FULTON, Ill. — Joe Hajostek of Sherrard made his first trip to Fulton for the Blessing of the Bikes Sunday with a long slender leg in a fishnet stocking and a bright red high-heeled pump.
Hajostek, who lost his leg 28 years ago in a motorcycle accident, now rides with a plastic gam attached to the right side of his bike where his leg used to be. He bought the plastic female leg on the internet and had someone paint a skull in a top hat on it. His daughter gave him fishnet stockings for his birthday, and his pastor's wife gave him the red shoe to finish the look.
Hajostek hopes the fake lady's leg makes people laugh, but it also gives him something to see while he rides.
"I got tired of looking down and seeing nothing," Hajostk said. And if he has to look down and see something, he wants to see something sexy.
Nearly 400 motorcycles filled two blocks of Fourth Street in Fulton Sunday, parked diagonally on each side and down the middle of the blocked-off main thoroughfare.
In town for the 30th Blessing of the Bikes were first-timers like Hajostek, the Iowa Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club Chapter B and Eric Primm and Tony Hays from the Quad Cities, and familiar faces such as Mike and Mary B. Paul who have been riding for more than 50 years and Terrie and John Peterson who were married during last year's blessing.
Local businesses served food, and organizations raised money for their causes.
"We have food specials [and] extra people on hand so there's not a long wait," said Rene Carbaugh of PaddleWheel Pizza in downtown Fulton.
Bikers weren't the only ones visiting in the street in front of the establishment. "A lot of people are just coming for the atmosphere," Carbaugh said.
Rocky Laughlin, Mohican Gibson, Neighbor Goodrich and Sarge Martin sat under a canopy selling T-shirts, flags and slap-wrap drink insulators to raise money for Chapter B of the Iowa Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club. The money will help with the club's expenses and provide funds for other non-profit organizations. "We donate to a lot of charities," Martin said.
This is the first year the club has set up at the Fulton bike blessing, Martin said, but it's not the first time Martin has come to the event. "I've been up here many times. I know Julie [Meiners] real good."
Meiners, a member of A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education of Iowa District 21, was ground zero for the event 30 years ago when her father, a priest, blessed her bike and the bike of her boyfriend Bear Richardson in Meiners' driveway. A.B.A.T.E. has hosted the event every year since then, growing from a dozen bikes to a record 600 one year.
Melvin Blann found Gibson under the Chapter B tent and gave him a hearty embrace. Blann, who lives just outside Fulton, remembered Gibson from a chance meeting in an Illinois hospital cafeteria.
"It's been 30 years," said Blann. "I had my colors on," and Gibson asked about the organization. Blann is a member of the Association of Recovering Motorcyclists. "We ride drug an alcohol free," he said.
Thirty years after the chance meeting, Blann and Gibson recognized one another in downtown Fulton.
Terrie and John Petersen stood solemnly by their bikes Sunday afternoon as Father Matthew Camaioni blessed the motorcycles and sprinkled them with holy water. "We got married here last year," said Terrie.
The couple had been together 17 years before deciding to marry among the bikes in downtown Fulton last June. "We don't have a date, we have an event for our anniversary," John said.
Mary B. Paul waited patiently for Father Matthew to make his way to the next block. "Our bike is down there," Paul said, pointing north down Fourth Street. A member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church where Camaioni serves, Paul moved to Fulton from the Chicago area with her husband, Mike, nearly 30 years ago.
"This is the first bike blessing we'd every heard of," Paul said. "It's awesome. We try to make it every year."
The couple has been married 51 years and raised six sons. "We're in our 70s, and we still [ride]," Paul said.
Each year the bike blessing is dedicated to riders who have lost their lives during the past year. This year the event also remembered journalist Grace Whitten who covered the bike blessing extensively through the years. Meiners told the crowd that Whitten was like a mother to her.
Meiner's father, Arley Downie, 88, blessed bikes from his seat in a golf cart driven by Todd Lewis. Downie has missed only one bike blessing in 30 years, Meiner's said. Other priests and pastors help bless bikes during the yearly event.
A 50/50 raffle conducted by A.B.A.T.E. raised money for medical expenses for biker Junior Snyder who suffered head injuries in a motorcycle accident, and the group collected canned goods for the local food pantry.