Motorcyclists band together to help maintain Pa. monuments at Gettysburg


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GETTYSBURG, Pa.

I wouldn't miss this -- it's a good thing for a good cause, fixing the Pennsylvania monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield," said 75-year-old motorcyclist Milton Hunt of Erie, after making the 290-mile trip from his home on Saturday.

"This is always a good ride, but today was one of the best, the safest ride so far," agreed Scott Christopher of Gettysburg, who has taken part every year since the ride began in 2001 and who also sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the start of the ride at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

They were two of the nearly 600 motorcyclists, many with long hair and mustaches and wearing black T-shirts or vests, who descended on this famous Civil War town Saturday to raise funds to keep Civil War monuments honoring Pennsylvania troops clean and in good repair. The band of cyclists left the Capitol for the 37-mile ride south to the strains of the 1960s rock song "Born to be Wild."

The riders, about a third of them women, generated about $10,000 for a trust fund used to maintain the 146 Pennsylvania troop monuments erected at Gettysburg National Military Park. They honor the many Army regiments and other military units who fought in the famous three-day conflict waged from July 1-3, 1863, which is generally considered the turning point of the war against the Confederate forces.

The motorcycle ride, which took about an hour, was begun in September 2001 by state Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick. The first ride occurred just after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Saturday, riders made the trip south along Route 15 to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer, where the event ended and a chicken dinner was served.

Forty police officers from a dozen different communities stopped traffic at dozens of entrances and intersections leading into Route 15 so the cyclists could stay together. Their unbroken line stretched 2 and even 3 miles at some points.

"Every participant becomes part of the legacy of Gettysburg,'' said Mr. Readshaw. "They can show their children they helped keep the monuments in a condition that does honor to the soldiers of Gettysburg."

He said he read a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the late 1990s that described a shortage of funds to maintain the monuments properly. He couldn't raise enough for all 1,300 monuments but decided to concentrate on the Pennsylvania monuments.

In 11 years, about $100,000 has been raised and spent on maintenance of the state's Civil War monuments. Mr. Readshaw is now embarking on a $300,000 trust fund for the future and said he's about two-thirds toward that goal.

The annual motorcycle ride is just one of several fundraisers the bikers hold for the monuments; others include a Civil War ball in April, dinners and contributions by individuals and companies.

At the start of the ride, Keith Foote, a Civil War re-enactor dressed in a heavy wool blue uniform of a Union soldier, held a big American flag that the bikers saluted as the national anthem was sung. He said he portrays a member of the Cooper's Battery of Lawrence County, which fought at Gettysburg.

Many of the motorcyclists were military veterans. Their T-shirts declared their affiliations: Semper Fi, Gulf War, Vietnam, U.S. Marines. (Harley-Davidson, too.)

Some riders were from a group of female cyclists called the Motor Maids, founded in 1930 and has several hundred members from the United States and Canada, including former state Rep. Teresa Forcier of Crawford County. She began riding in 2000, joining her husband, a retired state trooper.

Another rider was Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, whose district includes the Gettysburg battlefield. He said he has been riding some sort of cycle "since I was knee-high to a grasshopper."

Mr. Adams, from a rural farm area, said he doesn't have a lot in common with Mr. Readshaw, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, and doesn't always agree with him on legislative issues, "but I support him 110 percent on this ride to preserve the monuments."

Barb Mowery, an aide in Mr. Readshaw's Capitol office and a native of Gettysburg, rode her motorcycle Saturday. She recalled how former Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll used to ride (as a passenger) every year with the group, before her death in 2008. "She was a big supporter of this project and we miss her tremendously," Ms. Mowery said.

Most of the riders belong to the group ABATE, or Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education. They are a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol on all motorcycle issues. They scored a major victory in 2003 when they persuaded the Legislature to repeal a law mandating the use of helmets by motorcycle riders.

At the Gettysburg battlefield, there are more than 1,300 monuments marking Civil War military units from both Northern and Southern states, although money from the Readshaw event goes just for the Pennsylvania memorials.

The riders paid a $10 registration fee to participate in Saturday's event. That money along with other contributions from riders, corporations and Civil War buffs goes into a trust fund at the Adams County National Bank.

state - civilwar

Tom Barnes: hickeybarnes@yahoo.com or 717-623-1238.


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