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June 23, 2013

A record year for Thunder? Organizers thrilled with turnout for bike rally

JOHNSTOWN — Four days of sunshine and a free gig by a nationally-known Southern rock band were a recipe for success for this year’s Thunder in the Valley, organizers said.

A year when several longtime Thunder events decided to go it alone apparently mattered little – as Thunder organizers and those behind newly-independent bike bashes outside Johnstown said their events were met with packed crowds.

“It appears we had a record-breaking Thunder,” Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Lisa Rager said, dubbing the rally a “phenomenal success.”

An event that she and fellow organizers say annually draws 200,000 visitors had downtown Johnstown and other locations “jam-packed” even by those standards, she said, crediting a second rain-free year, the Broken Spoke Saloon’s presence and a kicked-up lineup of musical acts led by Molly Hatchet.

“People were standing anywhere they could to watch Molly Hatchet on Saturday night – and yet the other stages were packed, too, at the same time,” Rager said, calling the night’s crowd “the best we’ve seen.”

She said staff estimated the crowd was anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 for Molly Hatchet.

Johnstown police Sgt. Pat Goggin suggested those estimates might have been conservative. Bikers spilled out beyond the train station site, squeezing in for a view anywhere a glimpse of the stage was available – and yet, were well-behaved overall, he said.

“It was really jumping,” said Goggin, who was among those on duty. “If there was more room, I think there would’ve been more people.”

Organizers of other events – both affiliated and independent – had similar observations Sunday.

“What a weekend,” said Nanty Glo Pool ‘n Pork organizer Jay Evans. “I think this was our best year ever.”

He said Thursday and Friday crowds – the former boosted by a fireworks show – were easily the event’s largest and made up for the fact that numbers have been better in years prior on Saturday.

The swimsuit competition, won by Danica Hoover of Mundys Corner, was an example of the event’s growth.  More than 20 competed, compared to a dozen most years, and the runners-up hailed from West Virginia and Florida.

Attendees at Thursday’s Wheels & Wings event in Ebensburg described crowds as the largest-ever for the bike and wing cook-off.

And in Richland, the township fire department’s Bike Bash started off with a roar Wednesday night and brought solid crowds through the weekend, Richland Lt. Rob Hudson said.

The move to bring an up-and-coming, “high energy” country band, NOMaD (stands for North of Mason-Dixon) paid off “amazingly,” he added.

It brought the event’s biggest crowds, Hudson said.

Windber Rumbles, a Thunder event, also drew heavy crowds, at times – particularly for stunts by East Coast Extreme Freestyle Motocross.

Led by former Supercross champ and X Games gold medalist “Mad” Mike Jones, a Butler County native, and Brent “Schwalmzilla” Schwalm, the riders entertained with high-flying ariels, Windber fire Assistant Chief Bob Haddad said.

“They really packed ‘em in,” he added, calling the stunt show “very entertaining.”

Despite the roar of bikes throughout the region, Johns-town was fairly quiet crime-wise over the weekend, Goggin said.

He said Johnstown police arrested approximately 10 rally-goers, a number he called “typical.”  A number of those picked up were due to scuffles, he said.

Rager said she was pleased the event appeared to have wrapped without serious incidents, saying safety is a prime focus.

A three-wheeled demo bike caught flames Friday in a lot alongside Washington Street, creating a spectacle for event-goers but no one was injured, she added.

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