CATTARAUGUS - The rev and roar of motorcycles echoed off the Cattaraugus hillsides, as dozens of bikers gunned their way up the winding driveway of the local Rod & Gun Club recently. They came to take part in the fourth annual Chuck Bailey Memorial Ride, and many had already traveled miles just to reach the rally point in time for the 11 a.m. departure. Some who lived along the 150-mile-long route joined in later, as the procession rolled through their community. Rob "Skeeter" Barber, ride organizer, said their presence was visible testimony to the respect and affection that Bailey had inspired in so many different people.
Barber put together the first memorial ride a year after Bailey's untimely June 2010 death. He said he just wanted to give people an opportunity to remember his friend and father-in-law as the great guy he knew him to be. Everyone enjoyed that first ride, but Barber and other members of Bailey's family felt a little let down when it was over. Yes, it had prompted fond memories and stirred up laughing reminiscences of Bailey, and they'd already decided to make it a yearly event. Yet, something seemed lacking. In their hearts, they knew that Bailey would have wanted the ride to serve a larger purpose.
Eventually, they, and others who'd loved Bailey most, sat down together to figure out just what that larger purpose might be. Richard and Mary Bailey (Chuck's dad and mother), Barber and his wife, Tonia (Chuck's daughter) and Chuck's widow, Denise, talked a lot about it. As they remembered the kind of man Chuck was, it became increasingly clear what he'd have wanted them to do.
This year’s Chuck Bailey Memorial prize recipient is Chad Shelters, left. Next in line is Rob Barber, Bailey’s son in-law and co-ride organizer, with Tim Fisher, CTE automotive instructor. Barber said he wanted to make it very clear that he by no means worked alone on this project. He said that Chuck’s nephew, Don Dahlke and wife, April, had worked tirelessly. “... along with lots of other people,” he added. He also thanked Eric Pritchard, Rod & Gun president, for the use of the building as a gathering point; and the many riders who’d turned out once again in support of the event.
Photo by Arvilla Pritchard
Bailey was probably best known for his outgoing personality and joking ways. But he was also a gifted master mechanic who had a way with moody motors, and he'd been running the service department of Illig's Chevrolet in Cattaraugus for years. Then there was that special soft spot he had for kids trying to find their first job and to get off on the right foot in life. As they remembered these things, Bailey's family knew these wonderful traits of his should help determine the goal for the ride.
It seemed fitting that the annual ride should somehow benefit a youngster aspiring to follow a similar path in the automotive field. Accordingly, Barber went over to the Ellicottville BOCES facility and talked to Tim Fisher, the automotive technology instructor. Almost at once, he knew they were on the right track.
"Most of these kids are hard workers," Fisher said. "It would be great for one of them to get the recognition he deserves."
With Fisher's wholehearted endorsement, the family finally zeroed in on the ultimate goal for the ride. The bikers would use it as a fundraiser, with the proceeds going to buy a automotive toolbox - complete with a full complement of tools. This valuable, but ultimately practical prize would be presented, they decided, to a BOCES automotive student selected by the instructor for his or her mechanical ability, work ethic and desire.
Fisher was on hand at the start of this year's ride to introduce his selected recipient, Chad Shelters, to the assembled bikers.
"You'll never regret this move," Fisher said. "You couldn't have found a better, more deserving young man for the honor. He won't disappoint you."
Fisher also pointed out what a truly valuable award the toolbox was for a budding mechanic.
"A young fellow starting out in this business really needs his own tools," he said, adding, "And you can never have too many."
At first, Shelters seemed somewhat overwhelmed by both the award and his teacher's glowing praise. Then he responded with a soft "thanks a lot," a broad smile and handshakes all around.
From his framed photo propped atop the toolbox, Bailey grinned out at the proceedings. He looked pleased at the prospect of a new apprentice to mentor.
Although 2014 marks the fourth memorial ride, it is only the second year in which the Chuck Bailey Memorial prize has been awarded. Last year, it went to Cattaraugus-Little Valley graduate Brendan Lore. Meanwhile, the BOCES name has evolved into CTE, standing for career technology education. The past year was marked by additional sadness for the Baileys and their friends, when Chuck's father, Dick, passed away. But their loved ones like to picture the two of them tinkering with some vehicle up there beyond the Pearly Gates.