They started kindergarten together, graduated from the same school in Bonne Terre, and have stayed in touch periodically throughout their lives.
In September, Don “Boo” Bockenkamp and his childhood buddies — all of whom are now retired — added another milestone for the group. They revved up their motorcycles and headed on a road trip to the Rocky Mountains.
“Some days we rode 500 miles, some 400, and some 1,000,” said Bockenkamp, who lives in Desloge with Pat, his wife of 48 years. “Some people we met from England called us the original ‘Wild Hogs.’”
Bockenkamp, 66, said the trip was a little bit “Wild Hogs,” a movie about a group of suburban biker wannabes looking for adventure who hit the open road, and a little bit “The Bucket List,” a movie about two men on a road trip with a list of things to do before they die.
The adventure began during one of Bockenkamp’s annual winter road trips with his friend Ron Lambert Cole. The two meet each year in Florida, and drive their motorcycles throughout the state.
“We grew up together from kindergarten and were in basic training together,” said Bockenkamp, who spent six years in the U.S. Navy. Cole remained in the Navy for 30 years.
Last January, the two men rode up to Charleston, South Carolina. After talking to another friend, the two decided to take a longer trip and to invite their other pals from the Class of 1960. At first, six men planned to make the trip, but scheduling conflicts kept two from going.
Cole rode to Desloge from his home in Florida, then he and Bockenkamp met Dick Blackwell and Fred Mallow. Blackwell had only ridden a couple thousand miles on his motorcycle, but the others had been riding for years. The August trip totaled approximately 3,000 additional miles for Bockenkamp, Mallow and Blackwell, and about 5,000 miles for Cole.
Bockenkamp’s love of motorcycles stems from his childhood. At 15, he asked for a motorcycle. His mother gave him a rubber one and told him, “That’s the only motorcycle you’ll ever get in this house!”
Eventually he bought a Yamaha 360 Enduro, but he sold it when he and Pat had children. He vowed to own a Harley Davidson when he retired.
When he bought his first Harley, it was a Soft Tail motorcycle, but he later switched to a three-wheeled motorcycle called a “trike.”
“My motorcycle weighed about 600 pounds, and you have to be able to spread your legs wide to keep it upright at a stop,” he related. “I’m inseam challenged — it was hard to hold the bike up with my short legs.”
Trikes are more stable and are safer in the rain than traditional motorcycles, he added. His trike includes an AM/FM radio and CD player, as well as cruise control. The vehicle drew a lot of attention on the trip, especially from visitors from Europe, where the cost for a trike is about $10,000 higher, he said.
The men traveled in a staggered row, one behind the other. Bockenkamp called it “group rules” of riding and said it is for safety.
“Cole rode near the center line, with Dick to his right. I rode the center line and Fred was to my right,” he explained. “We maintained a space of 1-3 seconds between us. That is close enough to keep cars from cutting in and splitting us up.”
Riding in traffic can be dangerous because drivers sometimes don’t notice single bikes. Staying together increases the likelihood that the motorcycles will be seen, he added. Harley’s loud pipes also are a safety feature, as drivers can hear their rumbling over music and through closed windows.
When they arrived at the Rockies, the men headed straight up. The change in altitude and decreasing oxygen slowed motorcycles with carburetors instead of fuel injection. It also affected the men, leaving some of them feeling lightheaded.
“It takes three to five days to get acclimated to the higher altitudes,” Bockenkamp said. “We went straight up to 11,000 feet (above sea level) from 2,000 feet. I was very lightheaded.”
The men rented a cabin at the YMCA Camp in Estes Park. They had a fireplace in the cabin to keep them warm at night, and they ate their meals at the YMCA camp’s dining room. They also traveled across the mountain range, enjoying its beauty and lamenting recent damage by a destructive insect.
“The western pine beetle had completely infested the Rocky Mountains and caused terrible devastation,” he said. “Trees were dead on whole mountainsides. It was mind boggling the amount of damage that insects could do.”
In their leathers and on their bikes, the four drew attention from people who stereotyped them as bikers. In reality, the four men in their 60s were retired from careers as a lead miner, a pipe fitter, a police chief and a military man. When they found out, “People couldn’t believe we had grown up together and still ride together at this age.”
The men had grown up in a time where everyone in town knew each other. The tough guys walked on one side of the street, and the “jelly beans” who were good at sports and academics walked on the other, Bockenkamp recalled. But when it came to outsiders, Bonne Terre’s youth were of the same mind.
“If you weren’t from Bonne Terre and you came into town to date a Bonne Terre girl, you were asking for trouble.”
The trip had a special meaning for the old friends and it an experience none will forget.
“It was four guys who grew up together, had their own lives, then got back together — that was the most enjoyable thing,” Bockenkamp said. “It was almost like being in our childhood again.
“I’ve ridden with a lot of people on a lot of trips, but this one was special.”
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at email@example.com.