Hells Angels offer a peek into Rockford clubhouse
BY GEORGETTE BRAUN
Rockford Register Star
ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Two rows of barbed wire on top of a cyclone fence let you know upfront that the Hells Angels are very careful about letting anybody on their property.
Inside the clubhouse, a former industrial building in southwest Rockford, members sell white T-shirts for $15 with the number 81 lettered in red on the front.
It's OK for outsiders to recognize the club's colors are red and white.
But it's like pulling teeth to get someone to admit the "81" is a metonym. The eighth letter of the alphabet is "H" and the first is "A," so the number represents "Hells Angels," known as the world's largest, oldest and baddest motorcycle group.
In the closed-door "back room," a banquet-sized table sits in the middle where members pay the bills. They relax on couches, mismatched castoffs from members' homes, and watch shows on a big-screen TV.
A framed 8-by-10, head-and-shoulders photo of Lamont "Monte" Mathias rests on a stand nearby. Ask about circumstances surrounding Mathias' beating death in 1994 and what rival motorcycle gang was responsible for it, and it's clam-up time again.
Ditto when seeking more information about the "Free Doc" stickers available for $2.
Doc, a member with ties to Wisconsin, is awaiting trial for murder. That's about all anybody would say, except that part of the proceeds from a recent event went toward his legal defense.
The Hells Angels is a men's-only, tight-knit, closed-mouth group of avid Harley-Davidson riders. They wear black leather vests with the club's name and logo on the back.
They let outsiders into their house to party sometimes to help defray costs. On one recent Saturday, you could get your bike and yourself blessed by a clergyman, eat a few hot dogs, play pool for free on a nine-foot table and listen to Rockford hard rock bands Submission and The Pimps.
As long as you don't ask too many Hells Angels too many times what you have to do to become a member, who the members are and how many there are, and as long as you follow the rules -- like not putting a $2 can of beer on the wooden mantle of the gas fireplace in the lounge -- the guys are hospitable and fun-lovin'.
"If you treat us well, we'll treat you better," said Mike North, 53, of Belvidere.
But be aware, he said: "If you treat us bad, we'll treat you worse."
North, who works at a local factory, has been riding motorcycles for 30 years and now mounts a black 1996 Electra Glide with 150,000 miles on it.
He's been a Hells Angels member for a year and is considered a nomad. That means he doesn't belong to the Rockford chapter alone and hangs out with a few Midwest chapters.
Hells Angels members on average ride 20,000 miles a year on their Harleys. At the clubhouse, they talk a lot about their motorcycles -- the way they sound, ride, look, feel -- and the adventures they have on them.
North said the Hells Angels are like true family members.
"People I thought were my friends and brothers weren't," he said. "People in Hells Angels, whether they like me or not, will back me up if something happens to me, if I happen to get arrested for some reason."
Anyone who knows anything about Hells Angels in Rockford knows James "Oats" Oldfield.
The 64-year-old pastor has been a Hells Angels member for 34 years, marrying several couples at the clubhouse. He also conducts the annual blessing of the bikes by placing a footlong socket extension into "holy water" and spritzing members and nonmembers alike.
On Saturday, Oldfield performed the ritual about 100 times.
"It gives people confidence that a-little-more-something is looking out for them going down the road," he said. "It's a little more soul protection."