The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 21, 2013

Rally’s allure crosses state lines

Sean Sauro

JOHNSTOWN — As the smell of exhaust and vendor food fills the air and the sound of roaring engines and rock ’n’ roll music blares, bikers and fans from across the region roll into Johnstown for Thunder in the Valley.

However, in addition to the many Pennsylvania license plates, enthusiasts from around the country also are on hand.

One can see plates from Maryland Texas, and Kentucky – to name a few.

A trio of motorcyclist said they made the trip from Ohio, arriving Thursday night.

Ryan Krenisky said he has made the trip from Ohio about five times. This year, he decided to bring his friends, Rick Lucas and Steve Ebert.

“I enjoy the whole ride down here with all the mountains and curves,” Krenisky said.

In addition to the ride, Ebert said it’s nice to meet other enthusiasts.

“It’s great to be around a whole lot of people that have the same stuff in common,” he said.

Though they have traveled to other rallies, Lucas said the Johnstown event stands out.

“It’s the whole town,” he said. “It’s just bigger. We’ll be back.”

Similarly, area residents Linda Russell and Richard Peplinsai said they have often attended the rally even when they lived out of town.

“We’ve lived here for five years now,” Russell said. “But when we lived in Michigan, we came into town.”

While Thunder in the Valley is one of their favorite Johnstown events, Peplinsai said he wishes more events like it existed.

“I’ve been in towns where every month they had something like this.”

An out-of-town presence isn’t limited to rally attendees. Many vendors and showmen also made lengthy trips to participate.

Keith DeNinno, head of security for Broken Spoke Saloon, said this is the second year the traveling biker bar has served thirsty rally-goers. He said he has had positive experiences while in Johnstown.

“The difference of Thunder in the Valley is that the community and the Johnstown tourism board are part of it,” he said, adding that the bar services many rallies around the country.

“There definitely isn’t as much conflict between the city and the bikers.”

More than half of the Broken Spokes staff members, including DeNinno, served at Thunder in the Valley last year, he said.

“I love it here,” he said. “I’ve actually added some local workers this year, and that worked out great. I’d take them with me anywhere.”

The Broken Spoke Saloon  brought along John “Speed” Finlay, a long-beard wearing, motorcycle riding traveler who frequents rallies all over the United States.

After taking one glance at Finlay’s bike, it may be obvious that his motorcycle – decorated with antlers, stuffed bears, currency and much more – seems to be one of a kind.

Finlay, whose permanent residence remains in South Carolina, said this is the first year he has visited the Johnstown rally but joked that he is known for his rally presence – even making it as far as Germany for a rally.

A recent partnership with the Broken Spoke Saloon prompted Finlay’s first visit, he said.

“I’m in charge of night security,” he said, half joking. “I’m not used to this daytime stuff. I like the night life.”

While Finlay may not be used to daylight or Johnstown, he said his first Thunder in the Valley experience has been positive so far.

“I was fortunate enough. I ran into a man named Buck,” Finlay said. “He and his wife invited me into their home. They gave me a bed and even gave me a home cooked meal.

“That’s what they call Southern hospitality. That’s the way they do it in the South.”

He said because of his positive experience he is likely to return.

“I’m enjoying all the fine people. If they keep messing around I’m likely to move in with you,” he joked.

Though many travel to the area for the rally, Johnstown residents Barb Cummings and Dennis Gressick Jr. said you don’t have to  be from out of town to enjoy it.

“We started coming up to check things out Wednesday night,” Cummings said. “It seems like there are a lot more vendors.”

Gressick said they attend the rally annually.

“It’s just nice to see what new stuff they bring in,” he said. “I just come up during lunchtime and see what’s here.”

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