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The Great Sturgis Motorcycle Stamp Adventure

By Dave Dube

We're used to the open road here in Montana. Traveling on I-90 is a welcome respite from the usual two-lane driving that we do to get around in this state. Speed is a factor. Two-lane roads are set at 70 MPH, whereas the Interstate is 75 MPH. Getting onto I-90 to travel east involves a "traditional" stop at the Wheat Montana Bakery, where they cook up some wonderful eats with grains they've raised right beside the bakery. Included in the sights to be seen at this junction are the usual travelers from every state in the union. On Saturday, August 5th, there were more than a few motorcycles in the large parking lot.

Once on the road, we began to see more and more cycles, mostly in groups of two or three. We didn't realize what was to come, and we didn't realize what it would take to describe the driving experience until our trip was nearly over: I liken it to sailing a sailboat amongst a group of synchronized swimmers — some who are not always synchronized. Oh yes — the body of water continued to stay the same size, and the number of swimmers and sailboats continued to grow.

As we entered Wyoming headed east toward Sturgis, we were passed by a pair of motorcycles that were flying very low — and fast. I mentioned to my wife that they were not only headed for Sturgis, but were apparently looking for a highway patrolman. They found one. Just inside the border of South Dakota. From there until we got to Rapid City, we saw almost as many cycles as we did highway patrolmen, all of them parked by the side of the road. I wonder if the folks riding these cycles allocate a certain amount of money to acquiring a speeding ticket in South Dakota as a souvenir.

There is really no description possible of the driving experience in and around Sturgis. This is a "town" that goes from about 6,500 full-time residents to somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-700,000 over the course of a week. Campgrounds abound. We stayed in Rapid City, which is about 30 miles further east on I-90, in a dorm room at the School of Mines. They accommodate in the neighborhood of 200 cyclists at the school from all over the United States. We met and talked with some of them, and Terri and I decided that the median age for this event has got to be at least 65.

On Sunday morning we got up early and drove back to Sturgis to do some scouting — mostly for someplace that would be close to where the ceremony was going to be held — and we found a side street within a couple of hundred yards of the large tent where it was to be held. The U.S. Postal Service actually had three large tents erected, two on the grounds of the post office, as well as a small vending booth on the sidewalk in front of the post office itself. The USPS brings in "volunteer" employees from all over South Dakota and Wyoming for this event every year. Speaking to the postmaster from Spearfish, we were told the reason why the Sturgis PO needs 30-40 additional employees during Bike Week: Not a lot of room for clothes on a bike. No time to wash clothes. Send the dirty stuff home by mail. Buy Sturgis t-shirts and Levis. Or not. Lots of skin visible. Everywhere.

Dave canceling his covers.
(Click for a larger view)
Sunday evening we drove to the Rapid City airport and picked up fellow VSC member Jay Bigalke. Monday morning we got up early again, and made the 30-mile trip back to Sturgis for the first official day of Sturgis Bike Week, and the first day ceremony for the Motorcycle stamps. Jay wanted to be close to the post office for a "photo op," as he had been told that all of the employees were to be gathered for a picture at 7:00 AM. It didn't come off until nearly 7:30, but the reason was that they were already selling products, including the stamps, by the time we got there. We all bought our stamps and began pasting up, and employees were also canceling, so we took advantage of that service as well. We were told on Tuesday that the POS devices [electronic cash registers] on Monday rang up numbers in the five figures, and I can believe it. We were also told that they sold out everything that they had by 1:00 PM on Monday.

Dave's Harley Cover
The ceremony itself was well attended — the biggest ceremony I've ever attended, bar none. It didn't start on time, and it didn't end on time, either. Consequently, there was no time to obtain autographs. The bike owners did stay after, but I didn't ask for signatures on the program, but did ask for and receive signatures on the covers that I'd done. George Tsunis, the Harley owner, is building the Chopper, so I had him sign that one as well. After the Presentation of Colors, a postal employee started the National Anthem, and it sounded like everybody joined in. Very moving. Everyone on the dais spoke, and caused a slight delay in the departure of about 300-400 bikes for the Annual Mayor's Ride to Chief Crazy Horse, and return.

Dave's Indian Scout Cover
(Click for a larger view)
We returned to the sales tent and the post office after the ceremony, the Postmaster Vickie Cartwright, allowed us to enter her office and we finished pasting up my covers and applied the Registry Cancel to those I'm going to do for my HD/HP issue. I wanted a red cancel to go with the artwork, which will be my brother-in-law and his restored Indian Scout. A fitting tribute to not only the motorcycle that was the impetus for the Sturgis Rally, but I'm also an Indian fan, even if I don't own or ride one. A fellow by the name of Ralph "Pappy" Hoel opened an Indian dealership in Sturgis in the mid 30's after his ice business melted down. He organized the first Sturgis Rally in 1938. The Indian was among a number of motorcycle companies that sprang up in the early 1900s, and was out of business for a number of years, only to spring back to life in 1999 — and then to go out of business again in 2003. We saw only a few Indians while we there, and there were actually more Indians in the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum than we saw on the street.

We returned to Rapid City so that we could get Jay to the airport for a mid-afternoon flight back to Dayton. We returned to Sturgis on Tuesday to obtain some event cancels, and I wanted to get an Indian t-shirt or two. By 3:00 PM on Tuesday, we'd had our fill of noise and synchronized sailing.

On Wednesday morning we started our return trip with a small detour to Devils Tower in Wyoming. Thursday, I went back to work, rented "Close Encounters" and "The World's Fastest Indian", starring Anthony Hopkins. Good Movie. We had no close encounters, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Candid Views - Photos courtesy Mark Saunders of the USPS:

A view of downtown Sturgis on the first day of issue.

Digital color postmarks to go with their tattoos!

The owners of the three motorcycles depicted on the stamps.

Servicing first day covers in Sturgis.

The audience at the first day ceremony

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