First off, a couple Costco unadvertised sale heads ups- The nice $150 floor jack that normally sells for $100 is marked down to $85, and the $100 Craftsman tool set is marked down to $70. Well, at least they were at the Sioux Falls Costco last week, YMMV.

That same $70 will get you into the BMWMOA national rally at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds next month, and it’ll be $10 more if you pay at the gate. For that you get to fight over too little grass to set 5000 or so tents on, try to sleep with a busy 4 lane street on one side and a busy railyard on the other, never mind the ever present glare of the streetlights. This is an urban fairground, surrounded by roads and industry and residential neighborhoods, and the nearest good riding is near an hours ride away. On the positive side, there’s regular bus service to the fairground should you wish to imbibe too much. I like hanging with the airheads but I’ll have to leave early on saturday morn, and for my $70 the Craftsman tool kit sounds like a better bet, even though I already have one and a bigger one… Gotta stock up on american made tools while I still can!

On the other hand, the Guzzi national rally in Iowa a couple weeks earlier is a no brainer. Plenty of quiet, shaded, and dark at night camping, good riding within a stones throw, and four meals and continuous coffee to boot… You’ll be lucky to get free coffee out of the BMWMOA. And all this Guzzi goodness for $15 less than the BMWMOA rally! How do they do it? While the BMWMOA has become a travel agency for two wheelers, the Moto Guzzi rallies are simply fun events put on by Guzzi riders for the enjoyment of their fellow riders.

Unless you’ve been hibernating these last few weeks, you no doubt repeatedly saw the image of a runaway Walmart truck and a minibus with extensive side impact damage. That would have been just local news for one cycle, were it not for the presence of a couple well known comedians in the minibus, one of whom lost his life and the other was quite badly injured. The State Troopers are on the case, and quickly determined that the driver hadn’t slept in at least 24 hours, and probably fell asleep at the wheel. Now conjure up again the image of that truck… Isn’t there about a four feet of cab behind the front seats, with no windows? Yup, that Walmart truck was equipped with a sleeper cab, and there’s a bed back there that the driver could have crashed out on and gotten some much needed sleep…

If Walmart would let him. Now if Walmart had their logistical act together, in a densely populated place like the northeast their delivery runs would be so short they wouldn’t even need sleeper cabs- Schedule the driver for a regular shift, said driver comes in and works a shift, goes home and gets some rest, and comes back wide awake to do another shift. Driver sleepy anyways? Pull over and take a nap, it does wonders. In my four decades in the trucking business, that’s pretty much the way it worked for me. ‘Cept for my first long haul trucking job back in the 70s, a 3000 mile round trip from Minneapolis to New Hampshire and back with two drivers in a very uncomfortable truck. The theory was that we two drivers would switch off between sleeping in the bunk and driving, but that International cabover rode so bad we often had to park for a couple hours so we could get decent sleep. After two months of that nonsense, I quit.

Because we had a healthy economy and strong unions then, I quickly found a union job at Hostess. And while most of the driving was at night, we didn’t have much problem with drivers falling asleep, because we had a union contract that meant you had a steady schedule so you  could sleep all day, knowing you would be working that night. Heck, even the “extra board” driver knew their next week’s schedule by thursday before. Still nodding of in the small hours in the morning? That same union contract gave you two 15 minute breaks in your 8 hour day, plus an unpaid half hour lunch that you could extend if you’re sleepy, and a third 15 minute break after 9 hours work, and you could take those breaks at any time and any combination you want. So on a night run starting at 9 pm you might save up your breaks until you’ve made your last deliveries at 2 am, then take an hour nap and use your last 15 minute break to grab breakfast on the run. Or if you’re wide awake, enjoy a leisurely hour long sit down breakfast. And some nights you needed those breaks… One night amidst the boredom of I-90 I pulled into the rest area for an hour’s nap. Got back on the road, still felt sleepy, so I pulled over at the next rest area and slept another hour.

UPS and the Postal Service pretty much followed the same safety system- regular scheduled runs, even for the temps, 8 to at most 12 hour shifts followed by time off at home, and an hour a shift of break time in case you’re still sleepy despite all of the above. And as a result, all of the above companies had enviable safety records and you didn’t see their trucks in the news much.

Unfortunately, trucking today seems to be following a different business model… They try to drive costs to the bone and profits up by minimizing labor costs. Instead of scheduling drivers and maybe having them waiting the odd few minutes for a load, they wait until a truck is loaded and ready and then call a driver. Said hapless driver may have been off for days and already awake all day when that call comes at midnight, just as they’re drowsy and heading for bed. Tell the dispatcher “no”, and he’ll likely get fired. So he drinks some strong coffee and comes to work, only to find that the he has to finish loading the trailer and fuel the tractor before hitting the road. And the dispatcher still expects him to drive 600 miles and make a dozen deliveries in 14 hours despite the delays,  so our hapless driver doesn’t even log himself “on duty” until 4 am. Finally hitting the open and empty road and beyond the din and activity of the loading dock, our driver pulls over for a quick nap before nodding off. And exactly 5 minutes after setting the parking brake, a loud buzzer goes of and his dispatcher’s voice screams from the satellite communications device- “Why are you stopped?”.

With that kind of jungle capitalism business model, it’s no wonder even my local small market TV stations have featured a “truck accident de jour” for the past week or so. Couple pig truck rollovers and a beer truck rollover, with no major injuries other than to the cargo, and there was probably no shortage of volunteers to clean up the beer truck carnage. Odds are, enough truck accidents and there’ll be significant human carnage, as happened last week with the Walmart truck and a few weeks back with a Fed Ex truck in California. And it’s no surprise that truck accident rates are rising, while car accident rates are dropping.

Meanwhile, Fed Ex has the nerve to ask Congress to legalize even bigger trucks… Memo to the trucking industry: Don’t even THINK of asking for permission to run even bigger and heavier trucks until you get your accident rate down!

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I should know better than to answer the phone on the last day of filing for office, especially when the call comes from the area code of the state capital or worse yet, DC. Thought I’d dodged the bullet when we found another fool for the political suicide mission of running as a democrat in my republican leaning state house district. But said fool wised up at the last minute and declined to run. Minnesota’s state house democratic majority leader then called me, at precisely an hour before filing closed at the courthouse 22 miles away. I tried to talk her out of it, but problem is, we owe her, being that’s she’s made the 150 mile plus trek from the state capital in St.Paul to our district for numerous events. And unlike our majority leader who despite living in big city Minneapolis is a closet farmer who’s decorated his capital office with model tractors he’s built, our majority leader isn’t a country mouse and probably considers her rural trips to be work. So after about 5 minutes of haggling I moved to end debate so I could make it to the courthouse and file before they closed.

So my mission (impossible) for this summer and fall is to keep the republican incumbent busy so he can’t help out other republican candidates in districts where a democrat actually has a chance of winning. Well, that’s the mission I was assigned… One of the pleasures of knowing that you’re going to lose anyway is that you can turn the campaign into an opportunity to test all kinds of campaign strategies. Like, which will get more votes… An old airhead with a classic Motorvation Spyder sidecar or a 2000 Guzzi Quota with a rainbow colored sidecar? Should I make a fluorescent Dakar jacket or a leather Army Air Corps replica leather jacket my campaign uniform? Are farm Auctions a good place to campaign, especially when there’s lots of old iron? Is it good campaign manners to shame a bunch of late model chromed out Harleys at a bike show by parking the “V-twin done right” Guzzi next to them, or would the old “survivor” airhead be in better taste?

So yes, I’ll be missing a few rallies this summer, but I’ve already worked up my excuses to sneak off the campaign trail to make the BMWMOA and Guzzi national rallies. Plus now I have an excuse to attend every car show, bike show, tractor pull, auction, and bike night in my 6 county district… Let the campaign begin!

And if elected, I’ll demand a recount!

 

If you’ve followed this attempt at a blog for awhile or know me in person, you’re probably aware that I am afflicted with a passion for politics of the democratic persuasion. Thus while the real motorcyclists hereabouts were enjoying the downpours at the Hiawatha Rally, I was driving to the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party convention in Duluth, 300 miles distant from my heavenly Buffalo Ridge cave. 

The downside of living out here is that there aren’t a whole lot of democrats around, heck, there just plain ain’t a whole lot of people around. So for the mere mistake of showing up at the biaanual february party caucus and ensuing party conventions of ascending geopolitical square mileage, you get appointed to a whole bunch of party positions. Thus I am a county, senate district, and state convention delegate as well as “Outreach and Inclusion Officer” for county, senate district, and congressional district party units. I’m also an alternate to the debating and partying society know as the State Central Committee, which given that the actual delegates have a poor attendence record, means I’m a delegate if I bother to show up. The upside is that back in the big cities people fight tooth and nail for these positions, because they do give one a little political power base… But sorry, I can’t “fix” speeding tickets!

Now in my should be more humble opinion, political parties spend all too long and waste all too many meetings and such getting ready for elections, only to half the time lose the actual election. Meanwhile, clever people like moderate republican Arne Carlson put together a winning campaign in just a couple weeks to defeat an incumbent democratic governer in 1990. And to prove that wasn’t a fluke, in 1998 Jesse Ventura won the governership on the new Independence Party ticket with a low budget campaign that didn’t really take off until the last couple weeks before the election. The other thing that ticks me off is that the Minnesota’s capital and 2 largest cities are on the other side of the state from me, and the party thinks that’s where the statewide meetings should be held. And just so the other eastern corners of the state don’t feel left out, once in awhile they rotate the meetings to Rochester and Duluth, even farther away.

This was Duluth’s year, and despite having an abundance of incumbent governer and such and thus not much business to actually transact, the party planned a three day long friday through sunday convention to benefit the local hospitality industry. Most of us delegates, especially the poorer ones, had other plans… We drove up saturday morning to be in attendance when the bulk of the convention’s business was to be transacted, then drove home saturday evening, eschewing the evening’s partying and sunday’s trivial transaction of party business. The only thing that interested me on sunday’s agenda was rebuffing the environmental extremist’s attempt to ban copper mining in Minnesota, but the hometown labor folks rebuffed that effort quite well without my help. I swear, these unsatisfiable environmental extremists are the democratic party’s equalivent to the Tea Party that haunts the republicans- unwilling to compromise and absolute hypocrites, trying to ban copper mining while entranced with electric cars!

So I loaded up the Golf TDI Wagen with a dining table and chairs and headed to Minneapolis friday morn, delivered that load, mowed the lawn at my worthless Minneapolis home, and headed over to an old friend and fellow convention goer’s apartment for the night. Up early saturday, and make it to Duluth just as the convention is gaveled to order and an hour or three of pomp, ceremony, and time killing begins to give everyine time to get there, get registered, and find their seats. Registration was quick, thanks to rather light attendance… We had 4 delegate seats for our county, and at peak had only 3 in attendance. Meanwhile, the deluge began… Some friends of mine rode (yup, democrats ride too!) to the convention, planning on staying over until the rains let up, then had to head home to visit a hospitalized accomplice in the middle of the deluge and were thoroughly drenched, despite having decent rainsuits.

Meanwhile, there was a backstory playing out… The party is looking for a candidate in my legislative district, nobody has volunteered to be the sacrificial lamb to take on this suicide mission in this republican leaning district, and for about the last week they’ve been strongly hinting that I should run. Clearly they were getting desperate, as filing for office closes at 5 p.m. tuesday. So as I’m wandering the convention aisles, fellow democrats are encouraging me to run. Now this is a bridge way too far… I enjoy campaigning for other people, especially when motorcycles are involved. But run for office? I’d have to behave myself, dress half decent, and worst of all, hit up all my friends for money! So without even thinking, I concocted a plan… For a start I used that term “environmental extremist” on facebook, which caught the notice of a democratic legislative caucus staffer who took offense. Thus when the democratic state house majority leader was looking about the floor to fill out his slate of candidates with one in our laggardly district, he completely ignored me and found a nice lady from my district with a husband and a couple kids too boot. ‘Twas a load off my shoulders, thought I might have to really get wacho so they’d pick the hermit who lives out in the middle of nowhere and spouts conspiracy theories at anyone that will listen, and he wants to run! Funny thing, the local Tea Party wachos would probably like his conspiracy theories and vote for him…

So much relieved, I headed home, dropping off my friend and retiring for the night at my most humble Minneapolis abode. Actually the garage, a pretty decent structure of barely a decade’s age compared to my late grandma’s 127 year old house with the hole in the roof next door. This being Minneapolis and in the ‘hood to make it worse, some wannabe burglar busted out a window last winter, letting in who knows what all wildlife, so I spent the night in Hotel VW in deferance to any bats and rats that may have wandered in before I was able to repair said window. After arranging the “dunnage” used to protect the table and chairs into a comfortable bed, I slept well, trucking “bedbugs” know what I’m talking about… Pension check hadn’t shown up in my bank balance yet, so I had to exercise some restraint at Costco, then drove through the deluges home, the Golf TDI Wagen most unfazed by it all.

Just got a call from the district party chair informing me that our willing candidate wants to run, but hasn’t committed yet. I’m layin’ low ’til filing closes!

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This story starts back in the Civil War… My great great grandpa William Slyter enlisted in the 28th Wisconsin Infantry Company F and after a few minor skirmishes died of tropical disease near Memphis in the summer of 1863. Before my father passed away in 2000, he gave me an oral family history that pointed me towards Whitehall, Wisconsin. So one summer day in the 90s I rode over on the lovely alphabet roads along the great river and made the first of many visits to Whitehall’s courthouse, library, and cemeteries.

In the town cemetery I was scoping out the substantial monument to an Isaac Fuller, who William’s widow married a few years after his passing, only to have Isaac struck dead by lightning a couple years later. The ground was soft underfoot with a century’s accumulation of topsoil and pine needles, but what’s this hard thing under my foot? Looking down, I note a flicker of white stone amid the green and brown, so I get down and investigate further. Hmmm, this flat rock seems to extend a bit, and are these characters chiseled in it? removing a few handfuls of dirt revealed a broken old military standard gravestone. I got some paper towels and water, and with the help of a few selections from the BMW’s complete tool kit, the words appeared… This was the gravestone of William Slyter, my g-g grandpa!

As always happens in genealogy, opening one door merely reveals a bunch more, each full of further intrigue. I wrote out a bio of William and the family history and left copies in a baggie sticking out from under the gravestone, which was noticed by the County Veterans Service Officer who provided a proper wrought iron identifier and they decorate the grave every memorial day. The bio and history was also noted by a fellow genealogist who contacted me with a few more bits of the story.

Turns out that William’s widow Saphronia was pretty resourceful, and with 4 children to feed she had to be. She found her way across Wisconsin to Whitehall and married the aforementioned Isaac Fuller, and before his untimely end they had a child, Wellington Grant Fuller. And undaunted by the loss of Isaac, a few years later Saphronia married another local farmer, West Daggett. Being up in years by then they moved off the land into a palatial for the times house in Whitehall where they both passed away as the 20th century dawned.

Now, I should note here that my father’s side of the family, the Slyters, are with occasional exception a bunch of drunks, never do wells, etc., and thusly not much of anyone has bothered to document their dysfunctional family history. My mom’s side, the Shobe’s, has regular reunions and has even published a history book, which is updated online. This makes the Slyters far more interesting to study, and as you can imagine, William and Saphronia and all her husbands were not going to go quietly into history. Heck, William was the sane one, a carpenter, and I’ve found monuments for him at the Memphis vet’s cemetery as well as in Whitehall. That may or may not be explained by the fact that the 1860 census showed a William T. Slyter and a William F. Slyter living next door to each other in Menominee Township, Wisconsin, both carpenters and one a generation younger than the other and married to Sophronia. The military is confused too, sometimes giving William the “T” middle name and sometimes “F” in their records. They generally list the birthdate for the younger William though, but the military standard gravestone in Whitehall gives a date of death of July 15, 1862, a couple months before William enlisted and a year exactly before the date of death listed on the gravestone in Memphis. Civil War history buffs tell me this is par for the course, the war being a tragic farce of disorganization that ended only when the Union got their stuff halfway together. If you wonder why the military is so obsessed with discipline and chain of command, the Civil War made them that way- they actually had neighboring militias fighting against each other!

Given the family history, it thus comes as no surprise that the inheritance of West and Sophronia’s small mansion in Whitehall would be disputed. The disputant was an R.O. Broadway of South Dakota, who alleged by handwritten agreement that he’d somehow acquired the property from Sophronia’s son Wellington Grant Fuller, by then living 300 odd miles west in Colton, South Dakota. And Wellington claims he bought the property fair and square by making regular payments to mom and dad, with the property to be delivered upon their deaths… Suppose they did deals like that before Social Security.

Now I was tempted to ride the 600 mile round trip to visit William’s memorial and the grave at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery of another William Slyter, my father who served in World War II. But I’d been there many a time, 600 miles of 2 lane is a long day in Minnesota, and the F800S’ front tire didn’t look to have 600 miles of tread left. But what the heck… I’m right next door to South Dakota, and didn’t dad say that some of our family moved there and even ran for governor?

Now the neat thing about the genealogy web is that it keeps getting bigger and better. I’d never researched the alleged buyer of the Whitehall home, R.O. Broadway… Doesn’t just the name sound like the invention of a classic old west flim-flam man? Turns out that R.O. Broadway also put a “Dr.” before that name, and he’s listed as such in a turn of the century directory of physicians in South Dakota. But unlike most of the doctors in that directory, there’s no listing of what medical school he graduated from… And he is listed as practicing in little Bryant, South Dakota, conveniently located 100 miles west on a 2 lane I haven’t explored before.

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‘Twas pretty quiet on Main Street, and the rest of Bryant too. No sign of “Doctor” Broadway’s office, ’tis a clinic there but it’s clearly been built in the past few years. So I retreat to the town’s Cenex Co-op C-Store and grab a coffee and some Wi-Fi. Looks like Mr. Broadway was also known as Robert Broadway, and after 1905 he had no recorded presence in Bryant. But he did buy some land between Pierre and Rapid City in 1920, just in time for the dust bowl. Time to google Wellington some more… Hmmm, here’s a picture of his grave site in Colton, guess that’s where I’m ridin’ next!

80 miles further the Zion Lutheran Cemetery was easy to find, but Wellington’s grave wasn’t! Found a Fuller gravestone, but ’twas the wrong Fuller. Though I’d have time to hit Costco in Sioux Falls before closing, but spent a half hour walking the good sized graveyard before finding my Fullers. Paid my respects, took a picture, and rode the 70 odd miles home… With a stop at Micky D’s supper club to search online some more!

Rainin’ today, so no ridin’. And here’s a pix of the Suzuki rotary bike I walked away from saturday: 

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Ever optimistic, I rode a bit over a hundred miles to an auction today. The only item of interest (too me) was a 70s Suzuki RE-5 rotary engined bike, of which but a few thousand were built in one of Suzuki’s better marketing failures. As usual, the auctioneer wasted their ad space on a Harley and Sewage pump truck that shared the bill, which didn’t make much sense since the Suzuki rotary was getting way more interest than the Harley and the pump truck was near universally ignored. And the rust on the Wankel bike was well enough hidden that it wouldn’t look totally indecent in one of them tiny auction poster pictures or web page. So give the Suzuki the once over… engine turns over, rusty but not porous mufflers, dead battery, various wires loose. But seemed to be a couple halfway knowledgable buyers interested if not entranced, so hopefully I won’t need to buy and foster this rare breed.

The auction drags on, as the auctionneer works his way through the “smalls”, those little odds and ends like drills and shop vacs and coffee cans full of sockets, all probably the same size and of Chinese origin. It gets worse- No sooner is one flatbed farm wagon of smalls auctioned off and moved on, the auction helpers drag out more junk. Turns out the widow of the old geezer who’s passed on to the great gearhead garage in the sky isn’t just clearing out the geezer’s garage, she’s clearing out the house and moving to an apartment. So in gender fairness, memo to gearhead geezer’s wives: It’s OK to sell off the tools and “toys” if you ain’t gonna use them,  but hang on to the house… Better to pass on a home to the kids than a stack of rent receipts.

So I walk back over to the Suzuki and take another look. Now I don’t know Suzukis well, especially Wankel engined ones… But shouldn’t there be an air cleaner there? Said air cleaner is nowhere to be found, and checking the web, it’s not to be found in anyone’s parts inventories either. So just hang on an aftermarket ‘cleaner? Not a good idea… There’s an online forum for Suzuki rotary devotees, and the concensus there is that the filter is crucial to driveability, in fact some owner’s problems were solved just by switching back to a stock air cleaner. And did I mention, the inside of the gas tank was so barnacled that it looked like a navy rust research experiment?

So I got back on the bike, too nice a day to waste waiting for an old bike missing an unobtainium part to sell. And geezers, please keep those unobtainium parts you pull off the bike somewhere attached to it… Chance of rain monday, so I may reattach some of my own bikes’ missing parts.

Turn loose the little tykes…Image

We “think different” out here on the Buffalo Ridge, coming up with creative solutions for everyday and not so everyday problems. So a few years back the Glacial Lakes Motorcycle Club  (www.glmc.org) was founded for those of us that live out here in the middle of somewhere and enjoy riding around here. Then they came upon a nice riding area which happened to be an abandoned gravel pit and creatively got a small state grant to buy it and add a shelter and loo. And out here in these thinly populated parts we’ve got not that many riders with a diversity of interests- dual sport, motocross, trail riding, even ATVers… How do you please all of them? The solution was the “Off Road Poker Run”, a low key event where young and old and those fast people in between can plunk around or race to their heart’s content.Image

Even if that means crusin’ at barely faster than tricycle speeds. Slightly older rider here on a ’74 Suzuki 125 that’s been in his family since new, and he wasn’t holdin’ up the pace any:Image

ImageYup, those are license plates on those bikes… Looked to be a half dozen or so riders on street legal dual sport bikes.

Image‘Twas a pretty “technical” and downright rugged course too, with the exception of the loop used for the kid’s event. This hill and a couple others were the downfall of more than a few riders, and even the best riders took 6 minutes to turn a two mile lap, for a 20 MPH average speed. Though I’ve heard the course has been ridden on a 650 single, 125 to 250 ccs. seems to be the optimum size for this course.ImageAnd yes, they let the quads race with the bikes… Like I said, we “think different” here!Image

Some tough but fun riding, $3 gets you in the gate, and another $3 gets you a brat… What’s not to like?

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