Faculty tells true story behind Sturgis rally

Jill Fier

Jill Fier

Today, the small South Dakota town of Sturgis is host to thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from all around the nation. The event even gets coverage on national news broadcasts and other television shows. But that wasn’t the way it all began.

This was the topic of a lecture led by retired South Dakota State University faculty member Carl Edeburn, the author of “Sturgis: The Story of the Rally,” a history of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Edeburn was the featured speaker at the Brown Bag Lecture last Friday at the Old Sanctuary.

The Sturgis Rally evolved from a group of 18 men in 1936 who came together to form the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club.

The founder of that group was Clarence “Pappy” Hoel.

“He became known as Pappy because he was the oldest member of the club when it started,” Edeburn said.

Hoel was the son of a settler and ice salesman who was was facing the loss of his business with the new advancements in technology. Refridgeration was making its way into South Dakota and he needed to find a new way to make a living.

Hoel, who enjoyed riding motorcycles as a hobby, decided to start a dealership. He soon became an Indian motorcycle dealer after Harley Davidson turned him down.

Along with the start of his dealership came the start of the Jackpine Gypsies. In 1937, the Jackpine Gypsies joined with the Rapid City Pioneers Motorcycle Club for the very first field meet in Sturgis.

It wasn’t until a year later that a group of businessmen in Sturgis decided to getinvolved in the event and form the Black Hills Motor Classic group. Edeburn said the businessmen and the motorcyclists did not get along and held their monthly meetings separate from each other, with Hoel acting as a peacemaker between the two groups.

“In 1936, 37 and 38, motorcyclists were respectable, but maybe not as respectable as normal people,” he said.

Edeburn went on to describe some of the most memorable members of the group.

John Spiegelhoff was the first winner of the classic. He won the races in 1938, 1939 and 1941. He did not come in 1940, and a man named Al Nelson won that year. Spiegelhoff later went on to win the Daytona 200 in 1947.

The last living member of the club is Donald Bauden, who was a senior in high school when he joined the group and later became a pro boxer.

Hoel’s wife, now 98 years old, resides in Brookings and shared her memories with Edeburn.

Hoel died in 1989, and without him acting as peacemaker between the two groups who originally started the rally, the management was transferred to corporations.

Edeburn’s book is more than 300 pages long and includes nearly 130 rare and historical photos that document the history of the Sturgis Rally. To preview the book online, go to www.sturgistory.com or call Dr. Edeburn at 692-2700. The book is available at a number of Brookings businesses, including Cover to Cover and the Ag Heritage Museum on campus.