Service and Connection

  • 07/12/2018
  • Terelle Jerricks

Harbor Harley Davidson Club gives more than 300 backpacks with school supplies to Barton Hill Elementary students

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

The San Pedro Harbor Area Pirates, a Barton Hill Harley Davidson club, reminded me of what marriage and fatherhood can do to mature a man.

The club’s president, Chris Valencia, sent me a press release about their July 14 backpack giveaway at Barton Hill Elementary School. The club had just hosted a softball tournament featuring motorcycle clubs from as far away as Indio and San Diego. As a result, they were able to purchase three times as many backpacks and school supplies as they did the first year the club started giving the school supplies to the students of Barton Hill Elementary.

Club President Valencia, 45, Vice President Frank Valencia, 40, and Secretary Antonio Medina, 36, are a brotherhood bound by shared love of Harleys and commitment to lifting up their Barton Hill neighborhood.

The club has given away free backpacks filled with school supplies each of the three years since the club formed. The first year they gave away 100 backpacks. This year will be the first time they give away more than 300.

The club also has been giving away Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with everything except whole turkeys — and that was only because they didn’t have refrigeration space to store the holiday fowl.

When asked why they do it, Chris replied, “Honestly, we are blessed with having good jobs and just wanted to give back.”

Chris is a longshore mechanic,  Frank is a crane operator and Medina works in construction.

Their style looks a lot like that of the Legends Car Club — until recently known for classic car picnic fundraisers at Point Fermin Park‚ except their interest is Harleys.  All of them are connected in one way or another to the lowrider and classic car culture we see cruising down Pacific Avenue.

When they founded the San Pedro Harbor Area Pirates Harley Davidson Club, they were looking to connect to this town’s motorcycle history going back to Eddie Ryan’s 1930s bike shop.

Referencing a subculture that began more than 80 years ago, Valencia and Medina see themselves as the heirs of that culture. But they only have a couple of pictures and a little research to go off of.

“We just tried to blend the two things we like to do,” Antonio said. “We all grew up hard. We didn’t have anything growing up. All three of us being alumnus of Barton Hill look at it like, ‘We didn’t have anything, so why not help the kids?’”

The San Pedro Harbor Area Pirates has 24 members now. The youngest is 23 years old and the oldest is in his early to mid-40s.

Chris and Antonio are keenly aware of some of the negative stereotypes of bikers as delinquents and work hard at pushing back on that perception.

“When you see a pack of bikes it’s usually involving some fundraiser or ride-along to give back,” Chris and Frank said. “Harleys are like lowrider cars on two wheels. It has family history as far as if you look at the Harleys themselves in the old movies based on them. It’s based on family. They helped each other grow. Just from where they came from to where they are at now. We didn’t have anything growing up.”

Raising money for causes has always been a part of the fabric of lowrider and bike cultures, from putting on car washes to assist families with funeral expenses.

Frank revealed that he owned a couple of high performance street bikes but gave them up because of the implicit danger their speed incurs.

“Any bike can be deadly but those bikes are too damn fast,” Frank said. “I get an adrenaline rush off  them so I took it down to a Harley.”

Referencing Harley David- son’s motorcycle origin story and its founding families, Frank expressed a sense of kinship with William Harley and the Davidson brothers, Walter and Arthur.

“It has family history as far as the Harleys themselves,” Frank explained. “It’s based on family that helps each other grow. Just from where they came from to where they are at now.”

Most of my cousins knew what it was to grow up in the projects and they knew how it was to have that new pair of shoes or  a nice pair of jeans or a new shirt for the first day of school. We wanted to give back and take just a little bit of the burden off of the parents. We live in that area, so we see the struggle.

They believe their work also addresses bullying. Getting children some of the latest fashions, as opposed to sneakers associated with discount stores and swap meet knock-offs, goes a long way in helping them blend in.

All three men are married with children and are mentors to young adults in the community. The youngest guys in the club worked their asses off to get a Harley.

“We’ve been wearing these patches since day one,” Chris explained, referring to the patches on their custom-made club vests. “What we do, they want to be a part of that. We tell them that there some things [that] go behind these patches: Number 1, respect; Number 2, give back.”

Their fundraisers are literally family affairs where children, wives, sisters, mothers and aunts are involved.

During the weeks leading up to Father’s Day the club hosted a Baseball for Backpacks tournament where they sold pastries.

“Our wives did the bake sales and the whole nine [yards]. His mom and my mom were on the grill the whole time,” Frank said.

“Our ladies are the backbone of our club,” Chris said. “They don’t get the recognition they deserve but they are the ones who pulled it off. They are the ones coordinating the shirts for the girls, organizing the events.”

The band of club brothers know they are modeling altruistic behavior and characteristics for the area’s youth.  Frequently folks from the neighborhood ask to pose for pictures with them and their Harleys when they’re out and about the neighborhood.

The men’s attachment to San Pedro’s Harley Davidson heritage isn’t just a matter of them loving the Harley Davidson motorcycle.  It’s that there’s tangible evidence of its existence in the earliest days of San Pedro’s motor vehicle culture — namely, San Pedro’s Eddie Ryan Harley Davidson dealership. It was the first of its kind in all of Southern California.

Every year, Ryan staged a large group photo of Harley Davidson riders lined up in front of the shop on 4th and Beacon streets for a photo shoot. Pictures from those photo shoots have been sold at auctions or hang in legendary motorcycle shops. As the story goes, Ryan was a time trials racer, a hill climber and a regular gypsy tour rider. Gypsy tours are when riders from across the country converge upon a single destination like Sturgis, South Dakota, Daytona Beach, Florida or Walkers Cafe at Paseo del Mar, in San Pedro on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Rumor had it (rumor because all I’ve been able to find so far are online anecdotes from people who knew the descendants of these figures) was that Ryan was an Excelsior-Henderson motorcycle man before he had a falling out with the company and started getting into Harleys in the mid-1920s. So from then on until 1962 it was a Harley shop. A regular at Ryan’s shop, bought, moved and operated Ryan’s shop as Motorcycles Only, in the city of Gardena. And that was the extent of the history of the Harley Davidson dealership in San Pedro.

While the Valencia brothers and Medina talked about their desire to give back to the community and sharing their love for riding their Harleys, I was reminded of a 2006 story I wrote,  Pedro’s Motorcycle Diaries.  It was my first foray in documenting the Los Angeles Harbor Area’s motorcycle subculture. Century Motorcycle’s Cindy Rutherford was one of the primary sources for that story.

At the time, Rutherford said bikers would compete against each other in hill climbs and scrambles — sometimes for pink slips. What I neglected to mention in that story was that her father, Bill Cottom, opened Century Motorcycles with his collecting of pink slips from such competition. The racing spots back then included Rusty Nails, which was north of Greenhills Memorial Park and the Palos Verdes Reservoir before it was filled with water.

According to Cottom’s obituary, his passion for motorcycles was lit when, as a 12-year-old living on a Kansas farm, he rode his cousin’s Reading Standard motorcycle.

At the age of 17, with the money he earned working at a general store and as an underage professional boxer — he won the light heavyweight championship in Kansas — Cottom bought his first Harley-Davidson.

During the early years of the Depression, Cottom worked as a sparring partner in Chicago and raced motorcycles for cash on wooden board race tracks. Cottom came to San Pedro in 1935 to help his brothers run their Century Sign business.

He opened Century Motorcycles at Pacific and 17th Street that year, specializing in vintage and British-made motorcycles such as Vincents, BSAs and Triumphs. The shop soon became a prominent hangout for bikers from throughout the Los Angeles area and beyond.

Rutherford explained that her father, along with Dave Thomas and Chuck Caughlin founded a local chapter of the Centurions Motorcycle club in the 1960s to counteract the outlaw image of bikers. She said their membership ranged from eight to 80 years old and 90 percent were married. The club rules were so rigid that if a member received a ticket, he’d receive an additional penalty from the club captain.

Club rules included:

  • Being a good citizen and obeying all traffic laws
  • Maintaining your motorcycle in safe running condition
  • Using a legal muffler and encourage other riders to the do the same
  • Wearing Snell Foundations of Safety approved helmets

Just as the Centurions cut an attractive figure on the bikes through their unity and the fact that they looked like they were having fun, the San Pedro Harbor Area Pirates cut a similar figure with custom made Harley Davidson vests and custom sewn patches on them.

“We’ve been wearing these patches since day one,” Chris explained. “What we do, they want to be a part of it. We tell them that there are some things that go with these patches: respect is Number 1, giving back is Number 2.

Chris said he hoped to include 15th Street Elementary School in the years to come in the philanthropic efforts. They are already adding luster to their hometown’s motorcycles culture as The San Pedro Harbor Area Pirates intend to continue to lift up their community by serving as role models as they slowly expand their reach to more schools. They write their own chapter in Pedro’s Motorcycle Diaries.

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