As I mentioned in my last blog post, the day I picked up my 2nd motorcycle at age 13 did not quite turn out the way that I had expected. Although I do not know the exact date, I do know that it was 46 years ago this month (March of 1973) probably in the later part of the month. It was a pleasant day and the sun was shining. My 78 year old grandmother (mom’s mom) was visiting us from Texas and dad thought what a great day to get Grammy out to see the countryside. Just a perfect day to head from Gillette Wyoming (where we lived) to Rapid City to purchase our new motorcycles.
Dad and I loaded the bikes we currently owned onto our homemade flatbed trailer. Normally we would have pulled the trailer with our big Chevy Suburban, but a couple months earlier my older brother Mike had an accident on some black ice and rolled the Suburban coming home from a ski trip. He was banged up a bit but was ok as were his passengers, but the Suburban was totaled. So dad hooked the trailer up to the 69 Cadillac. The Caddy was a nice car but I remember that it had the tallest front bench seat I had ever seen. You could not really see from front to back without stretching your neck a bit. We loaded up. Dad driving of course and my little grandmother standing about 5 feet tall (or less) sat in the front. I was in the back. We enjoyed our trip over to Rapid City on a nice spring day.
When we arrived at the dealership (Rice Honda/Suzuki) on Omaha Street I remember the tall sign for the dealership was damaged. I asked one of the salesman if a truck had hit the sign since the damage was quite high up. He said no, “that was how high the water was from the June 1972 flood”. The flood killed 238 people and left a mark on Rapid City that is felt to this day. That area of town is now a greenway and flood zone.
Dad and I made our deals. I’m not sure what he traded in but I do remember he bought a Suzuki GT380. I of course opted for the Suzuki TS250 Enduro trading my little Honda 100 in. All was good and we loaded our new bikes and started to head for home by mid afternoon. Dad decided to pull into a small gas station to fuel up in the town of Spearfish, which is about 45 miles north of Rapid City. That little station is still in business today in downtown Spearfish and it gives me the memory every time I see it. The station of course in 1973 was full service and a guy came out to fill the car with gas and of course dad was busy talking with him about our new bikes while my grandmother stayed put in the front seat. I decided I needed to use the rest room and went inside. Much to my surprise when I came back outside to the car, it was gone! What? Where the heck was the car and trailer? I looked to the north (the way out of town) and I noticed the car and trailer sitting at the stoplight about a block away. I ran as fast as I could to catch dad, but just as I was about to reach the back of the trailer, the light turned green and Robert Shannon had a lead foot and away he went. I waved my arms and yelled but could not get his attention. I thought certainly he will notice in just a minute or two that I was missing and come back. I continued to walk up the street so he would notice me when he came back. My worst fear was that he would be pissed off that I didn’t make it back to the car when he was ready to go (that was dad).
I walked all the way to the highway 14 intersection about 2 miles north of town but still no dad. Surely he and my grandmother would notice I was not there and come back. It had already been a hike just to get to where I knew he had to turn west and head for Gillette. At the time, Interstate 90 was not complete between Spearfish and Sundance Wyoming so highway 14 was what we had to take. I kept walking and of course by this time it’s now late afternoon and the sun beginning to set in the west and it’s starting to get chilly. I only had on an old white sweatshirt and some jeans. I walked a couple more miles and still no dad. There was a very friendly dog that came out from a driveway and he decided to walk with me for a bit, but when he realized I was not stopping he headed back home after another mile or two. I just kept thinking how mad dad was going to be when he had to turn around and pick me up. Well, he never came and I continued to walk, wishing I had taken my bike off the trailer to at least ride home. It was now dark and I was a bit scared not knowing what I was going to do but I was now several miles out from any town and I thought if I could make it to Beulah Wyoming right at the border there was a guy we knew that lived there and he had taken us ice fishing the previous winter. If I could only make it that far. Cars would zoom by as I continued to walk but nobody stopped and I just kept going but now it was very dark so I thought I better walk a bit further down in the ditch so I wouldn’t get hit. Shortly after moving to the ditch a car came screaming by heading east but it was dark and the car was moving fast so I could not tell if it was dad or not. I noticed the car doing a 3 point turn in a driveway that I had passed. I could tell it did not have a trailer and was scared that it was not dad. As the car approached from my rear and got close I realized it was the Caddy. I walked out of the ditch, opened the door and it was just my dad and not my grandmother. Now I was really confused. I jumped in the car crying of course thinking I was in trouble, but tears also filled dads eyes as he was so very happy to see me too. As we headed to the west it was less than a mile from the Wyoming/South Dakota border. In all, I had pounded nearly 12 miles out. Just a guess but I think it was between 3 and 4 hours. Dad always said it was a miracle that he spotted a flash of my white sweatshirt down in the ditch as he passed.
In talking with dad, he and my grandmother thought I had laid down for a nap in the back seat. The seat was so high and my little grandmother could not see over it but they both assumed I was back there. They even took a detour at Sundance so he could show her Devils Tower National Monument, then they checked to see why I was so quiet and both realized I was missing. He made a mad dash for home in Gillette, unhooked the trailer and dropped Grammy off. He did say he took the time to call the gas station but I was no where to be found. As fast as my dad always drove I am sure it did not take him long to make the 85 or 90 miles from home. That Caddy could flat move down the road. When I got back home my little grandmother gave me the biggest hug and I can hear her to this day in her little southern voice “ I’ve never been so happy to see someone in my life”.
Of course dad and I had a good story to tell for years. He always felt so terrible that he left me at the station and he apologized his whole life for that mistake. Me on the other hand still live with the memory. That road is still there. It is now the service road between Spearfish and the Wyoming border. Every time I drive the Interstate highway next to that road, it sparks the memory and even fills my eyes with a tear or two remembering the walk from 46 years ago, the day I got a brand new motorcycle at age 13.