Bikers in Tombstone: 'Choir Boys,' not outlaws
By CARLOS HERRERA
The Tombstone Epitaph / Nov. 15, 2013
TOMBSTONE, Ariz. – During Veterans Day weekend, you might have heard the roar of motorcycle engines and spotted shiny bikes glistening in the sunlight near popular Allen Street watering holes. You may have also seen a flurry of riders passing by with "Choir Boys" leather vests.
The Choir Boys Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club to be exact. This is a group of active and former law enforcement officers who love their motorcycles and love to be on the road. The Choir Boys do not fit the dated, old outlaw stereotype of motorcycles clubs. They represent a different culture.
Replacing the Hollywood thug on a bike is one who spends his life protecting the lives of those around them.
"The package doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the contents," said Jack Riepe, a motorcycle culture authority and columnist for BMW's Motorcycle Owners of America monthly publication "Owners News" which has more than 65,000 readers. Riepe also collected his early motorcycle adventures in his 2012 book "Conversations With a Motorcycle."
"I think the average Harley rider is around 58 years old and a professional," Riepe said. Very often, Riepe said, you find a "doctor, a lawyer, or a pilot" on that motorcycle.
The Choir Boys fit Riepe's description perfectly. Veterans Day weekend in Tombstone marks the 12th annual Iron Posse benefit run assists the families of officers killed in the line of duty. According to their website, the group has donated more than $150,000 over the years.
"One hundred percent of our charity events go to families of fallen officers," said Kevin Nolan. "All of our expenses come directly out of pocket." Nolan is the vice president for the Choir Boys' Arizona region 2.
Nolan, with 38 years in law enforcement, said that having events in historic places like Tombstone is ideal.
"We like to go somewhere neat that will attract a lot of people and is somewhere away from metropolitan areas," Nolan said.
While the Choir Boys are in Cochise County, local businesses are benefiting.
"We are probably dropping somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 during this weekend," Nolan said. "Businesses love having us here."
Allen Street's central location is also an important factor for event riders.
"What we love about this venue, and Allen Street is that we can eat, drink and party all within walking distance to hotels and RVs," said the 30-year law enforcement veteran Rick Buhman, now retired.
Buhman, along with his wife, brought his RV, bike trailer and Harley-Davidson Trike [three-wheeled motorcycle] for the event. Buhman said the attraction here involves more than the long, twisting roads and the scenery people.
"It's the camaraderie," Buhman said. "You get to see and talk to people you haven't been round for a long time."
Along with Choir Boys from several western states, members from the Brush Dawgs [active and former members of the U.S. Border Patrol] and different Harley-Davidson Owners Group [HOG] chapters were also on the Iron Posse ride that sped through Tombstone to Bisbee, finishing back in Tombstone at Johnny Ringo's Bar.
Buhman said the main requirements for joining the club were "owning a Harley and being law enforcement." Nolan added: "Everybody's invited to our events, but no '1 percenters.' "
The "1 percenters" Nolan refers to are what's considered the outlaw motorcycle clubs like the Hell's Angels, Warlocks and the Pagans.
We are the law; we are not above it," Buhman said. "So we conduct ourselves accordingly."
Nolan said the requirement for owning a Harley was obvious as the powerful roar of the engines is a huge part of the allure.
"Why Harley? Well, number 1, nothing sounds like a Harley," Nolan said. "It's classic Americana."
According to Harley-Davidson, more than 3,400 police departments in the U.S. use Harleys. Harleys are also used in police departments in 45 other countries. The historical connection between the police and Harley-Davidsons began in 1908 when the first Harley-Davidson police motorcycle was delivered to the Detroit Police Department.
Riepe said that motorcycle club vest and patches all have unique meanings but there wasn't a universal key to decipher any one club's insignia or "colors."
According to the Choir Boys website, the club's "colors" have definite law enforcement meanings. Their vests have the traditional three-piece design: upper and lower rockers and one large center club logo. The upper rocker shows the club's name, while the lower rocker identifies territory or location.
The blue lines and text represents the stand they choose to take for their community to protect them from evil. The white background represents the purity of heart. The gold signifies the rarity and strength of the Choir Boys.
"The untipped "Scales of Justice" stands for fairness and the lack of bias that is necessary to conduct our lives," the website says. "As a whole, the colors represent the brotherhood and camaraderie that is the staple of our existence."
The Choir Boys have chapters in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Nevada and California. According to the club's website, the club began in 1991 in southern California by two police officers from the Vernon Police Department, Jay Ellsworth and Rocco Shonts.
The name "Choir Boys" was taken from the 1970s book by author and former Los Angeles Police Sgt. Joseph Wambaugh.