Withrow, Minn., July 13—For 20 years, Tom Rad held a one-night bike show, Rumble on the Deck, within spitting distance of the St. Croix River in the small city of Stillwater, Minnesota. And for 18 of those years, the show ran without a wrinkle. By 7:00 p.m. the deck was filled with customs and antiques, surrounded by hundreds of bikers and spectators, and by about 10:00 p.m. they were all gone, until next year. The winning recipe was pretty simple: a modest entrance fee, free food, great music, a good vibe, plenty of ice cold beer, and enough classes and trophies to give everyone a reason to enter their bike. Like a lot of other bike shows, the Rumble on the Deck had “Rumble Girls” but the Rumble had one very special trophy girl. No, she wasn’t tall, blonde and well-endowed. She was in fact small, with grey hair, and just a bit past her prime. Ma Rad, Tom’s Mother, was one of his biggest supporters when he announced the first show, so it seemed only natural that when the show became a big winner, Ma Rad would hand out the trophies. Each year the show got a little bigger, with more classes, more bikes, more people and more trophies for Ma Rad to hand out.
During all those years, there was never a fight, a burnout, or a problem of any sort. The only problem cropped up when the restaurant came under new management. Despite the Rumble’s perfect record there was suddenly the need for more police and a separate security force. The vibe changed, faces dressed in blue lost their smiles, and the welcome mat was nowhere to be found.
So after 20 years in one location, Tom was forced to find a new venue, 10 miles west of Stillwater in the small community of Withrow, Minnesota. Jeff, the owner of Sal’s Angus Grill, was more than happy to help Tom continue the tradition and fill the parking lot with motorcycles and the riders’ bellies with good food. As before, the event took place on the second Thursday of July.
Despite the rain that fell most of the day and all of the evening, a surprisingly large crowd of die-hard fans rolled into the new location to celebrate the 21st Rumble. And as promised, Tom provided hot food, cold beer and a chance to hang out with like-minded fools.
This year’s show was Rumble number 22, and though the cloudy skies and chilly temps kept a few people at home, the regulars showed up just like the regulars do at church every Sunday morning.
Walking through the parking lots this year, talking with the riders, looking over the whole affair, it became apparent that while a lot of things have changed, the most important things about Tom Rad’s Rumble haven’t changed at all.
Yes, what was Ma Rad’s Rumble on the Deck is now just Ma Rad’s Rumble. What was a view of the St. Croix River is now a view of trees and undeveloped land. The private security force is long gone, as are the boys in blue, replaced by two sheriff’s deputies dressed in khaki. Ma Rad is no longer the trophy girl, because, as Tom explains, “Ma took a new position upstairs with the big guy,” meaning the younger members of the Rumble Girls team have taken over those duties.
What has stayed the same are those important basics that made the show a success in the first place: the good vibes, the great blues music from the Slim Hippos, the smiles on everyone’s face, good food, cold beer, plenty of classes and trophies, and a high likelihood that you will run into a bunch of good friends.
The classes included Mild V-Twin won by Ron Stoner and Lance Luepke for first and second, Radical V-Twin won by Paul Lovas and Tom Phillips, Bagger won by John Sandberg and Bob Brown, Antique won by Justin Augustin and Mike Kline, Non-H-D won by Randy Peterson and Pete Mittlelsted, and Vintage Chopper won by Dave Pyka.
As it did 21 times before, Tom’s simple recipe for a one-day bike show worked its magic. By the time the last rays of sunshine faded behind the trees, the parking lots were nearly empty of baggers, choppers and everything in between. There was nothing left to do but pick up a few errant beer cans and make plans for Rumble number 23.