Monday, June 11, 2012

Muzzle Loaders and Biker Bars

Jeff probably has writer’s cramp from signing twenty copies of his book, John Small of Vincennes:  Gunsmith on the Western Frontier ( Writer’s cramp is also called “scrivener’s palsy.”  But scrivener’s palsy sounds nasty and incurable and medieval, and not something you can relieve by flapping your hands at the wrist. We’ll just call it writer’s cramp.

We’ve left the grounds of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association in southeastern Indiana, where Jeff has spent the day answering questions and autographing books for visitors who’ve come to see the Grouseland Rifle. This newly named State Rifle of Indiana was crafted by gunsmith John Small sometime around 1803.

Small was Indiana’s first sheriff, a colonel in the territorial militia, and a master craftsman who made long rifles, pistols, and tomahawks for many of the great figures of the period, including George Rogers Clark, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark.

His Indian name was “Big Knife.”  John Small was pretty much a pioneer action hero.

Along with his co-author, the late Jim Dresslar, Jeff Jaeger wrote the book on John Small. Hence, his writer’s cramp on this hot Saturday afternoon in June. 

His book-signing out of the way, Jeff and I have repaired to the small town of Friendship. We’re sitting with cigars and drinks on the porch that runs the length of the Friendship Bar and Grill, in between the Friendship State Bank and Whitey’s Auto Body.

I can’t say whether the Friendship Bar and Grill is technically a “biker bar” because I’ve only been here twice, a year apart.  My sample is biased – both visits were on the first weekend in June during the annual NMLRA Spring Shoot. It could be that for 364 days of the year, this place hosts church bingo tournaments and tour buses full of those “Red Hat Ladies.” 

Today as last year, the curb is stacked east to west with Harley Fat Boys, Softails, and Road Kings. Wide Glides, Sportsters, and Ultra Classics. So for the purposes of my story, the Friendship Bar and Grill is a biker bar.

Jeff and I find a table and settle in amongst 40 or so bikers, men and women. They’re loud and boisterous, sunburned and wind-blown, and most all of them are wearing some kind of boots. Their tee-shirts have no sleeves but do give tribute to their favorite motorcycle brand. They’re friendly and willing to share a chair at their table or a light up your smoke.

The entertainment includes watching the continual parade of bikes that pass in both directions. Murmurs of appreciation rise for the pipes on that one, the chrome on another, or the paint scheme on a third. You might even hear a derisive chuckle now and then as an occasional project bike putters past with homemade parts that look scavenged from neighbor’s backyard swing set.

The porch watches as a string of Honda Goldwings roll past, efficient mufflers making their passage too quiet. The Honda riders are donned in road suits that look like military MOPP gear, over which each wears a fluorescent yellow safety vest.

The Harley bikers regard the skein of Hondas not so much with disdain, but with a mix of confusion and pity, like kids at poolside regarding newcomers who show up to swim on a sunny day, but wearing parkas and mittens.

“They sure look hot,” says a girl with “Freedom” emblazoned on her tank top.

“Yeah,” says her bearded partner, “but they’re real easy to see.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Steve, try to leave a comment now? Looks like there's one of those "Prove you're not a robot" text boxes down there.