Nation's Capital Norton Owners -- A History 1982-1999
In March 1982, an ad was placed in the Washington Post asking Norton owners to meet for the purpose of forming a club. I called the phone number and talked to Mort Simon. He explained that the United States Norton Owners Association had its beginnings in the D.C. area in 1975 and a local chapter of USNOA was being formed. Mort was enthusiastic and encouraged me to come to the first meeting on March 20.
If I remember correctly, there were rain showers that day, but I donned rain gear and headed for an address in Northeast D.C. I found the right street, but rode around the block a couple of times looking for a Norton parked somewhere—I was either the first to show up or the only fool to ride in the rain. I parked the bike and went inside to find a handful of other Nortonites. Mort was in the kitchen making chili. I introduced myself and showed him a sketch of the capitol dome and the words ‘Nation’s Capital Norton Owners–a local chapter of USNOA’ (I had made the mistake of telling Mort on the phone that I was a graphic arts professional). The sketch was passed around to the seven others present, and was well received. This started discussions about a club and Mort convened an informal meeting. Michael Breed had the foresight to bring pen and paper, so he was duly appointed Secretary; Chris Greenbacker became the Ride Committee; Mort was proclaimed Business Manager; and yours truly was in charge of publications. Other attendees at the first meeting were: Mike Lindsay, Ken Perrone, Mac Seavey, Dave Walsh and Stu Cummings.
The following month would set the tone for NCNO. I put out a newsletter, Chris Greenbacker led a ride from Gilbert’s Corner, Va. to the April meeting site, where we were treated to food and drink while discussing Nortons and club business. A constitution was adopted and club shirts were readied for NCNO’s debut at the USNOA National Rally in Maine. We held our first annual elections during our club ride/ meeting in the Catoctin mountains of Maryland, and George Ade was elected as our first president.
NCNO grew steadily over the next year, with over 70 new members on the roster. Dave & Bunny Jankowski and Chris Greenbacker did a great job organizing, planning and running our first regional rally in September, Rolling Thunder ’83. NCNO members took a two-day ride through the mountains to join USNOA members from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania & New Jersey who rolled up to the site in Morgantown, WV.
NCNO kept growing in number as well as in reputation as a club that rides. In addition to our usual monthly ride/meetings, we sponsored the Country Road Burn benefit for the Burn Center of the Washington Hospital Center in June of 1984. Club members built a large cooker, dubbed the ‘Hogslayer’, to roast a pig or side of beef at club events. The club got a banner to ‘fly the flag’ at the USNOA National in Missouri and other outings. Rolling Thunder II was again held the weekend after Labor Day, this time in McVeytown, Pa. Chris Greenbacker was elected president in November, 1984.
More new members, more rides, more Nortons, more fun were the marching orders in 1985. NCNO co-sponsored British Motorcycle Day in Highland, Md. in July. Many club members attended the USNOA 10th Anniversary Rally in Ohio. Rolling Thunder III rolled into Deep Creek Lake, Md. in September. Mort Simon was elected president in October.
1986 was a year of firsts. The first Cabin Fever Run spring ride in April, the first Pool Party in June, and the first Christmas Party. NCNO again co-sponsored British Motorcycle Day in Burtonsville, Md. in May. We were well represented at the USNOA National in Georgia, and our ranks swelled to nearly 100 members by the time RT IV rolled around in September in Buena Vista, Va. Tech Sessions became the highlight of the winter (non-riding) meetings. More doo dads, with club jackets and patches purchased.
NCNO was going full tilt in 1987. Club business centered around revising our constitution, Michael Breed was elected president in November, and club pins were purchased. Club members got involved in Vintage racing, and are very successful. Rolling Thunder V in Mt. Storm, WV featured a first-hand look at the new Norton rotary and a 1940’s Manx racer. It doesn’t get much better than this. Or does it? At the USNOA National in Colorado, NCNO got the nod to host the next National Rally, and we received USNOA’s first-ever award for journalism for our monthly NCNO Flyer newsletter.
The following year was a blur of activity, preparing for and hosting National Thunder ’88. We returned to our RT IV rally site in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia with 700 of our Norton comrades from all over North America. The biggest USNOA National ever. Everybody pitched in to help the Rally Committee of Chris Greenbacker (Chairman), Bob Norum, Joe Prandoni, Dave Gerberding, Michael Breed and myself. A new annual event, the Chili Cook-Off, was added to our list of monthly club activities. RT VI, in western Maryland (Little Orleans) capped off the riding season. The new USNOA Tech Digest, written by Jim Baker of the Chicago Chapter, was handed over to me to publish, and the 500 copies delivered in November sold quickly. NCNO also received a second journalism award for the Flyer, this time with Mort Simon in the editor’s chair.
1989 saw us back to enjoying our normal (?) activities of riding and meeting, now that the big push of National Thunder ’88 was over. The RT VII Rally in Grantsville, Md. was our biggest ever, with over 150 Norton riders in attendance, rolling over the best twisties in western Md. and southern Pa.
The ’90s came upon us and we’ve just about got it figured out—a display at the International Motorcycle Show in Baltimore in February, to show our bikes and create interest in the club; Anniversary meeting in March; kick off the riding season with a ride in April; Cabin Fever Run and British Motorcycle Day in May; Pool Party in July; National Rally in July; Catoctin Run in August; Rolling Thunder in September to finish off the riding season. (RT VIII was in Everett, PA; RT IX in Seneca Rocks, WV; RT X in Seneca Rocks, WV and Mill Run, PA; RT XI in Hedgesville, WV; RT XII in Boyer, WV; RT XIII in Natural Chimneys, VA; RT XIV in Little Orleans, MD the weekend of hurricane Fran; RT XV in Slanesville, WV; RT XVI in Stanardsville, VA). Nomination of club officers begins in October, Chili cook-off in November, and a holiday party in December rounds out the calendar year.
We have seen some milestones in the ’90s. In 1991, a changing of the guard with Michael Breed stepping down as President and Dale Findley elected to the post. Michael was President from 1987–1991 and Secretary from 1982–1987. Dale enthusiastically took the reigns with both hands and served the club well in 1992 and 1993. Mort Simon sat in the Editor’s chair again from 1992 to 1997. Chris Greenbacker was elected president and served in 1994 and 1995. In 1996, yours truly was elected President and was followed by Jeff Burns, who was President in 1997 and 1998. I returned to the NCNO Flyer editor’s post in 1997. Burt Upchurch (founder and only member of the Norton Girl Fan Club) was elected to the Presidency in 1999 and will also chair RT XVII.
The last year of the millennium will find us hosting the National Rally once again, at the same location (Buena Vista, VA) as the National we hosted in 1988. It promises to be another enjoyable event, with great roads to ride and Norton afficionados from all over the country in attendance.
The ’90s also brought the internet, and we jumped on board with a home page and e-mail. https://ncno.org is our web site and email@example.com is my e-mail address.
After more than fifteen years, what strikes me about NCNO is our greatest asset, the people who make up our group. Not only the ones mentioned above, but the people who continue to make NCNO better. People like Chris Greenbacker, who always leads us down some interesting roads. Like Bob McKeever, who raced Nortons at Daytona in the ’40s and the ’80s and ’90s. (Bob will tell you that real Nortons have one cylinder). Like Dave Gerberding, who turns out incredible meals from our homemade Hogslayer II cooker. Like George Ade, who spent countless hours on the phone soliciting new members. Like Jeremy Keller, Fred Barnes, Mark Burkhardt, Mike Anikis, and Burt Upchurch, whose musings in the Flyer have kept us all entertained. Like Joe Prandoni, Tom Barrett, George Hinkle, Jeff Burns and Marc Bouchard who have kept the books. Like Jim Seimer, Steve Paleos, Bob & Tari Norum, Andy Lee and Lynn Rasmussen, who have opened their homes & their pools for us. Like ‘Alligator’ Allard, who makes a mean jambalaya gumbo. Like Patsy Burns and Linda Findley who keep us supplied with things that say Norton. Like members Dave Hepner, Michael Bolton, Alan Pion, and Dave Connors who always show up and help out. Like Robert Patch, who does DJ duty at our rallys. Like former members who keep in touch from California, Colorado and New York. Like active members who live in Philadelphia, Richmond, Roanoke, Front Royal, Western Md. and West Virginia. Like everybody who volunteers their time, whether it be a ride, meeting, show, race or rally. It’s simply amazing that the enjoyment of riding a 25-year-old machine can generate the spirit and enthusiasm to bring together so many people from all walks of life.
NCNO has come a long way since that first meeting back in 1982. We have become one of the most active clubs in the country, and can consistently field twenty or more motorcycles and riders for our monthly gatherings. We offer complete support services for machine and owner—mechanical services & technical advice, spirited group rides, refreshments, Norton apparel, and most of all, sharing the experience of owning and maintaining a Norton motorcycle. I’m not the only one foolish enough to believe I’ll be riding a Commando into the 21st century.