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Posts Tagged ‘Kingman’

FL-TesttrackI’m talking about Florida and the Big Cypress Swamp.

To be more specific the address is: Harley-Davidson, 5301 34th Ave. S.E., Naples, FL., a 531-acre private test track north of Interstate 75/Alligator Alley.  The facility has a 2.1-mile straight away and a 1.1-mile ride-and-handling loop.

FL-Track-HeloPrior to 2002, the test track was owned and used by Ford Motor Company.  In October 2009, Harley-Davidson announced plans to consolidate its test operations in Florida and Talladega, AL. sites to the Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, AZ.  There were approximately 8 employees and as many contract employees at the Florida facility at the time.

Earlier this month, the automaker Chrysler Group LLC announced they purchased the property for $7 million with plans to use the more than six miles of tracks to test a wide range of pre-production vehicles.

FL-Track-BldsHarley-Davidson Motor Co., agreed to lease back a portion of the track to test motorcycles and other specialty vehicles along with 10,200 square feet within two buildings on the property. That lease will last through at least June 30, 2019.

Construction of the track and its associated buildings began in 1985 and ended in 1992.  In 1998 the test track was the subject of a lot of scrutiny when nearby property owners and environmentalist became concerned about expansion that would harm the neighborhood.

Photos courtesy of Google and Collier International.

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Tropicana Express - Laughlin, NV

“High on a mountain, wind blowing free
Thinking of the days that used to be”

Riding from Las Vegas to Laughlin reminded me of that Stan Ridgway song of “Mexican Radio” fame.  We felt the hot wind on our shoulders as the group rode through the Mojave Desert, and this number is stuck in my head, perfectly fitting the experience.

We arrived at the Laughlin River Run prior to the rally hitting full speed.  The streets were eerily absent of motorcycles and the few open vendor booths didn’t have a large parade of people yet.  It could have been mistaken for just any other day along Casino Drive.  Our plans didn’t have us staying but one night in Laughlin as we had a lot of far reaching scenery in Arizona to cover.

A quick scan after returning indicated that attendance was around 35,000 people who showed up to take in the festivities which was slightly up from last year.  The economy did make an impact as there were about half the normal number of vendors in the casino parking lots.  And other than four DUI arrests and a new 2010 H-D motorcycle catching fire due to an oil leak it was largely an uneventful weekend.  Certainly different from the 90+ arrests back in 2007.

THE GRAND CANYON
I like to try and think up biker quotes.  You know the type.  A journey of a thousand miles begins with a dead battery.  But I don’t have anything for thirty degrees and snow which is what we hit!  On Thursday we were only on the South Rim for a couple hours.  Deployed at the Bright Angel Lodge and the weather made it down right uncomfortable.

Grand Canyon

Someone in the posse stated they hadn’t been there since the ‘70s.  Needless to say, the Grand Canyon hadn’t changed.  It’s vast!  Far larger than you can imagine, almost too big to comprehend.  A huge hole with giant mountains amidst the vast valleys.

After taking in the frigid panorama scene, our plan was to limit the viewpoints and return to warmth.  Fog prevented any visibility for the first 30 minutes, but then the views turned awesome with the sheer walls nearby emblazoned red.  One could get out on the edge and look straight down.  And that’s what it is, straight down.  A cliff.  The sides of the Grand Canyon don’t slope they are vertical.  You’re just feet away from an abyss.

Posse At Grand Canyon

Then suddenly there is a realization that you’re standing in snow and could slip.  And did you really want to go this way?  This isn’t how it’s supposed to be in America.  The land of helmets, seatbelts and airbags, where we release our children into society in bubble wrap, worried they might get bruised by the slightest of contact.  America is safe, we’re protected.  Clearly they didn’t get the memo at the Canyon.  Angled and uneven paths meant that a stumble or a slight slip and you’re a goner!  We stepped away from the cliff and made our way to the restaurant to warm up. In route we stopped to talk with some riders who traveled from Germany and couldn’t believe the snow.  We overnighted outside the canyon park in Tusayan and watched the snow fall during dinner.

Skull Valley Arizona

RIDING SKULL VALLEY
On Friday we were looking to ride in some warmer weather and wasted no time in making our way south.  We had a chili dog lunch at the famous Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman then it was off to Lake Havasu.  We arrived to witness a large number of people and performance boats in town for the Desert Storm races.  Complete with stereo and shoot out contests for the fastest boat in the west.  On Saturday morning based on some local feedback the night before we decided to back track to Highway 93 and head south toward Phoenix then take SR97 and SR96 through Skull Valley.  There we were amidst the lonely cacti and occasional sage brush riding through sweeping canyons on highway 93.

There is a captivating beauty on this road along with solitude as few cagers venture out this way.  Then we turned onto SR97 which provided plenty of curves and twisty tarmac.  With quick elevation changes it was a great escape as the broad sweepers brought us face-to-face with the so-called “Arizona motorcycle experience.”

We got a taste of history in the small town of Skull Valley.  It’s home to the Prescott Pandemonium Motorcycle Rally and we grabbed burgers at the local diner which as luck would have it opened only a couple days earlier.  We were rewarded with some good food and great service!

We continued riding up to Prescott on AZ 89A and then through the Prescott National Forest.  The small town of Jerome reminded of Virginia City, NV as it has a very similar mining history.  Our view of the town was from the motorcycle seat and I hope to visit again when I have more time to take in the scene.  We continued on 89A to Sedona hoping to find a motel.  Unfortunately with Sedona being the second most popular tourist destination after the Grand Canyon we had to push on to Flagstaff because rooms were full.  The 45 minute ride up through Oak Creek Canyon was a cool sub-50 degrees, but the sun setting provided spectacular photo’s of the red sandstone formations.  We roared right past the Mogollon Rim rest area and view the valley, rather headed directly to a Best Western on Route 66 and jumped into a hot shower!

Sedona, Arizona

On our final day of travel we had to ride back to Las Vegas and drop the motorcycles.  Heading out of Flagstaff on I-40 becomes a little “boring” with about a 2000 feet drop in less than an hour and nothing but scrubland as far as eye can see.  The 75MPH speed limit kept us alert especially trying to dodge the numerous ruts and pot holes made from so many semi-trucks.  This is the worst interstate road I’ve traveled and maybe the worst highway in Arizona?  At Kingman, we rolled onto highway 93 toward Hoover Dam and the scrubland became most flat from Grasshopper Junction until we got within 10 miles of the dam.  We rolled across the dam and made our way into Las Vegas for the motorcycle drop with KGM Motorcycle Transport who did a great job and a shout out to Mike!

With bikes loaded and temperatures nearing 90 degrees the snow in the canyon was a distant memory as refreshments in the Hard Rock came to our minds.

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Arial View of H-D Arizona Proving Grounds (Yucca)

The motor company delivers on its promise.

Not a new innovative motorcycle model, but to consolidate testing operations into one single location in Arizona – called the Arizona Proving Ground (AZPG).

Reports out of Kingman, AZ indicate that a local contractor (T.R. Orr, Inc.), received two building permits from the county Development Services Department, one for commercial renovation at the proving grounds and another for the construction of a brand new industrial plant.

You may recall that H-D moved into the Chrysler Proving Grounds at Yucca less than a year ago after it was booted from the General Motors proving grounds in Mesa, which had been closed and sold off the previous year.  The motorcycle company is shuttering testing operations in Talladega, Ala., as well as Naples, Fla., as they are in the process of moving those operations to AZPG through 2011.  I’ve previously reported as far back as 2008 on H-D plans of AZPG HERE and HERE.

According to H-D spokeswoman Pat Sweeney, the changes being made to the existing facilities and the new industrial plant will not only provide H-D the space and equipment it needs to make the most use of the proving grounds it will also – and are you ready for the “E” word – improve its efficiency.  Details on the cost of the new industrial plant or the need for any new employees from the local workforce were – incomplete – as Ms. Sweeney cited an obvious benefit to the community just because we’re consolidating there, but “we’re just still not really sure at his point in time” when referring to hiring plans.  I anticipate they offered folks in the shuttered operations an opportunity to move to AZ and are waiting on the final acceptance ratio before opening job req’s.

And speaking of jobs… the nearby and sprawling Arizona State Prison, Cerbat Facility (20 buildings on 45 acres) was a 2,000-bed minimum custody facility that just completed a major renovation and expansion into 3,400 beds.  I see an inmate labor force expansion in the near future and it couldn’t come at a better time according to local reports.

Photo courtesy of Chrysler

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Happiness is doing what you love and given the northwest rain, gale force winds and cold weather means – I’m not feeling the motorcycle love! So, what else is there to do, but look ahead to the new year and map out some rides?!

A couple of trips that I’m hoping to budget for:

  • Drive a portion of Route 66 – Ideally this trip would include a large chase truck which is better suited to bringing back memorabilia collected on the way to wherever, but the route being considered is Phoenix to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon.  Then on to Kingman with a drive-by in Laughlin for the late April River Run.
  • Ride the ferries – British Columbia offers up remarkable scenery and where else do you go during the U.S. July 4th holiday?!   Nothing is more spectacular than a ride through Olympic National Park, catch the Port Angeles Ferry to Victoria then Buchart Gardens with dinner and libations.
  • Make a return trip to Sturgis – we’re 202 days out and this year marks the 70th anniversary.  It was just a couple years ago several of us rode to the Black Hills.  It wasn’t the first time, but it did celebrate the inaugural Black Hills State University dorm room in Spearfish, SD.   The Sturgis rally defines the term “cluster” so I’ll likely settle for a day well-spent in and around the little South Dakota town…followed by a hot shower and a soft bed before quickly departing to enjoy more of the ride.
  • Oregon State H.O.G. Rally – 2010 marks a combined Washington and Oregon State H.O.G. Rally.  It starts in Pendleton, OR on August 24th and ends in Coos Bay, OR on August 27th.  A week of riding and nearly 1500 miles with 8 dealer stops.  The current ride route is  through 4 states.
  • Good Rockin’ Tonight – I’m talking Street Vibrations in Reno, NV (September) and the reference is to cover bands playing rock hits from the classic acts back in the day.  We’ve got a new culture these days as folks go to dance clubs and move to the bass-heavy productions of studio wizards…but, back in the day it was Montrose (some of you are old enough to remember this exact performance!).  The 19 year old Sammy Hagar stood on stage and rocked the crowds.  However, Street Vibrations is where the cover bands imitate the greats.

What’s in your future ride inventory?

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Talladega“Shake ‘n Bake”…  as the Harley-Davidson financial wizards turn off the Speedway lights and come on cost savings ideas like a spider monkey. 

I blogged in October 2008 that H-D reached an agreement with Chrysler to use part of the Arizona Proving Grounds facility. The facility is located about 25 miles south of Kingman, AZ on the old Yucca Army Airfield.

Given the dismal Q3’09 financial results and closure of Buell, they have now decided to further reduce operational expenses by closing the test facility in Talladega, Alabama, eliminating about 100 jobs. The testing facility was opened in January 1981 and had performed several kinds of vehicle tests including high-speed performance tests on Talladega SuperSpeedway.

The companies operational plans had previously committed to cease testing in Mesa, AZ (the GM Proving Grounds) by July 2009 because the testing ground had been sold for a variety of planned developments.  Consolidating test operations from Talladega; and Naples FL., to the Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, AZ., is new information.

Clearly the company is aggressively cutting costs where it can and must be necessary to align cost with the new economic reality of reduced sales. I’m truly starting to wonder if H-D has lost its way and offer up the movie opening title card as a reminder to H-D management: “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed. – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936.”

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

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Yucca Desert Proving Grounds

Yucca Desert Proving Grounds

During WWII the U.S. Army established numerous airfields in Arizona for training pilots and aircrews of the USAAF fighters and bombers.  Just east of I-40 and about 25 miles south of Kingman, AZ is the Yucca Army Airfield.  In 1946 the property was declared surplus and in 1954 the Ford Motor Company acquired the facility and began using the runways for automobile testing.  Ford eventually built an extensive automotive proving ground and used the airfield known as the Arizona Proving Ground Airport.

In November 2007, Chrysler bought the facility (3,840-acre test site, which has 50 miles of test roads) for $34.9M from Ford Motor Company. Chrysler also made another $10M in upgrades, including a new 70-foot-high test grade along with other new test surfaces. The facility is open 24/7 and the Yucca site is the primary hot weather testing grounds. Chrysler tests about 2,000 vehicles a year at the site.  As a side bar, Toyota’s desert proving grounds is 128 miles away in Wickenburg, AZ and runway information is HERE.

Harley-Davidson recently closed an agreement with Chrysler to use the facility effective July 2009 as their desert proving grounds.  Harley will occupy several buildings and use the banked, high speed, five-mile, three-lane oval track as well as many of the twisted asphalt and checkerboard tile concrete roads.

I don’t know about you, but I can see a day in the future where the Laughlin River Run in coordination with the Route 66 Motor Sports and “Mother Road” Harley dealer in Kingman might include facility tours and/or sport track demo rides.  Let’s hope so!

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