour we gathered at the entrance to the race track.
As we approached the race track a guy jumped out of a pick up truck that was partially blocking the entrance. I assumed he was going to chase us away. He did stop us and we sat on our running mini bikes and watched an open wheeled (and open exhaust) hot rod make hot laps of the dirt track. The grinning driver pulled off the track and the man from the pick up said: “Sorry about that guys, he was just blowing the carbon out.” He waved us through and shouted: “Have fun.” We twisted our throttles wide open and ran onto the track like a pack of giddy dogs.
For those of you used to the over protective, politically correct nanny state of Minnesota, let’s review. We were riding mini bikes wide open on a dirt race track in Iowa. We paid our admission at the gate when we first came in, but after that, no one asked us for identification. No one checked our qualifications. No one asked if we had any idea what we were doing or why we were doing it. Our safety, or complete lack of, was left entirely up to us. The only limitation put on us were the laws of nature. Mother nature got dirt in her eye that day my friend. Fun was had. I could feel the ghost of my long dead Hustler rise up from my forgotten past and it ascended. It is now parked in the halls of Odin.
Later we sat beside that same race track as the sun went down. We sat on the wheeled thrones of our bikes and watched the locals bash into each other in a chain race. I had come to peace with a part of my past. I had received the same gift that was given long ago and it still held the power of happiness.