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Samantha Morgan

Crash And Learn At The Wall Of Death

By Betsy Huelskamp, with photos from Bob T., Betsy and Scooter
7/12/2007 12:11:14 PM


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SamSaraGoth
Sam, Goth Girl and photographic artist Sara Liberte.

In England, if you get the chance to meet the queen, it is customary to drop to one knee to pay your respects. We have no queen in America, but there is a woman I find so remarkable that she warrants that level of respect. In the world of motorcycles and bad asses, Sam Morgan is the queen, and long live the queen!

Rider
Classic shots of thrill rides and riders from Bob T. Collection.

Sam rides the “Wall of Death,” which if you’ve ever seen her, you’ll never forget. Even if you’ve ever seen the amazing Rhett Rotten, or anyone else ride the wall, it’s still not the same thing as seeing Sammy girl in action. Sam is just a skinny little thing, and her riding style is fast and furious. As she whips up and down the vertical wall, she kicks her back wheel right up into the thin cable that separates your face from her bike. Her long ash blonde hair is flying in the wind as she snatches dollar bills from your outreached hands. All the while her infectious smile is sharing with you how much she loves what she is doing. This woman loves to ride. She was born to ride.

Wall sign

Every time I have watched her has been a privilege.

bikeandcar

For the past five years, Sam has entertained at bike events all over the country with a group of guys at the American Motordrome. Which if you’ve never seen the “Wall of Death,” it is basically an old wooden carnival act that has been kept alive by a select few people like Sam, whose roots tie her right into those people who originated the sport back in the 1920s. Inside this big wooden barrel that gradates from the floor to the wall, riders scale the wall, and ride with centrifugal force. We the viewers watch from a surrounding ledge above. But because these original old structures have a lot of years on them, maintenance is essential to the health and well being of their riders, as is the maintenance of their old vintage Indian Motocycles.

Girl incenter

Sam has always expressed concern about the condition of any the Motordrome she rode. Some are old and weary and not kept up as well as the American Motordrome.

According to Jay, the owner of the American Motordrome, "My drome is in the best condition ever. It's my livelihood and I maintain it meticuliously. You can ask Officer O'Brian from the Volusia County Police department. He inspects it every year. This year he invited other officers from surrounding areas to witness the level of our conditioning."

Harry from Cycle Source magazine and a rider on the Wall of death called to comfirm Jay's statements. "The wall is well kept and every year, after it sets for four months the wood is slippery until we break it in. Everyone knows that."

The show went on according to Sam, along with her fearless attitude. Unfortunately, in front of a horrified group of onlookers at Phil Peterson Harley-Davidson in Miami, Sam hit a spot that was slick, due to residue from a repair, or natural wood seepage. She doesn’t really remember crashing, but she does remember the painful ride home.

Betzsam and goth
There’s Betsy on the left, Sam and that Goth woman trying to steal the show.

Now lying in bed with a multitude of injuries, she smashed her face and teeth, broke her right wrist, left shoulder, and a couple of ribs. Her back, leg and knee are bruised and sore. When I asked her how many accidents she has had in her career, she couldn’t remember the total. From the ground up she has broken ankles, foot bones, tib and fib bones, her pelvis, numerous ribs, and her back three times and always in different places. She’s blown out her knee, wrist and shoulders, and smashed in her face, temple, and head numerous times. Maybe it would be easier to ask what she hasn’t hurt. With a wonderful gleem in her eyes she said, “I never hurt either elbow!”

Group in front

I’ll tell you what else has never been broken, Sam’s spirit. I asked her if most of her accidents were in front of an audience or in practice. “I only rides when there’s an audience,” Sam said, “that way I never get hurt for nothing!”

Girl artist

At 46 years young, this is an old soul. Her earliest memories foster parents were mixed, a passive good man and the bitch from hell. At the ripe old age of 11, she made the decision to run away. She somehow thought it might actually make life easier for the passive man, and thought she was doing everybody a favor.

broken spoke logo

Skulldrome

With no birth certificate, or papers to identify her in any way, she drifted around until one day she found herself at a county fair, and witnessed the fearless display that would awaken her soul, give her an identity, and change the course of her life forever. She was 14 years old when she saw Sonny Pelaquin ride the “Wall of Death” for the first time. For a young girl who had never really admired anyone for anything, suddenly there was something she could admire. Much like a stray pound puppy, Sam started hanging around the Wall and offered to help out. They let her collect tickets and clean the attraction. When they picked up to go to a new town, she was part of the gear. She worked hard to prove herself, and Sonny literally took her under his wing and became the mentor she will never forget and the father she never had.

long shot

Sonny Pelaquin was literally born into the business. His father rode the wall, his mother rode the wall, and his brothers rode the wall. They all rode back in the day when the carnival act included lions. The lions were taught to ride on makeshift sidecars with their manes blowing in the wind. Much the way a dog likes to stick his head out of the window of a car. Sonny told Sam how the lions really loved it. Sonny loved working and riding with the big cats, and loved sharing the stories with Sam, who never grew tired of listening. His passion for the sport, the riding, and the lions was passed on to him from his parents, and he passed it on to Sam.

Indian Larry

Sam taught Indian Larry to ride the wall a week or two before his untimely death. He loved it.

Sam’s passion comes thru the telephone wires as she lies in bed with six weeks of recovery ahead of her. Her love of riding and the dromes is still intact. Her love of the late Sonny, and his stories and his inspiration still burns bright in her heart. She told me the story of the last lion that worked in the business. His name was King, and they had to shoot him, because the wrong person stuck his hands where it didn’t belong. Human error caused King’s death. Sam tells Sonny’s stories like they were her own. She is truly one of the last of the Mohechins, carrying out a dying art that only a select few would even have the balls to imagine trying. We talked about death, and both agreed that it wouldn’t be so bad to go out doing what you love to do.

Jay and Samatha
Jay brought two bikes and Wall of Death Samatha, took passes on his flathead Indian. You’re witnessing the Broken Spoke Saloon Aerodynamic Racing Suit procedure.

Okay, maybe old age, in your sleep would be a more peaceful way, but she explained that at the speed she is traveling, she probably wouldn’t even know what hit her.

Jay and Samatha 2
This is where Jay convinces Samatha that the bike will run.

The “Wall of Death” isn’t the only place Sam has a need for speed. Just this past summer she set two speed records out at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Jay Allen of the Broken Spoke Saloon invited Sam to race his 1946 Indian Chief, which she set the record on. Which she then followed with setting the record on a 1936 Indian Chief owned by Indian Lawerence. In addition, Sam is one of the only women to be inducted into the Sturgis Museum Motorcycle Hall of Fame. One of the other women is our Editor Genevieve Schmitt. Both are recognized for their efforts of inspiring men and women alike in the motorcycle industry.

sam morgan bike on salt
This is one of the bikes Sam piloted on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2006.

So the story ends, and now begins with Sam’s dream of having her own Motordrome. “Now is as good-a-time as any,” she said. Awhile back an old dismantled drome was donated to her when its owner and rider, TJ Howard passed on. She has never had the resources to refurbish it and make it operational, but now it’s her priority. She is her own carpenter, and knows what needs to be done. All she needs is help from her friends, like Jay, Bikernet and the people in this industry to turn her dream into a reality. Her vision is to have an all female American Motordrome crew and act, plus she still intends to use her American Motordrome name. She’d like to incorporate the talents of her frinds, Goth Girl on piano, and Sara Liberty with her photography. I most definitely believe that if she builds it, they will come! Her spirit and talent go unmatched.

Betsy
The author who is planning to climb Mt. Everest in the next couple of weeks. She could use a couple of sponsor… CALAMITYBZ@aol.com

In the mean time, this single daredevilette is quietly recouping in her Loxahetchee, Florida home with her two best dog pals, Mischief and Daisy. She is creating a new web site for herself at www.thrillarena.com, to be all inclusive of Motordrome history, her life, and current events. Some of the old info can still be accessed at www.Motordrome.org. If you’d like to help Sam with ideas or sponsorship, you can contact her direct at: thrillarena@hotmail.com.

woman rider logo

Sidebar from Easyriders: "Jay Lightning and his team put on a helluva show. The Motordrome is a part of two wheeled history that needs to be embraced by riders everywhere. Watching these trick riders do their thing is truly a mind-blower. If you see the Motordrome at a bike show, rally or run, make sure to take the time to support it.

Without your help this amazing historical attraction could go the way of the Dodo bird. We don't want that."

--Dave Nichols
Editor Easyriders & V-Twin Magazine
Paisano Publications, LLC


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