by Sev Pearman
Few things push more buttons with more people than seeing a couple of riders wearing their “colors.” Many civilians see ne’er-do-wells. Motorcycle riders see camaraderie. Some law enforcement types paint all riders with the same criminal brush. If you happen to come across some riders proudly wearing the winged logo of the Flying Dutchmen Motorcycle Club, then introduce yourself and sit back, for they are uniformly nice guys and they like to tell a tale or two.
Like many American motorcycle clubs, the Flying Dutchmen of New Ulm took root after World War II, when tens of thousands of American servicemen returned from duty. Club records show that a few enthusiast riders talked about forming a club as early as 1946, and formally chartered the Flying Dutchmen with the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) in 1947.
As with many new clubs, organization, record-keeping and membership responsibilities were hard to balance. While the earliest records are hazy, there were seventeen regular dues-paying members by the end of 1949.
Why the name Flying Dutchmen? One theory has it that the club was named after the famous ghost ship. The Flying Dutchman name and image were used by a popular tobacco brand of the day. More likely, the word “Dutchman” is an Anglicization of Duetschmann [literally “German Man”] a term celebrating the very German nature of New Ulm and its inhabitants.
Despite their 50+ year history, the Flying Dutchmen aren’t the oldest motorcycle club in Minnesota. Dutchmen will be the first to tell you that rival ‘Kato Cycle Club is older. ‘Kato Club members will admit in turn that the Flying Dutchmen chartered with the AMA first. Neither club gets too concerned about any of this, and the two clubs remain friendly rivals.
A club that stays active for over fifty years has its share of characters, and the Dutchmen have known more than a few. Early Dutchmen President Wally Miller (1957) never owned a motorcycle. He was usually seen riding on the back of Roger Vogel’s bike, facing backwards, supporting a case of beer in his lap. MMM reminds its readers that this was a different time.
More recently, longtime Dutchman H.S. was quite impressed with the skill of the hillclimb competitors. Several club members agreed, but one Dutchman made the case that, “It is easy on those custom-built hillclimb bikes, what with their extended swingarms, paddle tires and all. The real trick would be to tame the hill on a street bike.”
One thing led to another, H.S. agreed that to be true, and that the only way to know for certain would be to give it a whirl on his street bike, a 100% stock Yamaha FJ 1200 wearing touring tires.
Folks if you have ever been to a hillclimb, you know that you wouldn’t want to attempt a run on anything more massive than a small dirtbike; certainly not a 600+ pound fully-faired sport-tourer wearing well-worn street rubber.
We won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that H.S. successfully made it over the top, going two-for-four. The beastly big FJ was none worse for the wear, save a bent lever or broken blinker. That particular Yamaha is still owned by a club member and eats its share of miles annually.
Part of the Dutchmen’s appeal to its members is that it is a local organization. Most members are long-time New Ulm area residents.
Now many riders like to hoist a cold one after a ride and some of the Dutchmen would agree. It is only natural that they would choose to support New Ulm’s own Schell Brewery.
It seems that one afternoon in the early 80s, some of the members were enjoying a summer ride. Since they weren’t sure of the availability of their beloved Schell’s at their destination, they chose to hedge their bets by bringing two 12-packs, equally distributed among their saddlebags. They had stopped to “stretch their legs” on a bridge when a member of the local constabulary pulled over. A few Dutchmen who may not have had their registration paperwork up to snuff scampered over the deck and hid on the bridgework. The officer cordially asked why they had stopped and what they were up to.
After listening to their rambling story about a nice ride, summer’s twilight and firefly appreciation, he reminded them of the illegality of parking on a bridge and told them to be on their way. It was fortunate that the officer didn’t notice or care that while there were eleven bikes parked on the bridge, he was only talking to eight riders.
After the officer finally pulled away, the Dutchmen who had been “inspecting the bridge deck” climbed back onto the bridge. The Dutchmen who had stayed topside couldn’t understand their anger. Seems that they were all riled up because while they were hunkered down on the bridge, the guys up above took their own sweet time yakking it up with the officer. After all, they were only trying to be neighborly.
Another member told me his roundabout tale of gaining Dutchmen membership. He had lived in the New Ulm area for most of his life and had ridden motorcycles for decades. Before his retirement, S. made his living as a police officer for the City of New Ulm. He knew about the club and wanted to join, but the Chief of Police would have none of it. For whatever reason, the Chief at that time didn’t want his officers riding with the Dutchmen. While he couldn’t make S. stop riding solo, he frowned upon Club activities.
While S. didn’t like his boss’s ruling, he chose to suck it up, figuring it was the cost of doing business. Besides, he figured many guys in the Club wouldn’t accept a cop anyway.
Even after his boss retired, S. went about his business and kept to himself. He kept riding, eventually moving up to Gold Wings. It wasn’t until after his own retirement that he reconsidered the idea of joining the Dutchmen. He went through the prospect process and was greatly surprised that not only was he accepted, he was voted in on his first attempt, with only a couple of thumbs-down votes.
After the club meeting several members were kind enough to show me around their clubhouse. On top of the beautiful bar (rescued from a defunct New Ulm tavern) was what appeared to be a chicken-shaped ceramic cookie jar.
I figured it was a tip to the clubhouse’s barn origins. My host was quick to point out that the container contained some of the ashes of the departed Dutchman, “Chicken.” Before Chicken passed away he left specific instructions as to how he should be interred: in a chicken-shaped container, within the clubhouse. The Dutchmen are happy to comply with Chicken’s simple wish.
As best as I was able to determine, Chicken had nothing to do with the following story. At one of their AMA hillclimbs, members, riders and guests kept tripping over a hen. The Dutchmen weren’t content to simply pen in the chicken. They divided the pen into a grid with lime, numbering each square. This somehow morphed into a game of chance in which bets were collected in an attempt to predict in which square the hen would “lighten her load.” While no one remembers either who won the pot that day or what happened to the poor hen, many members vividly recall the heat that came down on the Dutchmen from the AMA. Seems there are strict laws within the AMA about gambling. The Dutchmen almost lost their coveted AMA charter over that incident.
I asked hillclimber H.S. about that day. He said that things were pretty hot for a while, but it all worked out in the end. He recalled that in 1997, when they were doing research for their history, they called the AMA to check the facts. Apparently in addition to the “Chicken Incident” there was another time in which the Dutchmen’s charter was almost pulled. “We’re still not sure of what that other time was all about. Must be OK though — we’re still here,” he said with a big grin.
The Flying Dutchmen is a private club, and admittance to club functions is by invitation only. It is easy to see members riding all over Southern Minnesota at various rides and events. Look for Dutchmen in Mankato and at various ‘Kato Cycle Club events.
The public is welcome at several Flying Dutchmen functions. The club hosts a Road Ride June 12, 2005 at 1:00 pm. The AMA-sanctioned Hillclimb is scheduled for August 28, 2005 and the FDMC Flattracks will be held the weekend of Sept 24&endash;25, 2005. All events are held at the Flying Dutchmen Club Grounds, located approximately two miles east of New Ulm off of Highways 68 & 15. New Ulm is a pleasant two-hour ride from the Twin Cities area. We heartily recommend both the bratwürst and the 1919 Root Beer made locally at the Schell brewery. For further information on these events, contact Les or Karen Stadick 507/354-2306 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them that you read about it in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly.