If You Don't Want To know
                                      Then Go Back.  History of ABATE of New York 

1974 - 1981

In the early days of Easyriders Magazine, the ABATE section allowed bikers to write asking for help in their state and give information in regard to anti-bike legislation on the state level. In early 1974, the New York Motorcycle Rights Organization (NYMRO) sent an article written by Jed Tranquill stating that there was to be a state wide helmet law protest at the state capitol in Albany. The Article stated that over 40,000 bikers were expected to attend and that bikers should look to their local newspapers for the announcement concerning the time and date. NYMRO is based in Rochester, New York - 230 miles west of Albany.

This article raised a great deal of enthusiasm from bikers in the Albany area. Up to that point in time all anyone had done is bitch and talk over a few beers in local bars about the legislators and the problems bikers were facing. There were a few get-together-type of informal meetings held at B & B Cycle Works in Albany, the main topic being the up-and-coming protest. A member of this group, George Vigars, had written three letters to NYMRO requesting more information. As time passed, no helmet law protest was conducted, now was there any reply from NYMRO.

On the spur of the moment and out of total frustration, Warren Bennett, Kemp O’Connell, and George Vigars organized their own Motorcyclist Rights Protest. It was thought up on a Tuesday and conducted five days later on a Saturday. One hundred flyers were designed and circulated to the local bike shops. We then went directly to the news media with our story. The local newspapers gave us a real good shot. Channel 10 TV talked us into bringing some bikers down to the State Capitol the Friday before the protest for an interview. Six bikers appeared on their choppers to give a first-hand analogy of the concerns of the motorcyclists rights. At this point in time there was a lot of talk about outlawing choppers, extended front-ends, springers, and raking, along with any alteration to the frame.

Two days before the run, the Albany Police Department issued an order to its men that any biker without a helmet was to be arrested. This being the first event gave everyone a case of the jitters. On Saturday about 60 local bikers rode to the State Capitol two-by-two. About half had helmets on. The police were more than cordial and no tickets were issued nor arrests made. We had proved our point. We had gotten along well with the news media and it paid off for us in the end.

A month later, Warren Bennett made a trip to California. He brought with him the black and white photos of the protest along with the newspaper clippings. After some detective work, he was able to track down the office of Easyriders Magazine, where he met Keith Ball, its Associate Editor and also Director of ABATE at the time. The articles were presented, thinking that we were the first ones outside of California to this kind of thing. Keith presented him with a new issue, which was not out yet. In it was a four- or five- page story about the Connecticut Motorcycle Association holding rallies every month, with thousands of bikers attending.

In Keith Ball’s office hung a poster about 8" x 3', stating “Helmet Laws Suck, ABATE of Illinois”. Warren asked Keith if ABATE had chapters around the country. He replied that some concerned biker groups were allowed to use the name of ABATE. After asking, in reference to New York, he said, as long as it’s for the cause, go ahead and DO IT.

ABATE of New York was about the fifth state organization in ABATE. Ahead of New York were ABATE of Illinois, ABATE of Michigan, ABATE of Indiana, and ABATE of Kansas, which changed its name from the Dave Moze Memorial Foundation. ABATE of New York got ABATE of Virginia going under the leadership of Fuzzy Davy. From this group other chapters were to follow. After Warren came back from California, George Vigars and he started ABATE of New York. George was elected State Coordinator, a job he was to hold for over two years.

In the early days of ABATE of New York, there were many, many hassles. To this day a lot of people still don’t know how ABATE survived the havoc. The paper work alone was enough to drive someone crazy. In the first two years of ABATE of New York, the headquarters moved eight times. We had a post office box from the beginning, thus keeping ABATE somewhat stabilized. Among some of the hassles were: lost membership records, funds stolen, and membership meetings, which were being held in local bars, turning into yelling matches and fights. At this time we decided that we’d better get organized.

At a monthly membership meeting, money was raised among the members for an ABATE clubhouse. A place was found on Jefferson Street, about a half-mile from the State Capital in Albany. A deal was worked out with a local amusement company to bring in a pay pool table, juke box, pinball machine, cigarette machine, etc. We had a TV and four refrigerators donated to us. Every night was party night except Tuesday nights, which was work night for ABATE work. We had a filing cabinet to keep everything organized, along with a desk and chair. Membership meetings were twice a month on Sundays; they were packed. We were signing up new members faster than we could process them. ABATE was growing in leaps and bounds. As the word spread that ABATE had a clubhouse, more and more people started to come around - some to party and some to help out. It was at this point in time that we had gotten some printers interested in the ABATE Movement. Ed Fink and Bob Sammon were indispensable in making ABATE look like a professionally run organization.

With the clubhouse, ABATE grew so fast that it literally split ABATE apart at the seams. ABATE did not have any type of organizational structure, nor professional leadership. The bar and money was handled with little or no accountability to any one person. Everyone thought that the clubhouse would just run by itself with little or no responsibility on anyone’s shoulders. In a little less than three months, the whole thing folded.

Although money was being ripped off to some extent, and beer sales were unaccountable, along with some drugs being used inside of the clubhouse, the biggest problem that the ABATE clubhouse faced was with a local outlaw club. This club, at the time, did not understand ABATE, nor did the members of ABATE understand this club. Animosity developed between the two groups. The end resulted in Hondas being kicked over as the club members decided to antagonize their opposition and by ripping off a Superglide that was parked in front of the clubhouse. This bike was later recovered at the outlaws garage down the street from ABATE. This club (the Breed M/C) seemed to get their kicks playing head games with members of ABATE, who were not interested in any hassle.

Because of the bad mismanagement and a lack of any strong leadership, ABATE closed down the clubhouse. After paying off the bills we were left just about broke. Members who were involved with this project ripped up their membership cards and tore off their patches. All the many problems were piled on ABATE, making it responsible for everybody’s shortcomings. ABATE of New York ceased to exist.

After about four or five months, the ones who were concerned about legislation decided to make ABATE into a mail order organization. No contact would be made with the members, other than a monthly newsletter. ABATE still had some volunteers to lobby on its behalf at the capitol, although their unflagging zeal and morale was low. Out of the 300-plus members who belonged to the Albany area, a group of about10 emerged to carry the load. It was again decided that we needed a place to work out of. A small office was located at 1969-A Hamburg Street in Schenectedy (about 10 miles away) which rented for only $80 a month. This was in July of 1976. This office was funded by donations of $10 each and was set up as a private group of bikers willing to further the cause of ABATE. There was a desk, chair, refrigerator, and later, a pool table.

It didn’t take long for the word to get out that ABATE had another clubhouse. To stop any misunderstandings, this group started their own motorcycle club, calling itself “Friends of the Road Motorcycle Club”, dedicated to the preservation of ABATE.

By having a clubhouse atmosphere (beer, food, music, and pool table) it didn’t take a lot of talking to get people to stop by and lend a hand to ABATE. When it came time to put together the newsletter, there was always plenty of help and volunteers. ABATE of New York would not have made it through the next two years if it were not for this clubhouse. Many hours of work and organization developed from this new lease in life.

....As we go marching on. Shortly after the first clubhouse was closed, a group of ABATE members from the Gilboa area (35 miles away) started an ABATE chapter. At the time, we were spending every last nickel on the helmet law repeal. This chapter sent us all their membership dues, which at the time, was $5 per year per member. This chapter lasted about six months, ran out of money, ran out of leadership, and ran out of hope.

A short time later, some members living in the Syracuse area (130 miles west of Albany) contacted ABATE of New York wanting to start a chapter. They were, for the most part, mad because they felt ABATE of New York wasn’t doing anything. They had only received five or six newsletters a year, if they were lucky. After their second meeting, they came to Albany to hand over the $160 they had collected from new memberships and a raffle. Although the people in Albany hadn’t seem that much money in a long time, we knew that history would repeat itself if we took it. We gave them a stack of membership cards, applications forms, and other ABATE literature and told them that when they got back to Syracuse, they should open up a checking account and get a post office box. Thanks to Joe Koller, Dick Tallcot, Carl Riggall, and Rita Leeb for working so hard to make this chapter become successful. Besides the fact that people in the Albany area needed funds badly to promote the helmet law repeal bills that had been introduced, they also had to put up with a lot of criticism from the local ABATE members who stated, “What if they rip off the membership money?”, “What if they make a bad name for ABATE?”, “What if they get too big and challenge our power?”, “What if?” etc., etc., etc.

It didn’t take us long to realize that you can’t have a negative outlook if you expect to have any positive results... NOR CAN NEGATIVE PEOPLE ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING POSITIVE, except maybe an accident.

ABATE of Syracuse started to grow in members and dollars (about $600 in their treasury in three months time). Officers from the Albany area would travel back and forth, attending their meetings, giving advice from time to time from the standpoint of their experience. ABATE of Syracuse did all of their own paperwork, along with sending out their own newsletters, membership cards, etc.; things really started to look up for a change.

ABATE of Syracuse sponsored their own helmet law protest, of which people from the Utica area attended. (Utica is about 40 miles east of Syracuse). These people were excited by what they saw; they wanted to start a chapter also. Officers from ABATE of Syracuse went to Utica a week or so later to help them set up their own chapter of ABATE. Paul Antonik, a member of ABATE of Utica, moved to Buffalo to go to college. There he helped local bikers start ABATE of Buffalo.

And on it went, chapter after chapter forming, reaching out and influencing area bikers and politicians. A chapter needs good leadership and volunteer help from its members to be successful, as well as keeping its members informed or educated through regular meetings and newsletters. Chapters that have failed on one or more of these points have folded: ABATE of Queens, ABATE of Yonkers, ABATE of Ulster County, and ABATE of Binghamton. Some chapters never got off the ground such as ABATE of Westchester and ABATE of Auburn. However, the local chapters gave and give ABATE the backbone it needed and needs, along with the ability to deal with legislators on a more personal basis.

When ABATE of New York first started developing chapters, the chapters called themselves by the name of the county they were in. This started to become too impersonal and confused people as to exactly what area the chapter represented. It was decided to call a chapter by the name of the city they were in or near when acceptable to members. The ideal situation would be to have an ABATE chapter in each legislative district, which usually takes in one or more parts of several counties or wards. Using the name of a local city gives the members some identity and pride to belonging to something they can identify with. Although some chapters have come and gone, most have accomplished what they set out to do in regard to becoming established, stable, and recognized.

The biggest problem that ABATE of New York has was overcome when we developed a statewide newsletter, thus informing all the members of what other chapters were up to in other parts of the state. This has increased competition between the chapters to outdo one another on different projects.

As with any story, there are stories within - as with George Vigars, the first State Coordinator (1974 - 1977), who took the initiative to do something while others just talked about it; Jim Andrus, the second State Coordinator (1977 - 1977), who had access to DOT records and gave us proof that many of the news stories were lies; Dave Bakic, the third State Coordinator (1977 - 1978), who took the job in name only; Dick Tallcot, the fourth State Coordinator (1978 - 1980), who drew up a Constitution and set of bylaws for ABATE of New York and had them ratified by the chapters November 18, 1978, established a monthly statewide newsletter as of February 1979 (had run a monthly Syracuse Chapter newsletter since April 1977 before that), and got ABATE of New York incorporated (which was finally made effective by the attorney we hired July 1980); Phelps Moore Jr., the fifth State Coordinator, who continues the work holding the organization together; the volunteers made everything possible, for without the volunteer helpers, the officers in ABATE may not have accomplished anything. In fact, there may not have even been an ABATE.

ABATE of New York, Inc., has had many years experience to iron out its problems and to move ahead. If we have learned anything, it’s that you can’t do it alone. A lot of people doing a lot of work is always much better than a few people doing a lot of work. How did we accomplish all of this? We formed chapters, independent chapters without any strings attached. We made them their own bosses whether they liked it or not. The chapters had power over their own destination and the responsibility that goes along with it. If a local chapter goes down the tubes, they have no one to blame but themselves. They can’t come running back to the State Office nor anyone else; they are what they are. It’s up to the local members to vote in or out of office, members they feel are best qualified; although qualifications have little to do with spirit and hard work, which is what they will need if they want satisfaction and success down the road with ABATE.

ABATE of New York and its officers can only offer YOU our experience, which we hope will last you a lifetime. Although being a volunteer has it’s drawbacks, it also has its benefits. The Brotherhood probably has the greatest percentage of righteous people you’ll ever come in contact with.

One last note: The first thing they teach you in the Marine Corps boot camp is - THERE’S NO SUCH WORD AS CAN’T!

Good luck,
ABATE of New York, Inc.
(1981)

 

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