Orval completes his journey


HERE’S ANOTHER SNAPSHOT into the Alaska trek, prompted by news I received this week from Lorie Butcher, of Valley City, Ohio.

You may remember her father-in-law, Orval Butcher, from The River Towns Ride of two years ago. Lorie wrote to let me know that Orval departed the world on August 2. He was 90.

Here’s what I wrote about him two years ago:

“I stopped for a glass of orange juice in Sutton, WV, a little town on the Holly River. I was standing out by the iron piggy drinking it when an old gent in a Navy cap walked up, opened his wallet and showed me a photo of himself on a Harley right after WWII. After witnessing much carnage while serving on a destroyer in the Pacific, he vowed to live! Orval Butcher rode motorcycles all over America, took Arthur Murray dance lessons, learned how to ski, and how to sail.”


Home from lobbing 5-inch shells at the Japanese Imperial Navy.
Our last unambiguous war.
His wife, Betty, at 18, in front of their humble home. He smiled when I said my wife had lived in a trailer, too, as an infant, in Huntsville, Alabama
Betty and Orval had a daughter
Betty at 70. She died two years ago, at 73, married for 56 years.
Orval Butcher, 88, family man, Navy man, Harley man. Well done, sir!
If you think of it, drop Orval a note or a card and thank him for his service. He’s at 461 Airport Road, Sutton, WV, 26601


Orval and Betty had a son, too. I didn’t know that two years ago, or maybe I overlooked it in my notes. But it was Alan Butcher’s wife, Lorie, who kindly wrote to tell me of Orval’s passing.

I’ve thought of Orval quite a few times over the last two years, and had reason to again on the Alaska trek. Believe it or not, another 88-year-old Harley man, widower, Navy veteran of the war in the Pacific, walked up to me, opened his wallet and took out a photo of the bike he rode way back when. It happened in Wyoming this time, on May 28.



Richard Bruggink was on his way home to Denver after visiting his grandchildren in The Equality State. (Women got the vote in Wyoming in 1869, nearly three generations before the states ratified the 19th Amendment.)



Here’s the bike Richard bought as a 20-year-old Navy vet, in 1946. It’s a pre-war Harley, 1940. “You couldn’t find a new one in those days,” he said. He braced his right hand against his left, thinking the picture might come out shaky if he didn’t.



For a backup shot I asked him to rest his hand against the gear packed on the iron piggy.

Then I told Richard about Orval. He got a kick out of that.

There aren’t many of these guys left anymore. A lifetime later, how many are carrying photos of their post-war Harleys in their wallets? I’ve been made aware of two so far.

Richard told me his grandchildren are always after him to speak of his experiences fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. He won’t. In due time, those stories will go out of the world with him. “I still have war nightmares,” he said. “I don’t like to talk about it.”

Then he volunteered this: “At least we knew who we were fighting.”

Richard was interested in this thing I was doing, riding to Alaska, sleeping in the weeds. “Do you carry a pistol?” It was clear by his tone that he was hoping I did. But, no, I’m not packing. I’ve got pretty good radar that tells me when I ought not to be in a certain place anymore.

When we parted, Richard said, “You’ll be in my prayers. For your safety.”



Then I was off down the road, riding into weather.



I camped that night on a lake shore in Boysen State Park, Shoshoni, Wyoming.



The piggy and I had 2,698 miles behind us, and 8,643 to go before we’d be home again.

Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, August 28, 2013




About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 62, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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9 Responses to Orval completes his journey

  1. Lorie Butcher says:

    Thank you Tony! A nice tribute! Orval inspired Alan to ride as well. His first bike was a ’76 Sportster then a Fat Boy in 1992! Betty and I accompanied them on a Poker Run to Mohican State Park in 1994. Happy Trails! Lorie Butcher

  2. William Stenger says:

    What a nice write-up, Tony. You’re right about saying their stories go with them when they pass. My 87 year-old Uncle Walt passed this year; he too was a Navy vet and a family man, but no motorcycles. I’ll always have fond memories of him. Thanks for sharing the story about Orval’s family, and also for the beautiful photos of Piggy against the Western skies.
    Will Stenger

  3. Denise Waterbury says:

    WOW. Really cool and THANKS for sharing these old fellar’s stories. I loved the fact that it ran in the family of Orval. It’s nice to see. And what a coincidence that you ran into these guys. Do you carry pics of your Iron Piggy and family in your wallet? You should.
    I also want to let you know that I have visited with my ‘missing’ brother and he’s doing great. He’s now a long haul truck driver! Visited with him at his daughters home and he and I did many laps around a local park while catching up on his life. Just so glad to have him back.

  4. Kerry Kohring says:

    Well reported – as always.

  5. Jon Brush says:

    Great stories. Somehow being on a bike in faraway places brings people out to talk unlike being in a car or RV.
    We just got back from a roots trip (2nd one) to Europe, following the tracks of my wife’s father, who was a doctor in the US Army in WWII. Thinking about these vets and what they went through…..

  6. Dave Bell says:

    Great read, Tony. I’m no publisher, but there’s a book to be had in a collection of stories like these, in my opinion.

  7. Tarquino Félix says:

    The Road will miss him too. Que en paz descanse.

  8. Charlotte Siegel says:

    I came here from Pam’s note in her facebook page and learned a lot from this blog. An Iron Piggy…. you meet people along the road because you’re riding without walls that separate you from the other travelers.
    I was most impressed with how these 88 year old men had rolled up their supplies nice and neat and were carrying all of it on the back of their bikes… to sleep where? on the ground in a tent? I can’t imagine doing any of that. So I’m real glad that you can, Tony and then tell their stories so eloquently. Stay safe!

  9. Matthew Reed says:

    Reading this late, as usual. Got me a bit choked-up, I’ll say. Also sharing the link with my youngest son in hopes that he will print a picture to find its way into HIS wallet. He bought his first Harley earlier this year while at NNPTC in Charleston. He is now at Ballston Spa, NY till February and then will be submarine bound.

    Great read, Tony.

    Be safe.

    Bettendorf, IA

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