Life Cycle

Dudley Perkins' final ride draws a pack of Hogs

At 10:15 a.m. Saturday, Fulton Street near St. Ignatius Church was lousy with traffic: Road Kings; Electra Glides; Dyna Superglides; Low Rider Sports; Screamin' Eagles -- 91 Harleys in all. Their shovelhead, panhead, blockhead drone as the huge pack moved up Fulton Street at around 3 mph made a fitting funeral march for Dudley Perkins, owner of the second-oldest Harley-Davidson dealership in the world.

Dudley Perkins Co. was known as the oldest until a year ago, when a store in Rockville, Md., dug up a newspaper advertisement showing it had opened before 1914, when Dudley's father first began selling Harleys at 1626 Market St.

Despite the nit-picking, Perkins lost no face with West Coast bikers.
"He gave a lot of people some freedom," sighed one long-faced, 300-pound rider.

"He was a good guy. A real likable man," added a grizzled biker named Dutch, who, like the other members of Perkins' Harley-mounted funeral procession, was clothed from head to toe in black leather.

They remembered the ex-Marine Perkins as a fair man, a tough man -- the kind of man bikers respect.

"There was one time when a Hell's Angel guy was in the shop raising hell. Dudley was in his mid-50s at that time. He told the guy to behave, and the guy swore at him," said Dudley Perkins Co. General Manager Jim Belland. "Dudley calmly folded his glasses, put them in his shirt pocket, and dropped the guy right there."

Perkins saved his greatest courage for pancreatic cancer, those who knew him say. He suffered for four years before anyone heard him complain much about it -- and that was two weeks before he died.

So Saturday's ceremony didn't lack for a funeral's gravity, despite the acre of chrome tailpipes and custom-painted gas tanks in the parking lot outside. More than one tough-looking Harley enthusiast was heard to gulp, sigh, whisper "Jesus Christ," or otherwise stifle emotion as Perkins' coffin, adorned with a Harley-Davidson Cycles license plate, passed by.

But the funeral was also a congenial event, where bikers swapped old road stories, discussed the relative advantages of different Harley engines, and reminisced about Dudley Perkins.

It was an agreeable appointment for the procession's police escort, as well, despite the fact it was scheduled for a Saturday morning.

The half-dozen motor mounties hung around outside St. Ignatius during the funeral, looking over the museum's-worth of bikes lined up on Parker Street, chatting among themselves as they leaned against their police-issue Kawasakis.

Kawasakis? San Francisco, the final resting place of the world's most cherished Harley dealer, puts its police on Kawasakis? The city that would spend $200 million to make the Bay Bridge prettier, the city that would spill millions more to beautify Union Square, the city that is so aesthetically pleasing its mayor wears $3,000 suits, puts its finest on ugly, tinny-sounding import bikes?

Well, yeah, said Patrolman Don Moorehouse, a 17-year force veteran and a member of Perkins' funeral escort.

While they aren't as physically attractive, Kawasakis are quicker -- the better to chase down miscreants -- and they're quieter, allowing cops to hear their radios.

The city bought 29 Harley-Davidson patrol bikes from Perkins in 1961, and around 10 in 1977. But since then, it's been pretty much an all-Kawasaki force.

Relief may be on the way, though. The city has put out a request for bid on 17 new Harleys, which the city's Finance Department claims is part of the San Francisco government's efforts to buy American products.

"Let's face it: It's a beautiful bike," said Moorehouse, as he looked over a white-black-and-chrome Harley-Davidson Road King V-Twin, 1,340 cc, sequential-port fuel injection, aluminum-wheeled, police-issue test model parked across the street from St. Ignatius. "I understand the mayor's really hot for them."

So come August, when the city's $200,000 Harley purchase is scheduled to be finalized, Mayor Willie Brown and his patrolmen will be able to escort visiting dignitaries in style.

And they won't have Dudley Perkins' ghost to contend with.

 
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