I can almost guarantee that if you are reading this article, that you probably grew up hitting bikes shows at local Harley dealerships and independent shops. You remember the ones, where two dozen bikes show up in some parking lot on a Saturday morning, and if you were lucky, there was one cool motorcycle worth checking out. The thing was that one cool bike made the whole event worthwhile, and you probably spent the rest of the weekend talking about it. Now try to wrap your head around an event where there are over 100 motorcycles spread out in a century-old Ford factory, and every single bike is badass. I’m talking row upon row of hand-built choppers, vintage race bikes, and even some all original classics. That’s what the Congregation Show located in Charlotte, NC is all about, real machines built and ridden by real riders.
As is my standard operating procedure, I started getting my Panhead ready to ride down to Charlotte about two days before the show. I had completely put off checking out that horrible sound the bike started making last fall on my way back from PA and was trying to decide if I should pull the rear cylinder when I noticed a broken muffler bracket. I quick tug on the exhaust system showed that the unsupported muffler shaking down the highway for three states had loosened up pretty much every bolt that held the exhaust in place. I’m not sure why the whole thing hadn’t just fallen off somewhere on I-95, but with the help of a hose clamp and a wrench, I had everything tightened back up and ready to hit the road for Charlotte in no time.
Load-in for the show was on a Friday, and I planned to leave early enough to beat rush hour traffic and get to Charlotte before five o’clock. The bike was running great and with only 120 miles or so to ride, I figured two hours was all I needed. The weather was calling for scattered thunderstorms, but I chose to ignore that as I rolled out onto the highway. Shifting into 4th gear, I scanned ahead and could see a line of brake lights. Seconds later the rain started coming down in biblical proportions as I slowed to a stop. I made it about 30 miles in the first hour, and it took another hour of stop and go traffic to finally reach the edge of the storm. Then it was smooth riding the rest of the way to Charlotte where I arrived just in time to drop my motorcycle off before the fire marshal started his inspection.
Once again my travel agent failed to make me any reservations for the trip, but with the power of social media I scored some floor space at my buddy Rob’s house right downtown, and he provided transportation most of the weekend (thanks Rob!). While the folks from Prism Supply and Dice spent the evening setting up motorcycles around the venue, I headed over to the pre-party at the Typsy Burro.
Saturday started a lot earlier than I wanted and I was at the show shooting photos by 8 AM. For those who haven’t been, the venue known as Camp North End is very impressive. From the outside, it’s your typical 1920’s style factory building, all brick with plate glass windows floor to ceiling running down the sides, but it’s the size of the building that will throw you. It’s about a ½ mile walk around the perimeter of the building and with its open floor plan the inside is simply cavernous. One of the first things you notice when you step inside is the hardwood floors made from the ends of 4”x 6” timbers. These were installed during the Cold War years after the factory had transitioned from assembling Ford Model A’s to constructing missiles for the US military (sparks and explosives don’t mix) and the windows still bear some of the white paint that kept Soviet spy plans from seeing what was going on inside.
Around one o’clock, the show opened to the public, and more than 5,000 spectators came out to see the 140 bikes and 30 hot rods on display. I could spend a lot of time describing all the cool machines, but instead, I’ll go with the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” and just let you scroll through some shots.
By the time the doors opened to the public, I was already 5 hours into a 12 hour day of photography, so it was a relief to get a chance to hang out with some old friends and con them into modeling by various motorcycles. I also got to spend some time checking out the vendors (45 total this year), and they were all top-notch. It was refreshing to see local businesses like Gorgeous George and Wes Slayton doing their thing alongside big names like Harley-Davidson and Bulleit Bourbon.
Around eight o’clock, loadout began and around that same time, I remembered that I had left my helmet and jacket about a four mile walk away. Luckily, my buddy Rob had just purchased a new helmet from Wes at the show, so I threw it on and rolled out of the factory, headed for the post-party at Snug Harbor with musical guest the Loose Lugnuts. Probably the most memorable part of the night (besides some dude who puked at the bar and dropped his hat in it) was the outdoor arm wrestling contest that seemed to last half the night. I’m not sure what started it, but every time I went outside, there was a crowd gathered around the picnic table like they were watching “Over the Top.”
Sunday morning found me packed up and back on the road for home. Once again, I have to hand it to the guys at Prism Supply and DicE Magazine who put on one hell of an event. The quality of the motorcycles, the venue, and of course the people is why this is becoming one of the premier motorcycle events on the East Coast. I always try to support events like the Congregation Show, that feature old motorcycles that actually get ridden, as I feel this is key in helping to spark an interest in old motorcycles among the next generation. Sure some of the bikes arrived in the back of trucks or on trailers, but I can give those guys a pass due to the weather - Just this once!
Until next time,
Editor's note: Register here to win the #HDCongregationgiveaway bike for FREE. All you have to do is fill the form out, and you may be the selected winner! Yep, it’s that easy! All of this is made possible by our friends over at Harley-Davidson! Prism and DicE will announce the lucky winner on June 6th at Camp North End. You don't need to be present to win, but your attendance is appreciated. Good Luck!