TOWNSHIP 1 RANGE 9, Maine — Norma Farquhar isn’t a Harley-Davidson motorcyclist or a Maine State Harley Owners Group member, but she greeted group members returning from their historic first ride on the Golden Road on Friday properly outfitted.
She wore a hat fashioned like a happy flying pink hog, complete with flapping wings.
“I think this is excellent,” Farquhar said after about 300 Harleys streamed by her on Millinocket Road late Friday afternoon. “It brought a lot to this community that it needs.
“I have seen this town [Millinocket] go from a big community with movie theaters and stores down to nothing,” the Millinocket Lake camp owner said. “I think this is a big step in the right direction as far as bringing some money into the community. We need to start diversifying our economy.”
About 340 gleaming Harleys — enough to cover all of Penobscot Avenue by Central Street and most of Medway Road — rode from Millinocket Municipal Airport in a parade through downtown Millinocket led by the Pelletier family of the Discovery Channel’s “American Loggers” TV show before hitting the Golden Road. The line was estimated at 4 miles long.
Their ride along the Golden Road, Maine’s privately owned forest products industry conduit to the largest contiguous forest in North America, was the big draw that lured state chapter members to locate the 2009 Maine State H.O.G. Rally at Millinocket Regional Airport and River Drivers’ Restaurant at the New England Outdoors Center, riders said.
Hundreds of people jammed downtown sidewalks to cheer them along.
“There was a lot,” Millinocket resident Kim Baker, 45, said of the motorcycles. “The line of them just kept going and going and going. It went for 15 or 20 minutes without interruption.”
“It was a great boost to the town,” said Debbie Stanley of Millinocket.
The rally, which started Thursday and ends today, had a preregistration of 579 Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders, many more than are typically drawn to other rallies held around the Northeast, said Linda Billings, rally coordinator for Maine State Rally Inc., the organization assembling the event.
Another 111 riders registered for the event on Thursday and Friday, Billings said. Only the intermittently rainy and cloudy weather prevented the rally from achieving perfection, she said.
“It’s been fantastic,” Billings said, “especially since I was led to believe that it would be canceled on Thursday.”
The Golden Road, she said, was so potholed and waterlogged that it would have been unsafe had it not been for the weather clearing.
No traffic problems or other more serious incidents were reported, Millinocket Police Chief Donald Bolduc said.
Riders said they enjoyed riding the Golden Road, describing the scenery — Millinocket Lake and Mount Katahdin among the grandest sites — as spectacular.
“We got as close to Mount Katahdin as you could get on a motorcycle, right along the Penobscot River,” said H.O.G. member Bruce Laveway, 27, of Ashland. Laveway rated the experience as second among the four Maine H.O.G. rallies he has attended, ahead of Portland and Augusta but behind Sugarloaf.
“This is a lot better than Portland,” Laveway said while standing on the porch at River Driver’s. “In Portland, it was all spread out through the whole town, so nobody could get together like this.”
The Katahdin region, not just Millinocket, benefited from the event, East Millinocket Administrative Assistant Shirley Tapley said.
“There were probably 30 people at the municipal building [in East Millinocket] when they came through on Thursday. Everyone was just waving,” Tapley said. “This is a boost because the weather has been terrible, the economy has been scaring people. This is just what we need for the future.”
The warm reception from residents and businesses will leave Millinocket with a strong chance to be considered as another rally site in three or four years, Billings said.
The sole blight on the event: A paperwork glitch led to the cancellation of the poker runs planned to raise money for various charities, including a Millinocket teenager suffering from spina bifida. The Maine Gaming Commission disallowed the event because the H.O.G. chapter didn’t secure a permit, Billings said.
The complaint or complaints that generated the investigation did not come from local residents, Bolduc said.
H.O.G. members passed a hat and raised about $1,000 in other ways, Billings said.