- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) - In his 35 years of staying at the Spearfish City Campground during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Dan Van Vleet of Gurley, Nebraska, met the woman who is now his wife, got the inspiration for an invention that became a business, and increased the group of friends to around 75 motorcyclists who come from around the world to stay at the same spot, known as “Moe Town.”

“The group ranges from Baltimore to L.A., Australia, England, just people we’ve all met here,” he said.

Van Vleet, who’s originally from the Hills, started coming to the Spearfish City Campground during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 1980 at the recommendation of friends, and he has come back each year to the same spot, the Black Hills Pioneer (https://bit.ly/1ILpwNs ) reported. He arrives a week early to set up, and everyone within the group stores their camping gear, including tents, pillows, sleeping bags, and more, in a trailer that’s kept in Sydney, Nebraska.

“We store it for everybody, so all they have to do is ride their bikes in,” Van Vleet said.

After the 50th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the reunion in the Spearfish City Campground started stretching out to two weeks. People now come and go throughout the timeframe as they are able.

The name of the campsite comes from an inanimate member of the group: a stately, carved stick that originally served as a place to dry socks during an early gathering. Van Vleet recalled that the group was having a good time with some of the local police officers on patrol in the campground. One thing led to another, and eventually the stick was used to chase the officers around. The officers were good-natured about the event, and when Van Vleet was packing up to leave, he saw the stick lying on the ground. He thought, “I think I’ll bring this back next year,” so he picked it up and stored it until the next year. The group started carving the year into the stick, which they called the “Moses’ Stick,” which later earned the shortened, “Moe’s Stick” nickname. After a while, the group became known as “Moe’s People.”

“Moe Town” was born when the group tried to order pizza but was told that deliveries didn’t happen to campsites since it was difficult for delivery drivers to locate specific campers. To aid the delivery process, the group hung up a “Moe Town” sign, officially naming the campsite for years to come.

“That’s why it’s kind of a hokey story (about how Moe Town came into being): It’s a sock-drying stick, and we wanted pizza delivered,” Van Vleet chuckled.

Other “towns” started popping up in the campground after that, but Moe Town was one of the trendsetters.

“They all think we’re from Detroit,” Van Vleet said, describing people who first see the sign.

Van Vleet met his wife, Lori, originally from Canada, at Moe Town. He had known her brother for many years, and one year, the friend brought his sister to the Rally. Dan and Lori met at Moe Town for several years while they were dating before getting married.

“My first memory of coming down here, it’s just like everybody leaves their problems behind at home, and it’s just totally laid-back,” Lori said. “It’s really nice.”

Van Vleet’s business also revolves around his lodging location during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. During years when there were fire bans in place, Van Vleet couldn’t handle not having a campfire each night in the campground, so he built a portable gas campfire, inventing a simulated campfire called the Fire Dancer.

Van Vleet remembers being the last one to go to bed every night during the early years, and Lori remembers that the jokes never stopped.

“You gotta look at all us grey-haired guys and take 35 years off of us. . Just a completely different group of younger guys when we all met,” Van Vleet said, reminiscing about how they used to drink “too much” and have “too much fun.”

“Now there’s more water in the cooler than there is beer!” he added.

In 35 years, the group has watched the campground and community change and grow, and they’ve also created relationships with members of the community and fellow campers.

“They’ve always really been great to us,” he said.

The campers at Moe Town enjoy getting to catch up with friends and visit, and it’s this hospitality that has increased the number of campers at Moe Town through the years.

“I like it when it rains ‘cause everyone’s forced to get together and visit,” Van Vleet added.

“The big tarp is what really drew a lot of people together, because when it would rain, people would come from all over, and you got to visiting with them, a few of them would say, ‘We’re coming back next year,’” he added. Those conversations would then add new campers to Moe Town in subsequent years.

As the group has grown, it has also extended throughout generations, with grandchildren attending with their family members. Van Vleet hopes that “Moe’s Stick” will be passed along to them when the core members are no longer able to attend the Rally, but until then, the group will continue to gather and enjoy fellowship each year at Moe Town.

“I think that’s why we get along: We all picked the same vacation in the same spot, so we all agreed on something over the years,” Van Vleet said. “This date (for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally) is carved in stone. Be there or be square.”


Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, https://www.bhpioneer.com

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