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Bikers gather for anniversary of infamous “Wild One” rally

June 29, 1997

HOLLISTER, Calif. (AP) _ Catherine Dabo still remembers the day that beer-drinking bikers rode their roaring motorcycles through the lobby of her small hotel.

``They didn’t hurt anything,″ she said. ``They were just having a good time.″

That ``good time″ was the ``Battle of Hollister,″ the rowdy, drunken street party that inspired the movie ``The Wild One,″ and Mrs. Dabo and others are thrilled that next weekend’s 50th anniversary is expected to draw thousands of bikers from all over the world.

Bikers and townspeople both argue that the Fourth of July 1947 events were all greatly exaggerated by news articles, by an allegedly staged photograph in Life magazine and by the 1954 movie starring Marlon Brando.

So why celebrate?

``Most motorcyclists look at Hollister as sort of the defining moment, when the perception of the motorcycle began to change,″ said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., a devoted biker who plans to attend.

``Before Hollister, there were motorcyclists. After Hollister there were bikers,″ Campbell said. ``Before, motorcycles were transportation; afterward, they became a lifestyle. Before there were friendships; afterward, there was a brotherhood.″

Promoters and police expect anywhere from 50,000 to more than 200,000 people for the anniversary bash on Friday and Saturday. Races and concerts are planned in and around the city of 25,000 about 85 miles southeast of San Francisco. Rooms are booked solid from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo, 120 miles to the south.

``There’s a German group flying in 700 bikes,″ said Tom Corbin, vice president of Corbin Inc., a maker of motorcycle seats and accessories putting on a trade show. ``A Canadian group from Vancouver is making a 1,000-bike ride down.″

Residents have mixed feelings. They’re delighted to have the business and few worry that the bikers will cause trouble, but they’re concerned about the crowds.

``I’m glad there are going to be a lot of people here,″ said Dorothy McNett, who owns a gourmet cookware store. ``But we’re a small town in a small county. We’re just not set up to handle this.″

Others are unreservedly enthusiastic.

``I think it’s great. Hollister is a small community, but people will know who we are,″ said Mrs. Dabo, now 77. ``I tell people now that (bikers) are coming to have fun. ... They’re good people; I have nothing bad to say about them.″

According to the July 7, 1947, edition of the Hollister Free Lance, carousers attracted by three days of motorcycle competition turned two blocks of San Benito Street into a ``race track, fiesta area and beer bottle target range.″ Nearly half a ton of broken glass was left behind.

Dozens of cyclists were arrested for drunkenness and reckless driving.

Bob Valenzuela, then 7, said bikers slept on lawns because the town’s two hotels were full. His parents invited their front-yard guests to use the bathroom and even made them coffee in the morning.

``We were nice to them, and they were nice to us,″ said Valenzuela.

Not that the visitors were Boy Scouts, admitted ``Wino Willie″ Forkner, co-founder of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, one of the first biker clubs. Forkner, 76, had looked forward to the 50th anniversary rally but died of an aortic aneurysm on June 23.

Forkner reveled in his reputation as the Original Wild One, giving out autographs during a rally in Hollister last summer.

In an interview shortly before his death, Forkner recalled that bikers in 1947 were upset that some of their pals were in custody and marched on the jail to demand their release. Forkner said he persuaded his friends to leave _ but police arrested him for inciting a riot.

``Of course, I’d been drinking,″ he said cheerily. ``That doesn’t help when you’re talking to the fuzz.″

What also didn’t help was the Life magazine photograph of a beer-swilling biker sprawled woozily on his machine. Motorcyclists and a witness said the picture was posed; the photographer always contended the picture was real.

Forkner and other bikers also disliked ``The Wild One,″ the now-dated film in which rival bike gangs, one led by Brando and the other by Lee Marvin, terrorize a small town. ``What are you rebelling against?″ Brando’s surly character was asked. ``What’ve you got?″ he replied.

Forkner said most bikers were like him _ veterans just having a good time after World War II.

``I don’t care what organization you’re talking about _ a few people are always going to get out of line,″ he said. ``There are always mavericks, but most bikers are pretty ... nice people.″

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