By Dave Walters
Often in this lifestyle, we see crucibles of the times, acting as the fire that forms the steel. Club and culture shifts, as if the very nature itself was perched on a fault line, can be traced to coincide with significant events of the past century. WWII would bring about a boom in returning GIs hungry for excitement, adventure, and an existence outside of the norm. The counter-culture and the Vietnam era of the early 60s and into the 70s would directly reflect the changing attitude for some clubs. Veterans who felt abandoned, disrespected and misplaced in contemporary society created booms in the growth of the MCs. The decline in industries like steel, auto, other manufacturing production, lost to less demand or overseas production would usher in another change in the attitude and culture during the 80s and 90s. The 2000s have ushered in the younger faced Veteran returning home. The Veteran is returning home from a war that is often forgotten about, used as a political tool, or depending on your leanings, is deemed just or unpopular.
Even the turn of the 20th century with the founding of names like Indian and Harley-Davidson, the club scene would revolutionize as those hungry for new adventures, transitioned their pedal bikes into machines with single cylinder inlet valve engines. Racing became faster, spectators grew, and names like Yonkers MC, San Francisco MC, and over in London, simply the Motor Cycling Club, brought likeminded, rebel souled individuals together.
It didn’t always take a dramatic shift in the American landscape to produce preeminent torchbearers for this life. Some men just really liked to go fast, to race, to compete, and to flat out the freaking win. Southern California in 1937 was where you wanted to be to witness just that sort of history. A full ten years before the “Hollister Riot”, 13 of the top-seeded AMA racers were getting together, bonded by the idea of race first, party second.
They would be known as the 13 Rebels Motorcycle Club. An AMA chartered club that believed in the motto “Not to bully the weak, not to fear the powerful”. It is a historical club, meaning that it is recognized by the AMA as having held a charter for over 50 years, and is still a part of the AMA today. If like me, you love what I call the “way back” period of history in the Motorcycle Club scene, then the 13 Rebels name is as familiar as Yellow Jackets, Galloping Goose, Pissed off Bastards, and Boozefighters.
Their logo was said to have come from a WWI Tank Corps recruiting poster of a black cat. Founding member Tex Bryant had been racing and wearing a sweater that portrayed a black cat in a motorcycle boot. Members liked it, and many had been WWI Veterans. The modified logo would come to incorporate Tex’s original design and the WWI Tank Corps poster. A second telling also recounts the story of a black cat that would hang around the garage where members worked on their bikes. The adopted mascot seemed to be bringing them luck (rather than the popular notion of bad luck black cats), and was incorporated into the jersey to continue the luck. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle and lost to the motorcycle gods, making the tales all that much sweeter.
Members of the 13 Rebels include famous builders and racers. 3 AMA Hall of Fame Inductees, famous motorcycle dealership owners, and one Wino. Ernest ‘Tex” Bryant brought together names that now reverberate throughout motorcycle history. Names like; Ernie and Johnnie Roccio, Jack Horn, Arden Van Cycle, John Cameron, Ed “Ironman” Kretz, Ted Evans, and legendary Shell Thuet. Thuet was a 2001 AMA Hall of Fame inductee. He was a world renown tuner and builder of race bikes. His racers would dominate Ascot Races in California and over 50 AMA Grand National Stage wins.
Other accomplishments by these legendary men include: Elmo Looper saving Crocker Motorcycle. Al Crocker was selling off remaining parts and what was left of the bikes, and without Elmo buying these products, restoring Crocker bikes may have become next to impossible. Ted Evans was the member who was given the first Triumph Dealership in California. He was awarded the Dealership because of his racing prowess, and it was, at the time, only the third Triumph Dealership in the US. The other two being East Coast-based companies. Brothers Johnnie and Ernie Roccio would compete on the US Racing Team. However, Ernie would die from injuries sustained in a crash in 1952 and Johnnie would walk away from racing shortly after that.
Ed “Ironman” Kretz is a famous name in motorcycle racing. His accomplishments include winning the inaugural Daytona 200, which he won on an Indian Sports Scout. Kretz didn’t even start riding until he was 20, but would quickly come to dominate the sport and would be inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame. Ed also won the first 200-mile Savannah National and the first AMA sponsored race at Laconia. Fun side fact, Daytona 200s were held directly on the beach until 1961. Adren Van Sycle is recognizable to most of us, if not by name, then by face. He is the subject of a very famous photograph of him in the saddle of his Harley with a large American Flag floating between two houses and a smaller Flag attached to his rear fender. I’d argue that this photo should be as, or more, recognizable than the photo of Eddie Davenport astride another man’s bike in 1947.
Speaking of Eddie, the 13 Rebels attended that infamous 1947 Hollister Independence Day Rally. Of course, we have documented many of the legendary clubs that were also racing and partying that July 4th weekend. Wino Willie and his Boozefighters were one such legendary club. Wino had originally been a 13 Rebel. Wino being Wino, he liked to get a little inebriated at/before/during/ the race and this didn’t mesh with the serious racing minded members. The rumored last straw for Wino was a race in which he crashed through a fence, drunk, flying up onto the race track and completing a couple laps before taking off again. Wino would be more than ok though, in 1946 founding the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club and even being joined by some former 13 Rebel members.
Stories like this, mixed with the Hollister incident, and a tabloid write up called “The Cyclist Raid” would all be the backdrop for “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin. Accepted tales state that Brando’s character was based on 13 Rebel Tex Bryant, and that Lee Marvin’s Cino, was based off Wino Willie. This was simply movie drama though, as in real life the two clubs got along well, and would party at legendary early biker spots in Southern California like the Big A. The 13 Rebels owned their own race track in Los Angeles that other clubs would attend. Wino would even return to the 13 Rebels, becoming a member again later in life.
Today the 13 Rebels are still going strong. Still holding an AMA charter, still riding brotherhood and the Motorsickle into their 81st year and beyond. The 13 Rebels I’ve had the privilege to converse with, still get as excited as ever when talking about speed, racing, and cross-country riding. Getting a chance to pick their brains about what attracted them to this life and to such a historic club, is always a highlight. If you ever get a chance to attend one of their memorial rides, Veteran, Dogs, Homeless, and other charity rides, a poker run or just an out and out get together, don’t let that opportunity to sit down with history pass you by.
Included here is an interview I was able to conduct with a Patch Holder of the 13 Rebels
1.) With the growing “comeback” popularity of things like Flat Track Racing, AMA sponsored Hill Climbs, enduro races and the rising interest in classic machines over showroom floor models – Do you see the influence of a lot of the classic clubs, those 30s and 40s era clubs, in these events?
I don’t know if the general motorcycling population is really thinking about MCs when they attend these races. To most people not in a club, MC is what they see on TV and in the News, and unfortunately, that is almost always a negative image, regardless of what any actual MC is doing or not doing. I think the older clubs have a great opportunity to reclaim their history here. My own club is showing up at races like The Race of Gentlemen and as people see our patch and lean that we go back to 1937, many of them will look us up online and they will see the rich racing history we have. This, in turn, may lead to an increased interest in the old clubs.
2.) What drew you to the Brotherhood of a famous, classic club?
I have always been a history nerd, especially MC history. I had read a great deal about this club but because they are very low key and stay off internet media, I had never actually talked with any of them. Then one day out of the clear blue I see one of their patches at a Harley shop. I went up to this patch holder and started reciting his own MC history to him like some super fan meeting his favorite Rock Star. Luckily, he was cool with it, and from that point on I was a constant pain in his ass. I was hanging around (this was about 300 miles away), attending every event and visiting the other chapters. That started me on the long road to becoming a full patch myself and I never looked back. I will say that being a part of a club that is 81 years old is awe-inspiring for a history nerd. One of the things that I love doing, is finding older members who have faded away from us. I found a gentleman who had been a member from 1950-1953 but had to move away in ‘53. He lost touch with everyone over time. I found him online only because he had commented on a dirt bike racing forum. I was able to put him back in touch with friends he hadn’t talked to since 1953. He is now in his 90’s and is thankful he got to talk to his friends and meet the 21st century version of his old club before he passes.
3.) As a combat veteran, does that play a role in what brought you to the club life and the passion you have for it?
My part of the military was a very small and select group. There are only about 500 with this specialty and when we deployed we would usually travel in teams of 11 or so. I traveled the world with these same 11 guys. When I retired I knew I would miss that. Doing dangerous shit with men you trust, builds a bond that cannot easily be put into words. While the MC experience is close at times, it can never match what I did in the military. I guess you could say that the MC life is like Methadone while my Military life was pure Crack. I can’t go back to the Crack but I’ll make do with the Methadone, either way, it beats trying to go cold turkey.
4.) The combat vets coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq these last few years, certainly differ from earlier eras of Veterans, which obviously every conflict is going to leave its own characteristics and marks on Vets. As someone that has been around the scene for a while, what positives are you seeing with the Vets getting into the motorcycle scene and the new fresh blood and ideas they bring along?
I agree, after every major conflict, returning vets change the MC world. It started with the World War ONE Vets. I think they changed the MCs of the 20’s and 30’s from just racing teams into a brotherhood where the men in these clubs went from just racing teammates to true Brothers. I think the Desert & Afghan Vets are putting their own spin on the MC world now. They seem to want to get back to a simpler time in the MC world. I know it is these new Vets that are really pushing the trend of returning MC to racing and to get back to having the Motorcycle as the center of any MC. There are also newer Vets clubs that are dedicated to helping these newer Vets get back into civilian life in a smoother transition then many of the Vets in the past had. I think that very admirable.
5.) What are some of the best places you’ve been able to ride?
The Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley NC. This is an amazing place and its set in some amazing riding areas of the Great Smokey Mountains. This museum has a lot of stuff on display from my MC and when we get there the owner always treats us great. This museum has a bike sitting in a corner that in any other museum would be the centerpiece. He has every kind of old bike you can imagine. My dream bike is a 1940’s Indian Four. I’ve only seen one in person a few times and it was always roped off and on display. Wheels through Time has a shit load of them, and when I expressed interest in them, the owner pulled one out and started to do burnouts right there in the museum with it. If you haven’t been you’re really missing out.
6.) You’re a diehard Indian man, can you tell me a little bit about why?
I’ve owned Harleys as well but I’ve always been drawn to Indian. It’s that full valance front fender that did it for me. Seems people either love it or hate it. I had one of the Gilroy Indians and loved it but now that Polaris has the Indian brand, I think they are really taking off. They’ve seen double-digit growth past two years running in a market that’s supposed to be in decline. It the little things too. like ABS brakes are standard on Indians but an added option on HDs, and of course cost extra. I now have a Dark Horse Chieftain and it’s the best bike I’ve ever owned.