Article By: Chris Callen
Photos By: Curt Miller
Originally Published In The October 2013 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Back in the mid-late nineties, a lot of small towns and local governments started to get an idea that by throwing a motorcycle party, they could cash in on some quick revenue with very little effort. Some came, some went, but a few emerged out of this period with some good solid work and ethics, producing great annual events that still go on today. Now that’s not actually the way that Thunder in the Valley of Johnstown, Pennsylvania got started, although I remember thinking that the first day I walked into the Cambria County Convention Center and Visitors’ Bureau office to meet them for the first time. There, among a staff made up of women local to the area sat their leader: a polite, nicely dressed, wellspoken woman named Jayne Korenoski. Oh boy, I thought to myself, these ladies are going to put on a rally, huh? What I hadn’t taken into account was the resilience of the people from Johnstown who had suffered hard economic times the great flood and challenge after challenge trying to keep commerce alive in their city as the steel industry disappeared.
Thunder in the Valley actually started during the second year of this magazine back in 1998. Local motorcycle dealers went to the visitors’ bureau with the idea, and the whole town got behind it. Now this part of the country is well steeped in motorcycle traditions with the famous “Dog Run” in that area along with one of the oldest Harley-Davidson dealers in the state — Zepka’s. It is also in close proximity to Pleasure Valley Raceway and Cernic’s Suzuki which have both been integral parts of the RM Cup and the AMA amateur motocross racing circuit. So, it would just seem logical for this event to make good sense, and over the first few years it picked up nicely. Starting off with a respectable 5,000 attendees that first year,doubling to 10,000 the second, they continued to add attractions, vendors and events as the rally built a name for itself. This year their numbers would climb to well over 200,000, and the town was filled with the sounds of revving pipes and Molly Hatchet.
Part of the credit here has to go to the four women that are still in charge of it today. They have a tireless work ethic and are beating the pavement at every expo they can get to from the time the snow flies until the month of the rally. They’ve had the Wall of Death, the Rat’s Hole shows, countless national entertainment acts and two years ago they added the world famous Broken Spoke Saloon to their lineup. The Broken Spoke would bring in a real flair of national rally environment, as well as their experienced staff that are more than capable at running multiple facilities during these events. I’m almost embarrassed to say that as the magazine ramped up to the national newsstands, I lost touch with these good people. I had worked with them from the beginning, but other than my good brother Doug from Sick Boy telling me how good he does there every year, I hadn’t realized how well they were doing with the event. Well, Doug managed to convince the ladies to bring us in this year and through the help of the Broken Spoke, we set up the first Cycle Source chopper show and Grease & Gears’ ride. Both events were great in spite of them being first year shows, and we look forward to returning to Johnstown next year to make them bigger and better.
It all started with the chopper show that they let us put on in Peoples’ Natural Gas Park, just across from the stadium, right in the middle of town. It was just outside a Broken Spoke facility and there was plenty of live entertainment all day to keep people busy while we looked over the bikes. Amazing machinery came out for this show; we mulled over great Pans and Shovels, a killer BSA or two and a beautiful Indian Chief. There were about eighty bikes in total, and for the most part, there were no complaints as we handed out the awards. You see, there are always one or two people at our shows who don’t understand that we don’t grade on the same scale as the rest of the motorcycle show world. We give extra credit for heart, and double points for making things yourself. But like I said, not too bad for the first year, and pictured here you can see the beautiful………. that won our “Best of Show.” It was hands down the most amazing bike of the day. You can look for an upcoming feature spread on it where we will get into the nitty-gritty. It was also our great pleasure to give the “Best Shovelhead” award to our little brother Zach Conway for the great story.
Later that night, they had our band Big House Pete take the stage at Peoples’ Park, and in spite of this being billed as a family-friendly rally, we were well received. It was so good to be home, in so many ways. To look out over the crowd of people as we normally do all over the country and see faces that we grew up with was just unbelievable. It truly was like having the best of both worlds. Now there were plenty of details that I haven’t touched on about Thunder in the Valley here — the parades, area attractions — but by and large we had a blast and can’t wait until next year.