Florida Bay Area Clearwater HOG Chapter was the officially sponsored Harley Owners Group chapter of Fletcher's Harley-Davidson in Clearwater, Florida.
It was 1990, and the Harley Owners Group was growing. Founded in 1983, HOG had grown to well over 100,000 members across the U.S. by 1990, and HOG chapters were still a year away from spreading beyond the U.S. and into foreign nations.
But unfortunately for local Harley-Davidson owners, HOG had still not made its North Pinellas debut.
At the time, the Motor Company wanted all of its dealers to start local HOG chapters. Fletcher’s was on-board with the idea, too. After all, an active HOG chapter meant more bikes for the dealer’s allotment. The trouble was Gregg Maurer, who was Fletcher’s general manager at the time. In 1990, Maurer was a sick man—too sick to take on another ambitious project.
The Clearwater HOG chapter was back-burnered until Gregg Maurer passed away. The responsibility for getting the chapter up and running then fell to another Fletcher’s employee, Kirk O’Konski.
By 2006, Kirk was splitting his time between Colorado and Sarasota. Reached by phone, Kirk had vivid memories of the early days of the Florida Bay Area Clearwater Chapter, the HOG chapter that he and a few local Harley owners put together.
“It was 1990—the year Gregg died,” Kirk recalled. “I remember the date. It was June 12, 1990. Gregg had just been too sick to get the chapter organized.”
The Fletcher family asked Kirk to organize the chapter, and to serve as its first director. Kirk remembered that Jim Hutchings, a local Harley owner and Fletcher’s customer, helped with the organizational chores, as did Ed and Chris Pipino, Fletcher’s customers from Gulfport.
“Chrissie was the secretary, and Jim was the assistant director,” Kirk said. “I was the director. With me working there (at Fletcher’s) it was easy. We’d throw in a free year of local chapter membership to get them going (when someone bought a new Harley). I ended up being the director for five years, from 1990 to 1995.”
Within two years of first being organized, the chapter had attracted around 200 members, Kirk said, and large numbers of them would turn out for chapter rides and events.
“We were just trying to get people involved, and get them to ride on a regular basis,” Kirk recalled. “Just about every weekend we’d organize a ride. We rode all over, to the middle of the state or to the Lakeland area. We’d ride to lunch at Buddy Freddy’s in Plant City, or we’d ride down to Snook Haven.”
“We’d go to Smokey Joe’s over in Tampa, and we’d call them and tell them we were bringing a whole lot of people over on a Saturday night,” Kirk said. “They would give us the entire second floor, and give us three or four waiters and waitresses just for us—they loved it when we got there.”
The chapter hosted the Florida State Rally in 1993 at the old Boatyard near the Clearwater-St. Pete airport. That rally was so much fun that the chapter successfully applied to host the 1994 State Rally as well, an event that was hosted at a hotel on Ulmerton Road.
Another favorite chapter destination during those years was Key West. Members would ride to Miami to catch the beginning of the annual poker run from Miami to Key West, then stay at the Westwinds Bed & Breakfast in Key West for the weekend. The chapter reserved virtually all the rooms at that same bed & breakfast for four or five years in a row.
Chapter members also liked to attend the annual dealer rally in Cocoa Beach in those early years, Kirk said.
While total membership may have only been in the 200-range then, participation was heavy and enthusiastic, according to Kirk.
“In the early 90s we’d have 50 or 75 bikes all the time, we would really have tremendous turn out,” he said, noting that so many bikes would turn out for rides that road captains routinely had to break the riders into smaller groups.
Like now, Fletcher’s was an enthusiastic and generous chapter sponsor that truly bought in to the HOG concept right from the start, Kirk recalled.
“They really understood what it was to get behind their chapter,” Kirk said. “They put some money behind us, a lot more than what a lot of dealers were doing. They realized that if people had fun they would keep riding.”
The Fletchers also adopted the same hands-off attitude that they have today, allowing the HOG chapter leadership to make decisions and establish policy.
One thing that was different in those early days was the meetings. In the first five years of the chapter, meetings were held in the dealership showroom, which was considerably smaller than it is today. Meetings back then were always held on Sunday mornings, which now seems like a rather odd schedule. The first meetings attracted 40 to 60 members, Kirk said, but the numbers dwindled a bit after the initial enthusiasm waned.
Kirk believes that FBACC may have established the first real Bike Nights in the state. The first bike night he can recall happened at Hooters in 1990, an event that became a regular Wednesday night occurrence.
“From there we went to the Wing House on Ulmerton, and from there we moved on to the Turtle Club,” he said. “I would bet money that we were the first in Florida.”
After five years as director, Kirk was ready for someone else to step up, and his time as a Fletcher’s employee was nearing an end, too. In 1995, it was decided that the chapter was ready for a dose of democracy, and the first FBACC chapter elections were held. Current member Jerry Lindley became the chapter’s second director, and the first director to not be a Fletcher’s employee.
Kirk moved on. But he still has very fond memories of both Fletcher’s and the HOG chapter that he founded and led.
“It was a pleasure because the Fletcher’s realized that it wasn’t just about the bikes, but a whole lifestyle,” he said. “It was the best job I ever had.”
He must remember those days fondly, because at the end of our conversation he asked me to send him a chapter membership application.
-Contributed by chapter member Bill Fredrick
On July 31, 2012, FBACC ended when Fletcher's Harley-Davidson closed it doors. Many members wanted to continue to ride as a social club. The board of directors contacted the American Motorcycle Association and reestablished the Florida West Coast Motorcycle Club as a historic AMA club in honor of Bob Fletcher.
Bob and Lucille Fletcher joined the Florida West Coast Motorcycle club in 1954.