— By Kimberly Holmes Ross and Brittany Estell, Esq.
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
—Leonardo da Vinci
William Allen Holmes was a pilot who acquired an appetite for flying. Not a pilot in the traditional sense, a man in a captain’s hat, white shirt, and pinned wings greeting you at the front of the plane, and responsible for getting you to your destination. No, that’s not “Wild Bill.” Bill’s airplane was a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and he was dressed in his denim, leather, a hat, and he flew! Feet standing on top of a two-wheeled pedestal, traveling at 10+mph arms stretched across the air, eyes wide open and the crowd going wild.
William “Wild Bill” Holmes was born in Columbus, Ohio, January 15, 1932. He ironically shares the same birthday as the great Martin Luther King Jr., both having a tenacious spirit, unwilling to give up on what they believed in, and unapologetically themselves.
Bill spent his early years between Columbus, Ohio, and Cokesbury, South Carolina. As a small child he loved everything on wheels. It was rumored that at the age of 3 he began “trick riding” on his tricycle. As a teen his zeal/zest for life came through bikes, motorcycles, and cars. Through his antics, he earned the nickname “Wild Bill,” never knowing what he’d do next on wheels. After high school he joined the United States Army 82nd Airborne where he jumped out of planes and was involved in live combat. He was honorably discharged with a Merit Unit Citation, a Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars and the United Nations Service Medal.
Upon on returning to the states he joined his mother in Evanston, IL, where he explored many professions, including: Clayton Marks, Evanston Bus Company, the City of Evanston – Sanitation Department, Jewel Food Store which all led to him to owning trucking company “Holmes & Sons Trucking.” Even with the many jobs he took on he always made time for his first love, his Harley. Wild Bill was a “Harley Man” who began to teach himself to do tricks and stunts on his bike. One of the first tricks he learned was the legendary “wheelie”, a stunt where you pull the bike up and ride on one wheel. He was known for doing it for blocks! In fact, he had been recorded performing the stunt at a little under a mile. What made this extraordinary was that because he rode a full size Harley, the bike was heavier than most bikes, making the stunt that much harder to execute. Once he accomplished this stunt, his passion and education for stunting took off!
He taught himself more and more tricks including the “slow drag,” “switch back,” “one-handed wheelie,” and “lazy boy.” As he attended and performed at field meets, rodeos, and drag races, people around the country began to know who he was and look forward to him appearing at many of their events. You could find him at rallys hosted by Hurry Kane Riders Motorcycle Club, C.T.M.C., Rough Riders Motorcycle Club, M.T.T., Apache Motorcycle Club, C. J. Harley Davidson, Mighty Romans Motorcycle Club, Magnificent Spoilers Motorcycle Club, Columbus Big Three MCC and many more. He became a legendary stunt rider and competitor who won hundreds of trophies; so many that my brothers and I often wondered if he was ever going to stop winning! Our basement was filled wall to wall with trophies, certificates, and awards, the more he won, the more we had to dust.
Although he loved touring independently he knew he could pursue his passion and make it his life’s work if he was able to obtain a sponsorship. As a loyal customer, he approached Harley Davidson. With his portfolio, references, and a vision in hand, he reached out seeking an endorsement. The powers that be at Harley explained that “Wild Bill” was not the image that was their interest and there was no market for a Black stunt rider. A few years later they signed Evil Knievel.
This obstacle did not stop or discourage him. No, this only fueled his fire. He went on to sponsor his own motorcycle meets and tour around the country supporting other Black riders and their events. He was among the founders of “The Untouchables Motorcycle Club.” Formed in the 1960’s, The Untouchables were a group of Black motorcyclist in the Evanston community who did not limit their activities to cycling, but also provided toys for children at holidays, hosted picnics, field meets, and other community gatherings. The group was active through the 1990’s.
In addition, as a member of the American Motorcyclists Association, he helped organize the National Bikers Roundup in 1977 encompassing a group of African American motorcycle clubs. The round up is a five-day event where attendee enjoys exhibits, vendors, stunt shows, entertainment, and a host of other motorcycle-related experiences. “Wild Bill” attended every round up, many times as a performer, until 2007.
One of my most cherished memories of my dad is when he rebuilt a 1973 Super- Glide bike by hand in our basement. When he finished, everyone wondered how he planned to get it out. The bike was huge while the stairs and door were narrow. It didn’t faze him; he rode it right up the stairs into the back yard, it was like magic! Today, that bike is still in running condition, and sits in our garage, like a plane waiting on its pilot.
August 2007 William Allen “Wild Bill” Holmes took his last ride, 1,046 miles round-trip. He rode from Evanston, IL to Kansas City, MO, for the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club National Bikers Round Up. October 18, 2007, he transitioned and completed his flight log. No longer flying on his Harley, but now soaring with angel wings, he left us with the reminder, “if you believe in yourself, you can fly too.”