PARIS – Joe Derocher still remembers the first Harley he bought for $75 or $80 from a Maine State Police auction. It was all gold with a blue strip running across it.

That was almost 70 years ago and today the 84-year-old’s bright blue eyes still light up when he talks about that bike.

“We’d take off on Friday night and meet at the mall in Brunswick,” recalled Derocher of the half a dozen to a dozen bikers, some wearing padded leather football helmets. They would meet and ride 60 to 70 miles per hour to Haymarket Square in Boston where they would go partying at the “Old Howard.” “We’d leave there at 2 or 3 in the morning and head for Revere Beach because we could bring her bikes on the beach and sleep there,” he said of the group that would park their bikes in a triangle and sleep in the middle.

“We were young. We had a good time. Nothing bothered us,” said Derocher, who owned eight Harley-Davidsons. He gave up his last ride in 1959 when he started dating a woman who would become his wife.

This weekend Derocher and other veterans who live in the Maine Veterans Home in South Paris at 477 High St. will be able to relive some of those youthful times as they become the judges of the 5th annual Maine Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club Northeast bike show.

“They appreciate it. They’re the judges. It’s fun. They just love it.” said Club President Denny Towne of the event that draws more than 50 bikes for the judging and hundreds of area residents to see them.

The show, which is free and open to the public, will be held on the Veterans Home grounds from noon till 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 3. Three trophies will be awarded in each class for custom, dresser, stock, antique, plus best of show. Registration is free but those who wish to participate with a bike should register on the grounds by noon. There will also be refreshments and music.

Towne said the idea for a bike show was prompted by a desire to do something for veterans who are in homes. “The show gets them outside. … The looks on these people’s faces. It’s just awesome,” Towne said.

Joel Dutton, who has served as the Home’s administrator for the past seven months, said he is looking forward to his first bike show at the Home. “We have a lot of veteran participation,” he said of the local veterans groups that come over to share in the day. “There’s a special bond that exists between them. The bike show is a great opportunity to share a day of camaraderie and it encourages the families and the community to come out.”

Dutton said the motorcycle club has been very generous. “They’ve done a lot for us in the past,” he said of the fundraising efforts that have resulted in new televisions and computers and other items for the Home.

Derocher said he is also excited about the opportunity to see the show for the first time and to help with the judging. “I don’t know if I’m really qualified,” he said. “I think I can judge the bikes on their looks.”

Organizers say they just want the veterans to have fun with it.

Bike changes

Derocher said today’s bikes are a far cry from the ones he bought in the 1940s and ’50s when an owner would take a brush to paint the tanks and fenders, or if they knew someone at the local auto-body shop, they might bring it down there for a paint job.

“There were no fancy accessories on the bikes back then,” said Derocher, who served in the 1st Infantry Division in the European Theater beginning in 1941 and ending his military career in 1946 after re-enlisting several times.

His first bike had a frame that was 3 inches longer than standard Harleys at the time, which made them turn easier. It was a real coup to win one at the State Police auction, he said.

He placed a bid in July for a State Police bike and it wasn’t until around Christmas that he got the notice that he had won one.

“I got home from work and my mother said ‘What type of trouble are you in now?’ She had seen the letter from the Secretary of State’s Office. I knew what it was,” he said with a glint in his eyes.

The front tire was flat when he went to pick it up at an airfield outside of Augusta but a State Police trooper fixed it and even put a new wheel on it. “It ran good,” he said of the bike that had only 8,000 miles on it.

“I rode it all summer till October, well maybe a little bit in November, but your fingers got stiff hanging on the bars and you knew it was time to quit,” he said.

Durocher, who went on to collect antique cars for much of his life, said he owned eight Harleys during his younger years and had only one near miss when his wheels got caught in trolley car tracks in downtown Portland.

Helmets? “No,” he said. “There were no rules back then.”

“The only protection you have is yourself,” he said.

For more information on the show, call Denny at 712-7957 or Sailor at 595-1038.

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