By Mark Wineka
Bill Hudson has tried to provide his campers everything they need.
He has more than a dozen portable toilets, hundreds of bags of ice, showers, generators, three food vendors, two shuttle buses, tents, chairs, tables, a live band and a tree-lined 8.6 acres for some 550 bikers who have chosen his Cruse Road campground as their home base this weekend.
Hudson’s campers are part of the thousands from across the United States and Canada who have literally rolled into Salisbury this weekend for the fifth and last Smoke Out motorcycle event at the Rowan County Fairgrounds.
Bikers and businessmen said Friday county officials, who have ordered this to be Salisbury’s last Smoke Out, have no idea how they will be hurting local business when the event goes somewhere else next year.
“We’re putting Salisbury on the map,” said George Miller, one of the organizers with Flat Rock, the event’s promoter. “You have nearly 20,000 people show up for these events. … The amount of revenue that comes into this town for three days is amazing.”
Just the casual observer in Salisbury this weekend sees countless motorcycles cruising town, and it’s obvious, looking at the bikes parked outside of hotels, restaurants and stores, that someone’s spending money.
“These are not cheap people,” Hudson said.
Waitresses in Salisbury fight with each other for the chance to work during the Smoke Out weekend, he said.
The bikes are often loud. Many of the bikers sport tattoos and lots of leather and skin. they tend to ride in groups.
But their defenders say they also are hard-working people who often travel here on vacation.
“I’ve got no problem with these guys,” Hudson said. “These are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”
Looking over Hudson’s site Friday evening, Miller said some of the motorcycle campers are doctors and lawyers.
“I would bet you have a couple of millionaires out there,” he said.
Hudson said the public conjures up a stereotype of bikers that makes them out to be the Hell’s Angels of the 1960s.
“This isn’t like that,” he said, giving a tour of the expansive campground behind his house.
Hudson tried his campground idea for the first time last year and only had about 100 campers. When he paid all his expenses, he ended up $800 in the hole, he said.
But this year he started promoting his campsite with Miller and Flat Rock’s help early on. A pre-registration process, where people could pay in advance with a credit card, started in February.
Hudson had 335 pre-registrations and about 250 others come into the campground by Friday.
Ralph Bellini, who was signing in campers and giving them an identifying bracelet, said he had registered bikers from places such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and Calgary, Canada.
“They just come down here and hang out,” he said. “It’s kind of like they’re vacation.”
Jacob Hood of Nashville, Tenn., and his friend Andrew Bowles of Barron County, Kentucky, arrived at Hudson”s campground about midnight Thursday.
It was their first Salisbury Smoke Out, and they had heard of the event through the Horse Backstreet Choppers Magazine, which has harshly criticized officials here for driving the event away.
The buddies said they spend money in a community wherever they go. They decided to ride to Salisbury because it was something different from the Harley Davidson national gatherings they had been attending.
During the week, Hood is a heating and air-conditioning serviceman. Bowles works for an oil company. His wife, Brookelynn, is a pharmacy tech.
Bowles said he and his wife have been camping now five weekends in a row.
The whole campground scene on Hudson’s property is a ‘”family atmosphere,” said a local, Rick Absher.
“Bikers are getting a bad rap,” he said.
Friday evening was the opening half day for Smoke Out, which will have a full day of events today at the county-owned fairgrounds. Most of the bikers will leave Sunday.
Hudson’s campground had plenty of beer drinking and live music by a Manassas, Va., band that Miller said once opened for Steely Dan.
Hudson tried to buffer the band’s sound as much as possible by putting it on a flat-bed trailer between two groves of trees and surrounding it with some recreational vehicles.
For campers who might have been drinking, Hudson was providing shuttle buses to and from the fairgrounds. He also was giving shuttle service in between four different establishments, including the Carriage Room, Jokers, Rascals and Allie’s.
A $5 shuttle fee covered the whole weekend. “Five dollars is a whole lot cheaper than a DWI,” Hudson said.
Hudson, Miller and Edge (Greg Scheuer), the event’s chief promoter all are retired military personnel. Miller was a lieutenant colonel.
Hudson said he has lived in Rowan County for 13 years.
“I can’t believe we have county commissioners who want to take customers away from establishments,” he said. “I thought county commissioners are supposed to support residents. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Salisbury is the home of two big motorcycle businesses: Tilley’s Harley Davidson on Bendix Drive and Extreme Motorcycles on Ritchie Road.
Both businesses enjoy significant business weekends when Smoke Out is in town.
“I hate to see it go,” said Bryan Beaver, owner of Extreme Motorcycles, which will have a special open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today because the bikers are in town. Free hot dogs are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“If they could find a way to keep it here, it would be good for business,” Beaver said.. “We’re real close to it ó they’re right down the road.”
Beaver said the weekend doesn’t necessarily generate motorcycle sales as much as it does a brisk business for parts, accessories and service.
Beaver promoted his business to he visiting bikers through an insert in the newspaper, radio and cable television advertisements. “We like seeing the people and the motorcycles,” Beaver said.
Tilley’s Parts Manager Junior Cranfill and General Manager Tracy Edwards are also disappointed that this is the last Smoke Out.
“It’s sad that people are looking at people with tattoos and judging them only for that,” Edwards said. She described the bikers coming to Salisbury as hard-working people who spend money.
Cranfill agreed. He said business already was brisk Thursday from the visiting bikers and especially constant Friday. He expected more of the same today.
Tilley’s said they sell some bikes and also see a lot of service and parts business. A woman biker driving in from Beckley, W.Va., called earlier in the week to make sure Tilley’s had the starter she needed, Cranfill said as an example.
It was no problem.
Customers were lined up at the front door before the 9 a.m. opening Friday, Cranfill added.
Tilley’s HOG Chapter was selling spaghetti dinners Friday and today to raise money for Alzheimer’s patients. The store also had special vendors outside and a DJ.
“I just do not understand why they’re getting rid of them,” Cranfill said.
Tommy Mason, director of the local HOG chapter, said he hates to see the end of Smoke Out in Salisbury ó for the bikers and the community.
“It brings a lot of people to our area who would never come otherwise,” Mason said. “Every motel room in town is booked up. All these Harleys run on premium gas and, the fact is, these guys don’t eat cheap.”
Mike Jones, owner of Inksane Skinovations on South Main Street, said he knows four guys from Quebec who always ride to Salisbury for Smoke Out, and two men in the group usually make an appointment for a new tattoo.
“Salisbury should be happy it comes to town,” he said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.
By Mark Wineka