March 23 • 02:57 PM

Keeping pace with a pioneer

April 04, 2018
"Harry Truman was president, gasoline cost 12 cents a gallon, and at the age of 17 my dad paid $275 for his first Harley. The year was 1945..."

Thus I began a piece I wrote for the 'Motoring Down Memory Lane' section of HOG Tales Magazine—a publication for members of the Harley Owners Group worldwide.

My dad Francesco 'Frank' Minolli and his good friend Bob 'Buddy Boy' Rice on his first motorcycle purchased in 1945. The bike was a Harley but painted to look like an Indian, which was the more coveted make at the time.
The editors were pretty excited about the piece, and so was I after hearing from them.

I'd written it after we got back from the 90th Harley Davidson Anniversary bash in Milwaukee. It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life—and who'd-a-thunk-it—a motorcycle rally with MY PARENTS. It's true.

By then, I'd purchased my first bike—a 1990 Sportster which I fell madly in love with, leaky front fork, oily chain and all. Ironically, when I broke the news to the folks that I was following in Dad's footsteps, they were at Bike Week in Daytona. I kid you not. This was in 1994. My dad was 66.

"You did what???" he says incredulously.

"I bought a Harley," I chuckle in reply.

"You better be careful with that thing," he chokes out. I know he and Mom will need some time to wrap their brains around the revelation. It's one of those 'do as I say, not as I do' type things.

My dad, wearing the leather 'helmet' cap and me, wearing the kidney belt, at the 90th Harley Davison Anniversary Celebration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Later, after they embraced the idea we took a road trip up to Tobermorey in the Bruce Peninsula to celebrate my mom's 70th birthday. My dad was 75. He rode his Harley, my mom on the back. I rode my trusty, leaky Sporty and Rod rode his Honda 900. Like the MasterCard commercial, it went something like this: 'Bungie cords, one dollar. Broken right mirror when Catherine dumped her bike in the parking lot, twenty-five. Memories, Priceless.'

I'm not the only Minolli sister with a bike. Virginia, the youngest, has a Sportster too. For a while, we rode around the area together taking day trips here and there. I also frequently rode to her Clarkston home, backpack stuffed with weekend supplies, and from there we'd hit the road. Virg was actually the pioneer in the realm of two-wheeled transportation. When she went off to study mechanical engineering at Stanford University, she was on a budget but needed some wheels. She bought a 350 Yamaha with a broken starter. She needed to jump start it each and every time. I still crack up picturing her running alongside the bike and popping the clutch, hopping on and zooming down the road. When I'd visit her, I'd jump on the back and off we'd go. The folks' reaction to her news went about the same as mine. "You did what????" "You better be careful on that thing."

Still, they let it go as best they could. They were in Michigan, she was in California. She was, after all, a Minolli. It's just the way it is. We were raised with motorcycles.

After the first bike, my dad owned a couple more. He bought a 1946 Knucklehead when he was in his 20s. The former owner threw in a leather cap and goggles and a custom leather kidney belt, complete with studs. For kicks and grins us girls try it on now and then just to see if we can still get it around us.

My dad quit riding for a while after a 1940s-era classic he bought was stolen from our garage when I was in junior high school. He was painstakingly restoring the bike, and would bring it out every now and then and take it for a ride. The little neighborhood kids would line up at the curb (next door the McAuliffe family had nine kids alone) and after making sure everyone had permission from their folks, my dad would give each kid a ride around the block. It was a huge thrill...especially for us.

When it was stolen, he was devastated. About 20 years later, when he retired at age 63, he bought a Harley as a little retirement present. He rode it home to Livonia from the dealership in Flint. My sisters' and my reaction was similar to his upon hearing our news: "You did what????"

Kidney belt, with my dad's name inscribed, and leather 'helmet' cap that the seller tossed into the deal when my dad bought his second motorcycle.
My dad continued to ride his Harley right up until six or seven months before he died at the age of 83.

Today, I'm the proud owner of the classic leather 'helmet' cap, and the prized kidney belt. A few years before he died, he had the buckles redone, as they'd grown quite fragile with wear.

I'm also the grateful carrier of a lifetime of memories from a pioneer who, at the age of 17 in 1945, made his dream of owning and riding a motorcycle a reality. A gift that truly keeps on giving.

Email Catherine at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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