Talking With Teach

Posted July 11, 2013 in
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The Cover of Teach's conversational book about some of Salt Lake City's biker history.

Walking into The Beerhive I pass an oversized Harley, dressed with a full fairing and enough storage for any length of a trip. I know it belongs to Ralph “Teach” Elrod, the man I’m here to meet. Shortly after joining the Salt Lake City motorcycle club in the late ’60s, Elrod took on the role as club president for the Barons MC. In his recently released book, Kick Start: Memories of an Outlaw Biker, Elrod shares stories of his time as president and gives a glimpse of an outlaw motorcycle culture independent of the Hell’s Angels. Walking in, I see Elrod at the bar. His club patch draws my attention and saves me from the awkward uncertainty of introductions with someone I’ve never met. 

 
SLUG: I’m curious about the writing process for your book. Are the writings taken from over the years or are they part of one deliberate effort intended for the book? 
Elrod:  Well kind of a combination. I’ve always wanted to write the book, and over the years, we’ve always talked about how somebody should write everything down. So it’s always been in the back of my mind, and I’ve tried to start it three or four times, and the way I was writing it just didn’t seem to work. I read a history book, called Comanche Empire—I was a history major in school—and after reading that book it kind of gave me an idea of how I wanted to approach [Kick Start]. I took a trip down to Arizona on my bike and interviewed a lot of old friends and some other people I hadn’t known before who had been around, some of the old Dirty Dozen—they’re all Hell’s Angels now. Then I came home and I started writing. I spent six, seven, eight hours, everyday—I’d sit down and force myself to write. It was fun. I got to interview a lot of old friends. I was on the phone immensely. I had to change my phone plan a couple of times. 
 
SLUG: One thing I like about the book is the conversational quality to the way it was written. Was that something deliberate? 
Elrod: You know, I just sat down and started writing like I was talking. I had a friend who gave me a book to read. She said it was the only other book she’d read that was in that same style and that was The Dylan Chronicles. Bob Dylan wrote a book, and it’s pretty much in the same style as mine is. So maybe it’s guys that really shouldn’t be writing [laughs], who use this style or whatever. 
SLUG: Anyone who has a story to tell can write it down …
Elrod: Yeah, just the best I could, you know. So I put it together just like I was talking to people and that seemed to work for me. 
 
SLUG: Do you have any background in writing, or is this your first, real try? 
Elrod: This is my first attempt … But, I taught school, so I’m not totally bereft of what’s going on. But, man, it’s a lot. It’s a big job—a lot of work. In my case, remembering all that stuff and going back over it, it was enjoyable. Plus, living in Montana in the winter, when I got done shoveling the snow, I could go in and write. 
 
SLUG: Where did the idea come from for the book? You said before you’d always talked about it—was that with The Barons? 
Elrod: Yeah. We’ve talked about it forever—a lot of the guys, not just Barons. Way back in the day, we always talked about writing [a book] and calling it As The Clutch Burns, you know, because it seems like a big soap opera that just continually goes on. It was always kind of a joke among us. As of late, within the past 10 years, I’ve been hearing more and more of us older guys talk about it, and we’re losing people right and left. I mean, I’m 70 now, so it won’t be that much longer until things that happened in the ’70s will all be second hand. I didn’t want the only thing that anybody thought of when they talked about bikers in the ’70s to be the big clubs—the war clubs they called them back in the day—out on the coast, because we weren’t like that. I thought we should write this down and save a little bit of the history. It’s part of Salt Lake’s history—a small part, but we were here as part of the whole conglomerate. I just thought somebody should write it down, and I was right in the middle of it. A friend said that he thought I was the only one who could write it, the only one the clubs all trusted. All the clubs, except The Sundowners [MC], but we were always sort of rivals being from the same city and all. 
 
SLUG: I assume you’re still a Baron … 
Elrod: Yeah, I am.
SLUG: What’s your involvement with the club nowadays, and how are the Barons today?
Elrod: The club’s going great, probably going better than it ever has. We have a great bunch of younger guys. Everybody has jobs, and they work and have newer bikes that you can count on. Our president’s the service manager at the Harley Davidson dealer here in Salt Lake—several members are mechanics there, so we get along really good with Harley Davidson. We get along really great with the police these days. It’s just so strange—I had one wave at me a while back from the other side of a stoplight. 
 
SLUG: That sounds like a change from how it used to be …
Elrod: Yeah, it used to be they’d just wave you over—so it’s changed a lot, and it’s all for the good. We’re still doing the same things we’ve done, but I think we’ve grown up a little bit. We’re not so stupid that we antagonize the police for no good reason. And, that’s something that, as youngsters, we did. Besides that, back in the day, we were all riding old, homemade motorcycles that parts were falling off of, and cops were giving us tickets right and left. They were all probably justified—most of them. The fistfights we had with the cops probably weren’t [justified]. 
 
SLUG: After you had the book finished and published, were there any stories you realized you had forgotten to put in, or were there things you didn’t have room for?
Elrod:  For the most part, no. I’ve thought of little things. One thing I forgot until later on, someone reminded me, was after the fistfight I had with a cop, and they didn’t fine either one of us—that part was in the book. After that, the judge said, “both of you,” both groups, “stay away from each other for a month.” Now, that’s really strange. Those days are all gone. Thank God. Pretty much, I got everything I wanted put in it, though. You know, there are a few people who maybe think I should have put more about them. I could have made it two or three times longer, but I didn’t want to bore anyone with the details. I wanted to keep everything short and concise. 
 
SLUG: Did you participate in any more political activism after the helmet-law ride, or was that basically your whole political career?
Elrod: No, every once in a while, I go up to the legislature in Montana to help with fire service things—getting money approved for fire training and things like that. Mostly, it was just the helmet and motorcycle things. There’s so much out there that I’d like to get involved with. But on the whole, there’s only time enough for a few things. 
SLUG: How do you go about it and find the time?
Elrod: You just go up there and start. Just go up and start bitching. 
 
SLUG: Are motorcycles still a big part of your life? Do you still build bikes at all?
Elrod:  I haven’t built a bike in a long time now—since I bought this thing in ’03. I’ve got nearly 110 thousand miles on it. It’s a big part of my life. I ride a lot—still visit with lots of other clubs and see lots of my old friends. It’s still a big part of my life, and I’m sure it will be till I die. 
SLUG: Are you still going on solo road trips like you were in your book?
Elrod: Oh yeah, yeah. I rode here from Montana in a day—535 miles. I ride that all the time. Three years ago, when they wanted to operate on my back, I wasn’t so sure if I needed it or not, so I went on a 3,000-mile trip. I rode out to the Olympic Peninsula and down the Oregon coast to southern Oregon and back to Montana—by myself, on the bike. I hit the Niagara Springs run on my way back. It was great. And, after I did that 3,000 miles, I told the doctor, “Forget it.” I wasn’t gonna let him cut on me. If I could still do that, I figured I was fine. 
 
SLUG: What are your plans for future writing and for your book, Kick Start?
Elrod:  Well, I thought a lot about writing more, and I could write more stories about the ’70s and I may. Right now, I’m just trying to get through this. It’s such an overwhelming thing to market this book and let people know it’s out there that I’m pretty overwhelmed with my time. 
 
You can help Teach out by purchasing his book on Amazon. Also, be sure to check out SLUG’s exclusive review of Kick Start: Memories of an Outlaw Biker in our August issue of the magazine, both in print and online!
Photos:
The Cover of Teach's conversational book about some of Salt Lake City's biker history.