Just like Old Times: A Slimey Crud Weekend with Old Friends

Nimbus motorcycle
This Nimbus was the best original-appearing classic bike seen, open valve springs and all.

Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run 2019

After last summer’s frequent rain-outs, a rough winter and a cool, wet spring so far, the arrival of blue skies in time for the spring running of the Slimey Crud Motorcycle Gang Café Racer Run was a welcome development. To make things even better, two of my old (and I do mean old) riding buddies were able to do some riding on both Saturday and on Crud Run Sunday.

Dean Massoglia and I go back to our diaper days—literally. Our parents were next-door neighbors and life-long friends up in northern Wisconsin outside Hurley. We each conned our parents into trusting us with mini-bikes about the same time, so we learned the magic of the twist-grip throttle together.

riding to the slimey crud run 2019
Dean Massoglia (L) and Tony Fransen pose with our bikes (L-R) Tony’s Honda V65 Sabre, my H-D 883 Sportster and Dean’s Victory Kingpin, high atop Mt. Hosmer in Lansing, IA on Saturday.

We learned the basics of mechanics together, how to push those little machines to the limit; heck, we even managed to blow the engine on Dean’s Fox mini-bike. Up until that event, we always thought “throwing a rod” was only a figure of speech. Spoiler alert: winding out a 3.5 hp Tecumseh four-stroke flat-head engine with no load on it actually can result in the connecting rod fracturing and punching a hole through the crankcase.

Tony Fransen, Dean and I worked together in the Engineering Department of Wick Homes in Mazomanie, Wisc., 40 years ago. Tony wasn’t a motorcyclist back then. He bought one of my 1981 Yamaha Seca 750s back in 1996 and added a 1985 Honda V65 Sabre a couple years later.

Attorneys at law in Cheatem & HOwe
The River Junction building in McGregor, IA houses a neat vintage shop on the first floor and the offices of “Dewey, Cheatem & Howe Attorneys at Law” on the second floor.

Dean recently had acquired a 2011 Victory Kingpin and was anxious to get some miles on it, so he came down from his place in the U. P. of Michigan to do some weekend riding and do the spring edition of the Slimey Crud Run. Tony has done nearly every Crud run in recent years and wanted to shake the winter doldrums off on his Sabre on both Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday was sunny and mild, and we all thought it would be interesting to go and see what we had heard was the highest water level on the Mississippi river since the epic floods of 1993.

See those trees sticking up out of the river?  There’s an island somewhere under all that water.
See those trees sticking up out of the river? There’s an island somewhere under all that water.

So, Saturday morning Dean and I met Tony (who came over from Prairie du Sac, Wisc.) at Vetesnik’s Power Sports in Richland Center, Wisc., browsed new bikes for a while and then queued up on one of our favorite routes, STH 171 that swerves and dives west from Richland county to the Mississippi.

We crossed the Mississippi river to Lansing, Iowa, rode the tight and technical road to the summit of Mt. Hosmer and the panoramic view from there revealed a river that was jaw-dropping deep and wide. The islands out in the stream that are usually visible were inundated, leaving only the mature trees on them marking their location.

Leland Motorcycle rally
As skies cleared, the crowd continued to grow in the afternoon at Leland.

Crossing back into Wisconsin, we headed south down the Great River Road (USH 35) to Prairie du Chien, WI, where we crossed the big river again to McGregor, Iowa. McGregor is a cool, little antebellum river town that, as we rode into town, seemed to have a main street barely above the water level of the river.

At a resale shop there, I found an unexpected bit of motorcycle history; a like-new black sweatshirt with Excelsior-Henderson Motorcycle Co., Belle Plaine, MN emblazoned on it. The reincarnation of the historic Excelsior-Henderson Motorcycle Company took place in mid-1990s to 2000 with a factory built in Minnesota.

To find an item that is a least nineteen years old in like-new shape that is a remnant of the epic effort to resurrect one of motorcycling’s most iconic names was a real surprise. To get it for only eight bucks was pretty cool and the surprises didn’t end there. It would lead to meeting some cool people the next day at the Slimey Crud Run—two owners of Excelsior-Henderson bikes built at Belle Plaine.

turbocharged Yamaha Virago
Something you don’t see every day—a turbocharged Yamaha Virago.

Sunday was Crud Run day and dawned with a small rain squall that raced across the state from west to east in the morning, and then gave way to a sunny, seasonably warm day. Dean and I rode east from my place at Lone Rock and met Tony at Pine Bluff in Dane county, where the Crud Run starts with a huge gathering of bikes, n’er-do-wells, collectors, hangers-on, knee-sliders, adventurerers, customizers, day-trippers, drag racers, salt racers and, yes—even a few classic café racer types.

We circulated among the throng of people and bikes and took in some very interesting machines. For example, there was a turbocharged Yamaha Virago; something you don’t see every day, to be sure, as well as a turbo Kawasaki Z1. As if a Z1 isn’t scary-fast enough.

Among the real race bikes was Lew Terpstra’s cool and fast ’71 650 Triumph Bonneville that set a class world record at Bonneville last year at 111.410 mph. Bill Whisenant, proprietor of Motorcycle Performance in Madison, Wisc., where a lot of the prep on Terpstra’s bike took place was also on hand with his record-setting 1000cc Ducati partial streamliner.

Old School Chopper
This cool old-school Sportster chopper stood alone.

Then there was the long, cool, black Sportster chop that sat alone, defiant at the edge of a parking lot. Whether you like ‘em or not, there’s something restless, rowdy and uniquely American about a chopper.

Late in the morning, we mounted up and left the mob at Pine Bluff to meander our way along the back roads in farm country up to Leland in Sauk County. While most of the bikes that show up at Pine Bluff also make it to Leland, there is a noticeable change in the mix. Some of the bikes that make it out to Pine Bluff from nearby Madison head back there, while a range of bikes that weren’t at Pine Bluff show up at Leland.

Nimbus motorcycle
This Nimbus was the best original-appearing classic bike seen, open valve springs and all.

One of the best classic bikes seen on the Run was a very original-looking four-cylinder Nimbus. On the contemporary end of the spectrum, there was stunning custom painted two-tone Harley Ultra Classic with a matching unicycle trailer. The rig added up to a long machine for long-haul touring.

As is often the case, the crowd continued to swell as the afternoon went on, temperatures went up and skies cleared. When I peeled off my riding jacket, that Excelsior-Henderson sweatshirt was what I had on and in the course of the afternoon it led to interesting conversations with two owners of contemporary versions of the brand.

Lew Terpstra’s 1971 Triumph Bonneville 650
Lew Terpstra’s 1971 Triumph Bonneville 650 is a world land speed record holder.

One of the owners had over 55,000 miles on his bike with no major problems. The other owner had very low miles on his example and planned to keep it that way, intending to put his bike on display in his restaurant.

Making the ride to the Mississippi river on Saturday and doing the Crud Run on Sunday with Dean and Tony was reminiscent of rides we’ve done before.   There’s something special about getting together with old friends for good times on the bikes—just like old times.