Sep 052005
Authors: Brandon Lowrey

Motorcycles filled a few more parking spaces than usual in Old Town this weekend. Some bikers broke away from their leathery pack of thousands, which had migrated to the plains on Loveland's eastern fringe for the inaugural Thunder in the Rockies, to come see what Fort Collins had to offer.

Deweese, Neb. residents came to the event in force – two of the town's 76 residents screamed across 418 miles of high plains to join their fiercely loyal, loose-knit community. What keeps it together?

"I'm sure everyone would tell you it's the freedom, man," said Harley Davidson owner Gene Babcock.

Clean-cut by biker standards, Babcock said he's a construction worker and was tan enough to prove it. The 39-year-old's family might not be as wild about choppers as he is, though: "Nobody ever says nothing," he said, "so I guess they don't mind."

Saturday's weather was perfect for a biker rally, Babcock and his 50-year-old companion Gary Rumsey agreed. Babcock and Rumsey, who sells John Deere tractors back in Deweese and also rides a Harley, have been riding since before they were old enough to drive.

Both said Thunder in the Rockies doesn't compare to the larger event in Sturgis, S.D., but the people of Northern Colorado have been more than hospitable.

Nearby, a white-haired man watched the street from a bench. There are about twice as many motorcycle riders hanging around Old Town than usual, he said from his perch.

The finely dressed man called himself "Old Town Jerry." There aren't many people who know his last name, he said, and it's probably best that way.

Most of the bikers that roar through town don't raise hell, Jerry said. But "there's some that plain don't give a damn."

"The bikers, a lot of them are business men or cops. They aren't all hell-raisers," he explained. "There are a few, who, let's just say God equipped them so they could raise hell (if they wanted to)."

Back at The Ranch, the scene resembled a carnival. It was nighttime, after all of the shows, and food tents with flashing lights splashed out from around a white tent. Inside, a band blared biker tunes to several-dozen audience members. Many were families.

After a trip to the Budweiser booth – menu: $6 beers in plastic cups – a couple of staggering, leather-vested men shouted at the band while it tuned equipment between songs.

Children played in the hay that covered the ground inside and around the tent and on the haystacks outside. Cameron Lora, decked out with a Harley Davidson hat and shirt, watched his son play with a flashing yo-yo.

Lora didn't actually own a bike, but said he plans on buying one soon. He's been to several bike rallies, and his father owned a chopper. He was satisfied with Saturday's events.

"Actually, yesterday and the day before sucked," said "Big" John Clifton, who runs Biggin's BBQ in Estes Park with his wife, Elaine. Clifton had a booth near the entertainment tent and said business did not pick up until Saturday.

Clifton, tall and wide, said bikers and families had been pouring in by the thousands since the start of the day. He suspected they were attracted by the nice bikes and the atmosphere.

"You get to listen to good music and stuff like that all day," Clifton said. "If they keep doing (Thunder in the Rockies), it's going to turn into a good event."

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