HULETT, Wyo. - Wednesday in Hulett has become a Sturgis rally tradition, but these days, the annual northeast Wyoming biker trek goes well beyond Hulett's city limits.
The popular midweek motorcycle destination has become only one of several stops on a scenic western loop tour. Other stops are Sundance, Devils Tower, Aladdin and a number of roadside watering holes along the way. And a novel little place called the Stone House Saloon.
The Stone House Saloon is a rally-week venue on an isolated stretch of S.D. Highway 34 halfway between Belle Fourche and Aladdin, Wyo. It's little more than an abandoned old ranch house with a big tree and an ancient windmill.
But on Wednesday, the place was hopping. At 10:30 a.m., 300 bikers were gathered in the yard. They were lounging on picnic tables. They wandered into the house to sign their names on the old plaster walls. They took group photos in front of the old structure. Some even rode the horses that were for rent near the windmill.
Bikers also were taking advantage of the relative bargains: $3 hamburgers, $3 beers and $1 bottled water.
The Stone House Saloon is owned and operated by the Kling family, said Judy Kling, as she and manager Terry Schell jumped from cash register to cooler serving ice cold water.
"It's part of our ranch," she said. "The house is an old homestead from the late 1800s." This is the sixth year the Stone House has been in business, she said.
Some of the bikers were stopping in on their way to Hulett, site of Wednesday's big Ham N Jam event. But even by midmorning, others were already headed back to Sturgis from Hulett. "It's already too crowded," one biker said.
Indeed, the action begins early in Hulett. The event has become probably the biggest biker attraction outside of Sturgis during the rally. By noon, thousands of people and motorcycles were jammed into the tiny three-block stretch of downtown Hulett.
Hillery Lynn, despite a broken collar bone, had her remaining hand full directing traffic with a big orange flag. She said people started showing up in downtown Hulett at 7 a.m.
The Hulett Ham N Jam is hosted by the Rodeo Bar. The bar puts on a giant free pig roast with live music and beer every year. On Wednesday, the line for the roast-pork sandwiches stretched more than a block.
But the real attraction in Hulett isn't free food. In fact, there was a line - a much shorter line - in front of the booth selling $8 Philly cheese sandwiches.
Bikers like Hulett's free-wheeling spirit, lack of open-container laws and - at least in reputation - unofficial tolerance of occasional bare breasts in public. Veteran bikers say today's Hulett is a lot like Sturgis in the old days.
And its reputation as a great party makes it a must-see spot on the Sturgis rally agenda.
"We just wanted to see what all the commotion was about," biker Dennis Yanke of Baraboo, Wis., said. He and riding partner Kym Johnson spent about an hour and a half in Hulett before moving on. They also wanted to see the Buffalo Chip Campground and the Full Throttle Saloon.
"It's like everything else, lots of bikes and women," Yanke said.
"It's better than Sturgis; easier to get around," Johnson said.
If any venue has a chance of rivaling Hulett - especially in terms of noise - that would be Sundance, Wyo. The Sundance Burnouts drew thousands of bikers and locals who came to watch the strange ritual of motorcycle torture known as burnouts.
On a high platform in front of Crook County Courthouse, bikers took turns doing their best to make as much crowd-pleasing noise and smoke as possible. With the front tire blocked, the rider kicks his bike into gear and spins the back wheel until it reaches an ear-splitting, smoke-belching scream - or until the tire blows out. Usually both.
Rider Charlie Pincombe of Chicago appeared to be a crowd favorite Wednesday afternoon. As he disappeared into a cloud of thick, gray smoke, Pincombe stood on the seat of his Harley-Davidson, middle fingers in the air, and triumphantly coaxed the crowd into a loud roar.
Soon even the crowd disappeared into the smoke, and then, Pincombe's tire exploded. He stood triumphantly holding patches of rubber in the air.
Al Larsen of Fort Collins, Colo., was sitting on his motorcycle next to the burnout platform. He was so close to the action that bits of rubber were raining down on him and his bike.
Asked if he planned to take his turn on the platform, Larsen shook his head. "I've got to ride this home. I can't afford another tire," he said. "That's a good way to break things."
Half a block away, Ray Buckman of Sundance and Chipper Chatfield, who lives on a ranch seven miles from town, watched the burnouts with amused smiles. They both said they are big fans of the bikers that invade their town every year.
"I'm glad it only lasts a week, but they don't give us any trouble," Buckman said.
Chatfield said the bikers bring a lot of money to Sundance during bike week. "If the cops left them alone, they'd spend even more," he said. "I said we ought to lock up the cops for a week."
Contact Dan Daly at 394-8421 or firstname.lastname@example.org