I discovered Russell Groover through an article he wrote for the American Motorcyclist Association member magazine, American Motorcyclist.
It was a type of article we rarely see on a topic none of us as motorcycle enthusiasts want to think about. His article, “That Day Has Come—Coping When the State Takes Your License.” In it, Groover relates the last days he had as a motorcyclist who had been a rider since February 1949.
It is a moving article with a particular impact for any rider who truly values motorcycling and all that goes with it, and is in the age category where health problems can affect one’s ability to ride safely. In Groover’s case, his vision had become so impaired by glaucoma that he had to surrender his license to drive and, with it, to operate a motorcycle. He had been a very active motorcyclist for 71 years.
Indeed, initially, he was able to stave off the loss of license by agreeing to limit his riding to specific destinations and only in daylight hours. But, after having a repeat exam only two years later, his vision was found to be too compromised to allow even limited riding.
Groover’s career as a motorcyclist has included some pretty amazing adventures. In 1950, at the age of 13, he ran his first enduro on a 45ci Army surplus Harley-Davidson. In his teens, He gave Tampa street cops some good chase opportunities. Then, at age 21, Groover joined the police department.
In his career as a motorcycle patrol officer, he was part of motorcades for three different Presidents of the United States, including John F. Kennedy, only four days before he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
In 1964, Groover was one of the key people in the creation of a motorcycle training school for officers, and served as the primary instructor for many years. The program went on to be adopted by several other police departments across the south.
After retirement from law enforcement service, he worked in sales for Honda of Tampa before opening a motorcycle parts store of his own. Groover also served as the legislative officer for AMA District 8, helping establish rider training, testing, and licensing for Florida.
In his later years, Groover has written four books and has a fifth in progress.
Russell Groover isn’t in the AMA Hall of Fame, though, as I think about his long and colorful life in the saddle and his contributions to the sport’s history and lifestyle, maybe he should be!
Rider’s Library Review: Tales of a Moonlight Rider
There is something about Russell Groover’s book, Tales of a Moonlight Rider, that kept me reading much the same way Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does. That’s saying something because since I first read Huckleberry Finn, I have reread it probably seven or eight times over the years. That includes the Whitman Classics version I read as a 10-year-old, and the unabridged version I have read as an adult.
Maybe it’s the conversational storytelling style, or unabashed, earthy honesty of the narrative that draws me to each. Or, perhaps, it’s the feeling of another time and place that draws the reader in. It takes you to a time and place that just doesn’t exist anymore, and you find yourself thinking about how special the time and place was then. You find yourself wishing you could have been there.
Ironically, even Groover himself made the link to his early adventures and those of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer saying, “I had more than a teenager could even hope to have. I was accepted, even looked up to by a few, and had the respect of most. Every day and night was an adventure that would have astounded Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I hated to sleep because it delayed the excitement of my life and the world of motorcycles.”
But there is a big difference. Twain’s book was a novel–a work of fiction based on his life experience. Groover’s book is non-fiction, a memoir of a long life in the saddle of a motorcycle. Many motorcycles, in fact. A life where he made a great many friends, had some great adventures, accomplished some important things, and wrote a book to tell us about it.
Then there are the images, a number of them from the 1950s and ’60s. They are grainy images of another time, when WWII Army surplus flathead Harleys ruled the road and weren’t considered collector’s items, and you could see an Ariel Square Four on the street as a new bike.
There is a total of 43 black-and-white images in the book, and they make you wish there were more. A special feature Groover included that really helps take you back to that time is a reprint of the official program of the 1952 AMA-sanctioned Gypsy Tour event in Tampa. That is pure cool nostalgia.
As in life, the story moves from his adventures in adolescence to adulthood. In one of those unexpected turns life takes, Groover transitions from a teenage roustabout not unknown to local law enforcement, to being a part of local law enforcement. He puts his motorcycle riding skills to work when he becomes one of Tampa’s Harley-Davidson-mounted motorcycle patrolmen. That leads to Groover playing a major role in the creation of a training program for motorcycle patrol officers in Tampa—a program replicated in other departments.
Groover takes us inside his personal life’s moments of both triumph and tragedy. The loss of friends, colleagues, and family over the years enter the story and affect his life. In that way, Groover’s remarkable story links all of us together.
He is resilient, adapts, and forges ahead. Russell Groover tells the story, the happy and sad, that is at once matter-of-fact and yet has repeated appearances of a mysterious rider—an apparition on what sounds like a Harley 45. It is a foreshadowing that links the here-and-now to the future.
Tales of a Moonlight Rider Fast Facts
Author: Russell Groover
Published: 2015 softcover
Length: 398 pages
Page size: 6 x 9 inches
Illustration: 43 black-and-white vintage and contemporary images
Printed in the United States of America
29 Regal Avenue
Sylva, NC 28779
Tales of a Moonlight Rider Price: $16 MSRP