The Florida West Coast Motorcycle Club (FWCMC) was founded in 1936 by a small
group of motorcycle enthusiasts in St. Petersburg, Florida.
While we do not have many historical records on the club, especially in its earliest years, we do know that the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) sanctioned FWCMC, and that it was the oldest AMA-sanctioned club in the state of Florida. The number that AMA assigned to it was 165, making it the 165th club to be sanctioned in the entire United States. That is a very low number, and we are delighted that even though the club was inactive for years, AMA still reserved the number and re-assigned it to us when we revived FWCMC as an AMA Historic Club.
“I’m always delighted when people come forward and want to reactivate an old club that has been dormant for a long time,” said Serena Van Dyke, organizer services coordinator at AMA in Pickerington, Ohio during a telephone interview with Bill Frederick in 2012.
Our research found that from 1936 through the 1970s, FWCMC sponsored all sorts of motorcycle-related events, from rides to long trips to races and
parties. We discovered the club became dormant in the 1980s, and then did not renew its AMA charter, or its non-profit corporate status, sometime in the mid-1990s.
The club appeared to have its own racetrack in Largo, and we know that it raised funds in the late 1940s in hopes of constructing a clubhouse. At this point, we don’t know whether that clubhouse was ever built.
FWCMC in the news
We know about the racing and the clubhouse project because of stories that were printed in area newspapers back in the late 1940s. One story, in the St. Petersburg Times on Feb. 12, 1948, described an upcoming racing program that was to be sponsored by FWCMC.
A similar, but somewhat shorter, story appeared in The Evening Independent, which was St. Pete’s afternoon newspaper at the time. That story included a paragraph that said the races were scheduled to raise money for a new FWCMC clubhouse. That story also included the following line: "The club is the oldest of its kind in the city and held well-attended races at the track last May."
On race day, Feb, 15, 1948, the St. Petersburg Times ran another story, which was mostly a re-hash of the previous effort, but which included a couple of nuggets of new information. (Note that in this later version, Herbert Groves was no longer “Stinky.”)
At least at some point in its existence, FWCMC had a drill team of precision riders that performed at various venues. A story in the St. Petersburg Times on September 4, 1971 showed a picture of the FWCMC team performing tricky maneuvers in a parking lot near a movie theater that was showing the film “Evel Knievel.” The pictures accompanied a review of the movie by Entertainment Writer Fred Wright. Mr. Wright didn’t like the movie very much.
The picture shows four Harleys and riders. The riders are wearing some sort of club shirts, which feature some sort of graphic design on the back. The picture is so indistinct that the nature of the design can’t be discerned. The line above the design seems to say, “Fla. West Coast.”
A second picture also appears next to the review. Also very muddy and indistinct, the picture seems to show a woman in front of the front wheel of a Harley. According to the caption, the picture show Jan Stevens, wife of FWCMC President Jim Stevens, picking up a number of helmets.
Family-Style Cyclists… Create New Image
On June 20, 1972, St. Petersburg Times ran an article about the “family motorcycle club”. The article shows how even in 1972, the origins of FWCMC where lost to history with the first line (which would indicate the club was formed in 1930, not 1936. “Forty-two years ago a since-forgotten individual, who must have been considered a nut in his day, formed the Florida West Cost Motorcycle Club.”
It does talk of the age of FWCMC – “That pre-World War II start, however, gate St. Petersburg the distinction of being home to one of the oldest motorcycle clubs in the country and perhaps (records are incomplete) the oldest in Florida.”
The article spans two pages, and focus on how FWCMC is a family oriented club that just loves riding. A quote from then member Jim Stephens, “We’re not out to tear up the countryside or pick fights in neighborhood bars. We’re an active, well-organized family club enjoying our outings just like people do in their cars.”
The HOG Hiatus
Supporting Harley-Davidson's push to create Harley Owners Groups (HOG), FWCMC took a Hiatus from 1990 to 2012. During this time, Fletcher's Harley-Davidson sponsored the Florida Bay Area Clearwater Chapter of the Harley Owners Group.
Memories from Bob Fletcher
Much of what we know about FWCMC comes from Bob Fletcher himself, through the pages of his book, “The Life and Times of a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Enthusiast.” Bob, who died early in the summer of 2012, mentioned FWCMC a number of times in his book. The club seemed to offer an active social outlet for Bob and his wife Lucille, and he also appears to have used it to become active in the Tampa Bay motorcycle community after he and his family moved to Florida from Illinois. In those early years in St. Petersburg, Bob was working as service manager at the H-D dealership in St. Petersburg.
His membership in FWCMC helped to make him a bit more comfortable after he first moved into his new, small house in St. Pete: “I joined the motorcycle club in St. Pete and one of the club members loaned me a cot so I started living in my new house. I had the electricity and water turned on. When I took a shower, the water seemed cold, so I turned up the heat on the water heater. Almost a week later, I discovered the electricity had never been connected to the water heater."
“I tried to build up the business. I got real active in the club promoting rides, field meets, etc."
“The name of the club was the Florida West Coast Motorcycle Club and it was the oldest AMA franchised club in Florida."
“St. Petersburg is only 20 miles from Tampa, and there were two motorcycle clubs there. They were the Gasparilla, named after the famous pirate, and the Golden Eagles. This was in 1954, and the Golden Eagles are still in existence as of this writing. Sarasota is 30 miles to the south and they had a club named the Sandslingers, which my cousin Kenny Clark belonged to. That club is still active. About 40 miles to the east of us is the city of Lakeland, and their club was called Polk County M.C. We formed an organization called the West Coast Association that was composed of the various clubs, and every month we would alternate our meeting place."
“At this time there was only one bridge over Tampa Bay, called Gandy, and it went from St. Petersburg to Tampa. If we wanted to go to Sarasota, we had to ride the ferryboat, which took about an hour. The last ferry left Sarasota at 11 p.m. and if we missed that we had to go around Tampa Bay to Tampa and then home. That kept us from partying too long!”
Bob said that if one club sponsored an event, the other clubs would step up and help out. “That way, our club’s events would not conflict with another club’s events.”
In 1955, Bob was hit from behind during a race at Daytona and severely injured his ankle. He also broke his wrist. He spent two weeks in the hospital and then could only work on a limited basis. That caused some financial problems, and Bob said the members of Florida West Coast Motorcycle Club took up a collection for him. He said, “That helped a lot. I made quite a few friendships in the motorcycle club.”
History From the AMA
Serena Van Dyke of the AMA stated there is an indicator that FWCMC was established in 1936. However, records owned by the AMA only go back to 1960, so it is hard to tell when the FWCMC first became AMA-chartered. AMA sent us copies of some of their records for the club, and one shows the charter that was issued to FWCMC in 1960. The letter accompanying 6the charter says something like, “Thank you for renewing your charter,” which leads us to think that the club was AMA chartered well before 1960.
Information on the Golden Eagles website (the Tampa-based club that is still in existence) indicates that club was first chartered by the AMA in 1950. Since FWCMC is said to be the oldest AMA club in Florida, that would lead us to think that the first charter was granted sometime between 1936 and 1950.
FWCMC was incorporated as a non-profit with the Florida Secretary of State’s Office. In its later years, either Bob Fletcher or Lucille Fletcher would sign the annual incorporation papers, and Fletcher’s Harley-Davidson was used as the club address. It appears that while the club remained “on the books” with both AMA and the state of Florida into the mid-90s, the club actually stopped activities sometime in the mid-1980s.
While Bob is no longer with us, his memory burns bright with FWCMC members. The banner on the club’s new newsletter reads, “Riding in memory of Bob Fletcher, 1921 – 2012.”
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