POWELL — What rumbles along on 500 wheels and wears impeccable white gloves?
As folks in Powell and Cody learned this week, it’s the Motor Maids, North America’s oldest continuously functioning women’s motorcycle club.
About 250 of the group’s more than 1,000 members are meeting this week in Cody, where their 70th annual national convention wraps up today.
Known for their crisp uniforms featuring white vests and gloves, the Motor Maids are not what springs to mind when most people think about a biker club.
“Most places love having us visit, and lots of times we get asked back. It’s not that uncommon to get the key to the city,” said Jeanne Deak, a past president and 45-year club veteran from Spring Hope, N.C.
Started in 1940 and formally organized the following year with about 50 charter members, the Motor Maids began in an era when riding motorcycles was not an activity generally associated with being a lady of taste and refinement.
Seven decades later, club members still focus on promoting a positive image of women motorcyclists. They acknowledge a debt to early Motor Maids and others who helped make it acceptable for a woman to straddle a big, belching bike.
“I’m 55, and when I went to school, girls couldn’t wear pants, let alone sling their leg over a motorcycle,” said Diane Bryant, a Motor Maid from Nashville, Tenn.
Betty Fauls, 78, remembers when a group of women riding motorcycles drew more than just perplexed looks, as society struggled to adapt to the changing roles of women.
Fauls’ mother, Dot Robinson, was the first Motor Maids club president and a club founder. Robinson gave Fauls her first motorcycle ride while she was still an infant.
“It was January in Michigan. Mom bundled me up in blankets in the sidecar and put in hot water bottles,” recalled Fauls, a club member for 64 years who still rides her bike to national conventions. Some Motor Maids are in their 80s.
“Miss Betty can ride 600 miles with the best of us and not say a word. She never complains,” said Lynn Wilson, a Motor Maid from Tennessee.
Motor Maids are expected to ride regularly and promote safe, courteous motorcycling, Wilson said. Hauling a bike to a convention in a trailer is bad form, and many members logged more than 2,000 miles on their bikes getting to Cody.
“You don’t get to vote unless you ride,” Wilson said. “You better be on that bike all the way from home.”
Fauls said her mother worked hard to maintain a feminine and glamorous image while also showing that she could keep up with the best male riders.
“You always had to have a clean bike. It didn’t matter if you had gone 600 miles. You had to adjust and oil the chain and clean your bike,” she said.
Three friends from Cody — Jodi Laney, Corrinda Davis and Mary Barrows — were enjoying their second day in the club during a lunch gathering Wednesday at the Park County Fairgrounds in Powell. They joined Tuesday, as the convention started.
“I read a book about it,” Laney said of the group. “Some of these ladies have been together for 70 years, and it’s a true sisterhood.
“It’s all about a positive image for women riders, and safety. They’re a nice bunch of girls who love to laugh and make everybody else laugh,” Laney said.
The group’s gatherings are family-friendly and packed with supportive women from diverse backgrounds, she said.
“Women riders won’t find another organization like this one, where they will make lifetime friends,” said Deak, retired from working as an inspector for manufacturing.
“There are all kinds of women from all kinds of backgrounds on all kinds of bikes,” said club president Brenda Thatcher, from Toledo, Ohio, a 22-year veteran of the Motor Maids who is semi-retired from her work as a mechanical engineer.
Club members speak of a close friendship and sense of sisterhood that binds them together.
“These are all sisters. When you join, you become family,” Wilson said.
“No matter where you are or what’s going on, if you need one of them, all you’ve got to do is call and they’ll come,” said Angela Graves, a member from Tennessee.
New member Dawn Williams, from Maryland, said she first encountered the Motor Maids last summer, while struggling with the effects of the chemotherapy she was undergoing to treat breast cancer.
“I was dizzy and nauseous and I wasn’t able to ride,” said Williams, a sport bike rider who has since bought a 2010 Victory Vegas, a powerful, low-slung racing bike.
Williams made the trip from Maryland on her new bike. She and other Motor Maids toured Yellowstone National Park this week, with some riders encountering unexpected snow, sleet and below-freezing temperatures in the park and along the Beartooth Highway.
“But it’s all good,” she said. “This is my passion.”
“It’s a wonderful group of ladies who have encouraged me to pursue my passions while creating a positive image for women. It’s just so inspirational and empowering,” Williams said.
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