The 2014 King City Run by Paul Thomas

Editor’s Note:  Photos are at the bottom of this page.


My approach toward motorcycle rides has always been “the more the merrier”.  This years King City Run had the best turnout ever.  The variety of early motorcycles was exceptional with Harley F, J’s, C, JDH, Flathead, Knucklehead’s, Panhead’s, Indian Chief and a custom Indian single, a Crocker and a Henderson.  All these rare beauties have been kept or restored into excellent running order.  They have been brought out by their owners to be ridden and enjoyed on the roads and highways out where they belong.  There is nothing I would rather do.  Now it’s our turn to play.  These machines were to be put to the test on over 200 miles of twisting mountain roadways with road surfaces ranging from good asphalt to packed dirt and rock.  The weather report was superb throughout the three-day ride with scattered clouds to keep the central California sun in check, a benefit to both riders and machines.

   Our headquarters at Keefer’s Inn in King City was the starting point for each days ride.  The first day, Thursday, was an afternoon “shake down cruise” of' about 35 miles with some moderate grades to help with tuning.  In my case, the 1917 Harley single performed adequate and needed no tuning.  Some of us checked carburetor settings and we all returned under our own power.  

   That evening we dined together at the restaurant across the parking lot from the motel, the Stravaganza Grill.  After we all had arrived, Chris brought us some sad news that our fellow rider and past participant Steve Wright had passed away that morning after a short battle with cancer.  Steve was known as a motorcycle historian and had written three books, one of which I own called “The American Motorcycle 1869-1914”.  We lifted our glasses in a toast to Steve.  He will be missed.  The food and the service were good and we all got our own checks.  Too bad the restaurant didn’t have a liquor license because they could have made a few more sales.  

   The next morning, Friday, we set out for a long day; fuel tanks topped up, tires and oil checked.  Gas cans were filled and placed in the chase truck.  We set out together riding through town then out onto the country roads where time seemed to have stood still for a hundred years.  Whereas the main group of bikes could maintain 50 mph, I could only manage 40 mph.  So, slowly I fell behind and rode alone, enjoying the rural scenery in the timeless countryside. Usually the ride leaders Chris or Victor would get us regrouped at important turns on the route.  As a group we set out on an uphill grade of Highway 198. My single needed second gear and I could only make 20 mph and at that speed I saw the California Poppies, lupine and oaks in great detail.  How beautiful this lovely terrain is in high spring.  The other bikes had all ridden around and passed me, but I needed a relatively flat spot to pull over and let the cars pass, so I could get started again.  I waited under the shade of a giant oak while about 10 cars went by.  I continued to pull the hill at 20 mph in second gear.  As the road flattened out I shifted to high gear and opened the high-speed air valve on the carburetor to pick up a couple extra mph.

   The first stop was in Priest Valley at the abandoned bar and nightclub.  Two riders from Hemet had first hand stories of the excellent entertainment that had once occurred there.  We all enjoyed the shade and the company.  With our fuel tanks topped up from the gas cans in the chase truck, we set out for the Parkfield grade.

    As we approached the grade the road narrowed to one and a half lanes and the tight turns became switchbacks.  My single needed second gear, but pulled the hill well at 20 mph.  I expect the Harley JDH and the Crocker enjoyed the best ride up this section.  We reached the summit where we stopped and took group pictures.  There we enjoyed the shade of some huge oak trees and the company of the other riders.  

   When we set out for the next phase, Victor had gone ahead and set up to take video of us riding across the top of the mountain.  Finally, when we came off the summit the downhill road changed from asphalt to packed rocky gravel and dirt. (Editor’s note: there was also quite a bit of loose dirt and rock!  As soon as we hit the loose stuff, Chris Carter passed the entire group.  Go figure.)  For me, keeping the almost 100 year-old 28” clincher wheels and old tires away from the softball and baseball sized rocks, was difficult on the 5 or so miles down the Parkfield grade.  This was thrilling and challenging; keeping the bike in second gear to control descent, avoiding the large rocks that could knock the tire off or bend the wheel (just my imagination!). Fun ride!

    We made it back to paved roads and civilization.  The first sign we saw was the V6 dude Ranch.  This seemed like a big part of Parkfield.  When we got to the Parkfield Café, our lunch stop, the western theme continued with rustic wooden siding, long wooden bar and furnishings.  Hanging from the open beamed ceiling was the most striking cattle branding iron collection I have ever seen, hundreds of different branding irons from all over the west, not just California.   Our waitress was as surly as one needs to be to handle a posse of cowboys, a band of outlaws or a group of antique motorcycle riders. I have to say we all got what we needed and the food was excellent.  They use grass fed beef and slice the french-fries onsite.  After lunch we went out and checked out the bikes, fueled up with gas cans from the chase truck and headed out for San Miguel where we might find some afternoon coffee.

   The road was good and we made good time.  Nearing San Miguel, I saw a bike on the side of the road.   I slowed down, but the rider waved me on, so I went, knowing the chase truck was just behind me.  When we arrived in San Miguel our coffee shop was closed for the afternoon, but we found a better place!  The Country Diner was a breakfast and lunch spot that had delicious peach pie, milkshakes and malts.  So we ordered up a fresh pot of coffee, milkshakes, malts and pie and then enjoyed the banter with the server.  Some of us enjoyed libations and the banter from the barkeep at the Elkhorn, just next door.  Our Motorcycles were parked in the center of town, rear wheel to the curb, like a great army of chargers, at the ready.   We checked out our rides and fueled up before the next leg or our journey, the ride through Indian Valley.

  We left together, but in a few miles the main group had gotten ahead of me and were soon out of sight.  First thing I noticed in Indian Valley was how the terrain, mostly pastures, looked to have been completely torn up.  Steep cliffs that looked like a mountain torn in half seemed to go on for miles then dropped unseen into what was likely a river bed hundreds of feet below.   The short green grass covered the pasture surfaces but looked like large rivers had eroded through the middle.  Beautiful dark green valley oaks were scattered across the torn up fields.  Surely this was the result of being in the center of California earthquake country at the San Andreas Fault.   The damage looked recent but could have been there a hundred years.  Continuing through the valley on my right the mountains had a soft round naked look.  The grass was only tall enough to just cover the hills.  They reminded me of parts of a beautiful woman’s body, round with fine curves.  Directly overhead the dark Azure blue sky was covered with white puffy cotton-ball clouds that were thin enough to see the blue sky peeking through.  As my view dropped to the horizon the sky lightened to a baby blue and the clouds were thicker and had more threatening gray tones mixed in.  This day’s ride has been awesome.

   Then I saw it, coming from the other direction.  It was a single-horse of the animal variety, a pinto or paint I’m told, with a shiny reddish brown and white coat. It was the lovely\iest horse I had ever seen running and playing in a pasture.  It charged and tromped and galloped in its small pasture, changing direction, as its head moved up and down like it wanted to play.  Perhaps it was the sound of the old Harley single or seeing me riding along or maybe it just wanted to go along with me for a ride out on the open range.

    As the road turned back toward King City, the last ten miles of wide-open valley turned into a wind tunnel that I faced head on. The wind was cool and steady.  I crouched down to lessen the force on my chest.  I was relieved when I got back into town and my speed dropped and so did the wind’s force on me.  Back at the Keefer’s Inn, we were all parked and stretching out after a long day.  Some of the other hotel guests and some locals checked out the motorcycles and were amazed, taking lots of pictures.  Later on in the evening we would celebrate with the Friday night group dinner at the Stravaganza Grill next door.

    We dined in our own private dinning room.  The servers were there to take good care of us.  For our meals we were given the choice of prime rib, salmon or a chicken dish.   The portion was so large I barely had room for desert.   After the dinner I retired to my room for a much-needed rest, because in the morning we would check out and prepare for the last day of the run.

  Saturday morning was cool and overcast, but the sun brightened things up through the clouds pretty well.  We set out together wearing our warm gear heading toward Fort Hunter Ligget Army Base. As usual I fell behind.  The long straight roadway had a very gradual uphill grade that eventually forced me from high gear into second.  I was making good progress and a Knucklehead had fallen back as well.  We stopped at he “Y” in the road to try and determine if the main group went into Mission San Antonio on the base or straight on into Locke.  We saw the chase truck but they didn’t know either.  So we decided to bypass the mission.  Just then my motorcycle started to run poorly, misfiring with no power.

    Fortunately Paul on the Knuckle had a full set of tools.   We pulled over at a clearing on the side of the road.  I took apart the Schiebler carburetor, checking the needle and bowl, then blew out the seat and jet, checking for obstructions.  I reassembled the Schiebler but it still didn’t run right.  Then the chase truck pulled up and offered help.  A short time later when the main group finished with the Mission, some stopped to offer help.  Ray on the Henderson suggested we check the air valve.  We removed it and found that the ancient piece of leather that seals the venturi had broken and disintegrated and ran through the motor.  No damage to the motor, but we couldn’t make it run right without that quarter sized leather disk with a beveled edge.   I was done for the day.  I loaded up into the chase truck and we drove into Locke.

   Locke is a crossroads town, no more than a convenience store and a small diner at the same corner.  That morning we shared it with a group of 30 or so bicyclists.  We got a bite to eat at the diner while we watched the bicyclists fuel themselves up with nutrition bars and Gatorade.  Some of the locals got a big kick out of our old rides and were amazed we could still ride the old stuff.  So, with fuel topped up we continued on.

  This section of the ride was my favorite from 2 years ago.  Downhill sweepers left and right, like the road was following a river. On the old 1917 Harley I found this very challenging stuff, but today the conversation about old motorcycles with the chase truck driver would be all that was left.   

   As we got back into King City and Keefer’s Inn our vehicles were waiting for us.  We got busy with loading motorcycles into the trucks and trailers in the parking lot.  We noticed that our Motorcycle parking area had been taken over by three original restored Mercedes Gullwings. We exchanged parking lot chatter with those rare beauties’ owners.  Those machines were brought out to be driven, on the roads and highways where those cars belong.  Now it’s their turn to play.  Very nice; the AMCA keeps good company.   Sadly, we were getting ready to go.  So the final farewells and handshakes were given in the parking lot and we headed for home, looking forward to seeing everyone again at next year’s King City Run.