You will hear them before you see them. And not a sound, but rather a stopping of sound and activity along Lazelle Street in Sturgis. Vendors seem to relax a little; activity seems to slow to a stop as they are spotted. Hamsters in Sturgis!
The elusive Hamsters M/C can be spotted in their yellow t-shirts and custom motorcycles moving throughout the streets of Sturgis during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and you can usually find an event somewhere in town in which the Hamsters are attending.
The Hamster’s M/C has a rather auspicious history. Started as a joke in 1978 by six custom bike enthusiasts over 30 years ago, today they number over 300 dedicated members from a wide range of backgrounds. In fact, membership has grown worldwide as the dedication and camaraderie that is the foundation of the Hamster’s M/C has become the root of their activities. The Hamster’s are involved in various charities, most notably the Children’s Care in South Dakota.
In 1978, while at the Daytona Bike Week, Susan Perewitz and Jim Leahy hatched their little joke. Staying at the Mystic Sea Motel on North Atlantic Ave, they were joined by custom bike enthusiasts Arlen Ness, Barry Cooney, Steve Allington, Ed Kerr, and Donnie Smith. The story goes that they were all attending the drag races in Daytona, at the end of which Susan and Jim retired to their rooms for a nap. When they arose, they found that their friends rode out leaving them behind. Somewhere over a few beers, Jim referred to their friends as “a bunch of Hamsters”. Jim then drew a hamster on a paper plate and labeled it Hamsters MC. Both Jim and Susan decided that this sign definitely belonged on one of the offending party’s doors, but unable to decide which deserved it most, they quickly drew up several more plates and put them on all the doors.
And of course, there were a few that deserved a “little more personalization”. Jim personalized a few of the plates, assigning Arlen Ness as “West Coast chapter president, Dave Perewitz as the East Coast chapter president, Donnie Smith the Midwest chapter president, and Barry Cooney the Northwest chapter president.
When the guys returned to the motel, they found the signs hanging on their doors. What was planned as an act of revenge backfired, as they guys all found the signs hilarious. The idea stuck, and plans for a proper kickoff in Sturgis were quickly planned.
Hamsters are expected to participate in at least one event a year, ride to Sturgis, and pay their yearly dues. Barry will be the first to tell you “The first rule is, there are no rules. Well, there’s a $100 fine for anyone blocking the door if a fight breaks out in a bar.”
Every year the Hamster’s M/C holds a gala banquet at the Spearfish Holiday Inn, including a silent auction. The proceeds benefit the Children’s Care Hospital and School in South Dakota. The Hamster’s got involved with this organization over a decade ago when Bob Illingworth brought it to the group. Today people donate all kinds of big prizes for the auction, including custom motorcycles. “You stand there with your heart in your hand and it’s a wonderful thing,” says Donnie. “Things like that put us on the map and got us more organized. A lot of the locals say thank you and it makes you feel pretty good. We’re happy to do it.”