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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Officials, organizers: Best Thunder on the Street yet

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Scotty "Scrub" Miller executes a jump during Thunder on the Street in Pleasanton on Saturday, June 3. (Photo by Daniel Alexander Nicholson)

PLEASANTON – Same event, two different perspectives. And both saw the third annual Thunder on the Street motorcycle rally on Saturday, June 3, as being successful. The event was organized and sponsored by the Kansas chapter of the Soldiers for Jesus motorcycle club, a faith-based group.

Pleasanton City Administrator Teresa Whitaker said many people told her it was the best Thunder rally yet. That included congratulations from Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend who complimented the city and Thunder organizers for a well-run event.

From the number of motorcycles parked in four rows across Main Street and the number of people watching shows, it appeared that more people were milling about on Main Street than the year before.

Whitaker said that there was no official crowd estimate, although she believed that more people attended this year than in the previous two years.

Miller practices a jump on Friday evening before the event on Saturday. (Screen capture/Soldiers for Jesus Facebook page)

She said that more than 100 motorcyclists arrived on Main Street about 10 a.m., most as part of the charity ride that began at the Living Proof Church in Paola. From 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., the number of bikes parked on Main swelled from 120 to 320.

Shortly before noon, a group of 70 to 100 bikers drove their way east on Kansas Highway 52 through Mound City on their way to the rally.

Whitaker said that Michael Bergen, organizer of the Night Train Ride, an annual event that a week before had run into a confrontation with authorities in Louisburg, sought her out on Saturday to tell her how much Pleasanton had made his riders welcome.

She said Bergen told her he had also contacted Friend to compliment him on the way they were treated.

Several hundred yards of parked motorcycles filled Main Street in Pleasanton on Saturday. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

From the perspective of the Soldiers for Jesus (SFJ) organizers, the day was a success as well.

Frank “Pancho” Nicholson, president of the faith-based organization’s local chapter, estimated that about 50 accepted Jesus as their Savior through either efforts by SFJ staff ahead of the event or decisions that were made on Saturday.

“We had people whose lives changed,” he said. “From that viewpoint, we were a success.”

He acknowledged that many who came were there to see Scott “Scrub” Miller jump his motorcycle as much as 40 feet in the air on Main Street or to watch the Wall of Death.

However, ultimately the day was about building relationships, he said.

“We are the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus for the motorcycle community,” he said, adding that from their viewpoint the church is the people who gather rather than the bricks-and-mortar building.

Two competitors wait on the countdown to the green light at All Out Dyno Drags trailer. The motorcycles are secured onto rollers that compute speed for this virtual drag race. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

He said that SFJ members perform weddings and end-of-life celebrations, give solace and comfort for terminally ill people and provide spiritual counseling, much like any church would.

And on the street on Saturday, SFJ members handed out hundreds of abridged Bibles printed for the organization.

But there wasn’t any doubt that many came for the entertainment. Just south of the lines of hundreds of motorcycles parked for the day, a trailer set up with computers connected to rollers allowed motorcyclists to “drag race” each other.

At the far south end of the street, the Wall of Death drew crowds that watched bikers use centrifugal force to ride sideways on the inside of a inverted cone. (Click here to see a video of the wall.)

Whitaker said that stunt jumper Miller determined that the Wall of Death was much more dangerous than the jumps he made, but he was elated when one of the riders snatched a dollar bill out of his mouth as the rider rode up on the wall.

Despite the growing success of the event, it may be too soon for the SFJ club to decide whether to do it next year. Whitaker said that the amount of work by the club to host the event was nearly overwhelming. In addition, there were hiccups behind the scene that likely caused stress for the organizers.

Nicholson, still recovering from Thunder on Wednesday, said he wasn’t sure yet if his organization would sponsor the event next year.

“If God wants it to happen,” he said, “it will.” However, he added that a lot of planning goes into the event. “It’s not just thrown together.”

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