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Retiree finds peace atop his harleys

October 14, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Cancer-free for five years, Richard Mentzer went hog wild for his 75th birthday.

The Halfway resident in early September bought his fourth Harley-Davidson motorcycle within six years - a black 2003 883 Custom worth more than $7,000. Mentzer has logged about 200 miles on the bike, which commemorates the "hog" manufacturer's 100th anniversary.

"I'm still breaking it in," he said. "As long as I can get a leg up on the thing, I'm going to ride it."

Mentzer's Harley "bike fever" began while he was still a student at the old Hagerstown High School in 1945, he said. He owned nine motorcycles - swapping them with friends and buying surplus military motorcycles and other bikes - until he was drafted into the military during the Korean War in 1950, Mentzer said.

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He joined the Hagerstown Police Department soon after he was discharged in 1952, and his experience with motorcycles soon landed him a job patrolling city streets on a 1947 Harley-Davidson Panhead, Mentzer said.

Mentzer held the job for four years until going to work for Hagerstown's Signal (now part of the Public Works) Department - a 31-year career that involved installing and maintaining all the city's traffic signals and fire alarms and the police department's call system and cruiser radios and lights, Mentzer said.

It would be 40 years before he rode another motorcycle. Why?

"I got married," Mentzer said, laughing.

His wife of 31 years died of cancer in 1990, and Mentzer learned he had cirrhosis of the liver in 1996. To celebrate his recovery from that illness, he bought a 1995 Harley-Davidson Shovelhead, which he joyfully rode around his neighborhood for the first time in September 1996, Mentzer said.

He'd been riding for almost exactly one year when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he said.

"I wasn't ready to die," Mentzer said. "I went into the operating room with an attitude."

He brought a jug of Harley-Davidson motor oil with him to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he underwent surgery to remove a portion of his lung in October 1997.

"I told the nurses that if anything happened to me and I needed a blood transfusion, to use the oil," Mentzer said. "They wheeled me into the O.R. with the oil on the I.V. rack."

Mentzer sold his Harley Shovelhead soon after his surgery, and replaced it with a factory hotrod 1998 Harley XL1200S. Mentzer then traded that bike for a 2001 Harley-Davidson FXDXT Dyno Superglide Sport Tour - a sharp-looking bike that he still owns.

"You've got to have two Harleys," Mentzer said. "At least two. Is there anything else?"

He enjoys tooling around the county on his motorcycles - an activity that contributes to his clean bill of health, Mentzer said.

"It is genuine stress relief," he said. "It's so relaxing, it's unbelievable."

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