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The senior of the pack

September 07, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

WARFORDSBURG, Pa. - Floyd Palmer always gets the same award when he rides his Harley Davidson FLT Tour Guide Classic to rallies.

At 81, he's the oldest rider in the pack.

Last Sunday he got the plaque for being the oldest rider at the Chambersburg Harley Owners Group benefit ride for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"I get a lot of these plaques," he said.

Palmer's been riding motorcycles since he bought his first one when he was 18 in 1936 - a 1930 Harley that he bought for $85.

Four years later, he traded it in for a 1935 model, also a Harley. "It was a good bike. I had it until I got married in 1944, but I had to give it up and buy a car then. I traded it in on a 1937 Ford."

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It would be 34 years before he straddled a motorcyle seat again.

Palmer was deferred from military duty during World War II because he worked for the railroad, a job that was necessary for the war effort.

In 1945, he bought a dump truck and ran his own trucking business for the next 25 years. He then went to work for the state highway department on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 15 years before retiring in 1982.

That same year, he and five buddies rode motorcycles to Colorado.

He had bought his first motorcycle since giving up the Harley for marriage in 1944. It was a used Honda 450.

"I didn't keep it long. It was too small for a big guy like me," he said. Palmer stands about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 213 pounds.

He traded it in on a used 1975 Honda Gold Wing, a larger motorcycle. In 1983, he bought a brand new Gold Wing.

In 1987, he bought the big red Harley he rides today. He rode the new cycle across country, racking up more than 8,000 miles on the trip. "It's my pride and joy," he said.

Palmer paid $9,000 for the Harley and said it's probably worth $12,000 today even though he has driven it about 70,000 miles.

He said he has added about $3,000 worth of "extries," including a stereo, CB radio, chrome accessories and high performance cam.

Palmer said he has ridden motorcycles in all but three southern states.

"I used to ride about 15,000 miles a year, but, lately, l'm only doing 8,000 to 10,000. I'm getting older, but I still like riding through the open air," he said.

Last Thursday, he left his home on U.S. 522 around mid-afternoon and headed for Hancock to meet Elton Enzor, 73, one of his motorcycling buddies.

The pair was headed to Henry's Steak and Seafood restaurant in Charles Town, W.Va., one of his favorite haunts, for crabs.

He gets on the bike slower these days, carefully lifting his right leg over the front of the seat rather than swinging it over the back like he did when he was younger.

He had the seat lowered a couple of inches so it's easier to mount and to reach the ground with his feet.

"This motorcycle weighs about 900 pounds. I need to make sure my feet can touch the ground," he said.

Palmer's wife, Adrienne, used to ride with him often, but does so little these days.

"No, not really," said Palmer when asked if he thought riding motorcycles at his age was dangerous.

"I was never no cowboy or nothing. I always respected them."

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