A Not-So-Savage Journey to the Heart of America’s Baddest Biker Rally
Words by Kali Kotoski and Mitch Boehm
Photos by Kotoski, Boehm, Rusty Childress and Buffalo Chip
Editor’s Note: With Sturgis being such a wild and expansive event, it is impossible to cover it in one coherent story. So, Thunder Press approached the rally by interviewing numerous individuals to get their stories. Look for a series of vignettes published online throughout September!
The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Ahh, yes, the romance and jagged thrill of a wild, contraband-filled road trip to oblivion, along with all the underbelly slime and debauchery that’d come with it…
OK, ahem, well… it’s nice to imagine we were Sturgis Rally risk-takers and hell-raisers in the best tradition of H.S.T., but in truth we were a bit more like wet-behind-the-ears rookies. Kotoski had never been to the famed Black Hills event, and I’d only been a handful of times, and never to just hang out, poison my liver and get strange. I was always working when there, which means it was beer-only – OK, maybe I’d sneak a shot or three – in the evenings, and reasonable sack times. (I’m suddenly remembering my first time there during a Honda Shadow research trip in the early ’90s with a bunch of engineers from Japan. You can just imagine how dorky we looked walking around. Gawd…)
What we were after this time around, over and above all the obvious stuff one finds at Sturgis – the awesome roads and geography, the bikes and bikers, the booze and beer, the bands and bars, and that universal desire to get the hell out of town and get seriously sideways for a few days – were a few stories you might not hear about in typically tedious general reportage. We’d be there a week and figured we’d find a few interesting tales as we hopped from bar to bash to bike show, and from hillclimb to HOF induction and everything in between.
And we did. They say Sturgis is a people-watching extravaganza, and there’s a damn good reason for that. We saw the good, the bad and the very ugly, with good folks and good manners intertwined with shitheads and unreal levels of rudeness like the ponytail on this month’s Rusty Childress-shot cover girl.
BTW, nice tats, young lady…
Steel and Iron Dedications to the Motorcycle Gods
The first pilgrimage on this electric Kool-Aid acid test brought us to Full Throttle Saloon, a dusty liquid oasis north of the sacred Bear Butte monolith that stands above the sweeping and uninhabited grassy plains of Western South Dakota.
While fond memories have turned to ash after the original Full Throttle Saloon was razed in 2015 when a malfunctioning power cord to a keg cooler ignited a cardboard box, Michael Ballard and Jesse James Dupree’s new location lures bikers in with large metal Sirens in the shape of Indian Larry and the recently departed Jesse Rooke.
From a distance, these gigantic chrome-like statues draw you away from the asphalt horizon and into a wonderfully loud and crazy watering hole.
The artists behind these impressive pieces are 36-year-old Dan McCauley, a Rust Belt native who now lives in Eureka, California; Will Reddington, 37, from Southern California; and David Hammock, a 57-year-old Alabama boy.
Growing up on a sawmill in Ohio, Dan McCauley learned quickly that raw natural elements could be manipulated into strange and beautiful contortions. But it wasn’t until he was 11 that welding and metalwork took hold, learning under the apprenticeship of his grandpa.
“I wanted a go-kart, so we went to a bicycle junkyard and cut a bunch of backbones from a ton of bikes,” Dan said. “After we put that together, I realized I could build almost anything out of nothing.”
Next up was a Volkswagen Beetle that he scored from a junkyard. After three years of work, he finished it just in time for senior prom. (Dan’s daily commuter, his brothers Sportster 883, wouldn’t have been the right choice to sweep a young lady off her feet.)
But it was fortune and circumstance that brought him into the art world.
At 25, he was involved in a serious car accident that herniated three discs in his spine, and cost him his job.
“I thought, if art doesn’t work, I can always go out and get another job.”
Besides that, city officials were coming down hard on him for using his home as a commercial zone, doing odd welding jobs on the side as he recuperated.
Always a prankster when it comes to the Man, he cleverly gave the city the finger in the face of threats of fines.
“I contacted the city and they said I can build whatever I want for personal use on my property. So, eight months later I had an iron Tyrannosaurus Rex stretching 28-foot-long and 10-foot-high on my lawn. They called me and said ‘Well, didn’t see that one coming.’”
Fast-forward 11 years and Dan is cutting and spot-welding pieces to the last Full Throttle-commissioned piece—a tribute to Arlen Ness’ 1995 bike Ness-Stalgia. The two other artists in this triumvirate, David Hammock and Will Reddington had already left before the rally, needing some time to recuperate.
Together, they had already completed the Jesse Rooke statue—whose face took six meticulous hours to complete and is so good that an iPhone can pick up facial recognition from five yards away—and the Indian Larry statue.
“When we first set out on this project, we had three concepts and a real good supply of materials already on-site,” said Hammock. Hammock comes from a long line of welders and metalworkers and opened his shop 1996 in Arad, Alabama. He started his business by working with architects and engineers, fabricating custom and ornamental railings. Venturing in the art world, he now has an extremely wild collection of custom mic stands and drum risers commissioned, aptly, for heavy metal bands.
“At first, the three of us had to figure out how to work to together. And then there was the sheer size of the project. It was challenging, but not overwhelming,” Hammock added.
Will Reddington, from Apple Valley, California, had contributed to the Rooke build by working on the frame, wheels and bodywork. For Indian Larry, he did the tattoos and for the face, painstakingly manipulated metal into an eerily lifelike replica.
Now on his own, McCauley was now rushing to complete Arlen’s ode to a ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air. But none of these pieces are normal, in the sense that they are not fashioned from store-bought metals. As a “Found Object” artist, Dan only uses what he finds in junkyards or what he digs up himself from illegal dumpsites.
“To take the material that has been dumped in the environment and create something with it, means we can find beauty in everything,” Dan said. Plus, one of Dan’s idols is the luminary Bob Ross (I am sure we can all relate).
“Nothing is perfection, but if you accentuate an imperfection, it comes close to perfection,” Dan said.
Editor’s Note: Look for future coverage of the fully completed Arlen Ness project. In the meantime, you have Thunder Press‘ full endorsement to commission these artists.