Armed with his brushes and immense talent, artist David Uhl records a new important page of motorcycle history, J.C. Pappy Hoel on his beloved Indian motorcycle front of his Sturgis dealership. And of course it’s no accident that this superb painting is released the year the Black Hills Rally is going to celebrate its 70th Anniversary. For all those who visit Sturgis or dream to, follows a short biography of the man who is credited as its founder.
He loved motorcycles. Some would argue that he loved Indian motorcycles best, but from an early age his life was consumed by bikes and the people who rode them. He was a motorcycle dealer and race promoter, but his lasting legacy is the Black Hills Classic Rally held annually in Sturgis.
Born in South Dakota in 1904, he grew up working in his family’s ice business. In 1936, he purchased an Indian franchise and opened his motorcycle shop in Sturgis. The following year, he founded the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club. In 1938 the 1st rally attracted 200 participants. Camping was provided in Pappy and wife Pearl back yard behind their Indian Motorcycle Shop on Junction Avenue.
His ranch background and depression era mentality offered him an interesting utilitarian perspective on what might be considered a more recreational mode of transport. He was often seen herding cattle or riding fence lines on his motorcycle, demonstrating their lightness and versatility, which he believed was well suited farm and ranch applications. During a record blizzard in 1949 when train traffic was held up over a two week period, Pappy bolted skis to one of his Indians and assisted the National Guard in prioritizing which ranches needed food, fuel and cattle feed.
At the beginning of WWII, Pappy was hired by the US Army to maintain and repair motorcycles at Fort Meade. He was so accomplished at this task (also coming in under budget), that he was transferred to Cheyenne, Wyoming to take care of their fleet. The rally stopped two years during World War II, but renewed after war’s end. While not a racer himself, he was an avid supporter of two-wheeled sports and sponsored many riders. His shop was always filled with riders, friends and racers, who would stop by for a part or two, a cup of coffee and the latest news or tall story
In the 1950s, the Sturgis Rally grew slowly, drawing approximately 1,000 participants . The emphasis was always on racing, the main events being scrambles (later motocross), hill climbs as well as the traditional flat track races. After Hoel’s beloved Indian Motorcycle brand closed in the late-1950s, his shop began selling other brands, including what would become its primary line, Yamaha. Hoel won numerous citations from civic and tourism organizations. August 14, 1983 was even proclaimed J.C. “Pappy” Hoel Day in South Dakota. The same year he received the AMA’s Dud Perkins Award for outstanding contributions to motorcycling. When Hoel died in 1989, at the age of 84, Sturgis was drawing close to 100,000 rally goers and showing no signs of slowing down. J.C. Pappy Hoel was inducted in the AMA Motorcycle Hall Of Fame in 1998.
Pearl, his wife passed away in 2005. She would have been 100 years old in November. She was witty and gracious to the end, and living on her own in the house that she and Pappy shared much of their life together. She was, like her husband, an incredible human being.
(I want to add that I am the proud recipient of the “Pappy Hoel Trophy” that I received from her hands in 1995 for Best Sturgis Custom Bike). David Uhl Studios. Written with the contribution of Pepper Massey and AMA Museum.