From back roads to the Black Hills: Greenback man has been riding Harleys for more than 60 years


Melanie Tucker
Sixty four years ago, Greenback resident Wesley Lane climbed aboard a Harley-Davidson to outrun the biggest heartache he had ever known.

Lane’s brother, John, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Five years later, in 1949, John’s body was brought back home and laid to rest here in Hickory Valley. He was just two weeks past his 21st birthday when he died,

Wesley was only 15 when his only brother was killed. A week before John’s remains arrived home, Wesley asked his dad if he could buy a motorcycle.

“He said ‘I’ll help you get one,’” Wesley recalled. “So that is what started it all.”

Troubles fade away

The cost of that first one was $325, pennies in today’s market. But Lane said he had to save and work hard to be able to purchase it. Then he was off on a journey that’s still ongoing today.

“I got out there on the open road and it seemed like my troubles would fade away, at least for a little while,” Lane said. “A motorcycle helped bring me out. I just got out in a country road to see what was out there. It helped.”

Lane, a graduate of Greenback High School, earned his living building and painting houses. In the last 10 years before his retirement, Lane worked as a security guard at the now closed Greenback Industries.

He and his wife Geraldine were married in 1951. She later developed Alzheimer’s disease so her devoted husband took care of her at home for the next four years. She died in 2009.

Those early years were when Lane took many of his grand adventures. He said the road was where he felt energized.

“I went to the Grand Canyon,” he said. “That was the ultimate ride. That was in 1976 — our bicentennial year. I really wanted to see the Grand Canyon. My old Harley was 25 years old. I rode 4,000 miles in one week. You can’t describe that to anyone. You just have to see it.”

The first Harley that Lane bought was a 1938 model and he’s had several since. He even rode Indian motorcycles on occasion, but said he always came back to Harley. “There’s just something about it,” he said.

Racking up the miles

He’s had various riding partners over the years, but at 83, many of them have stopped riding or have passed on. Lane has been to Daytona Beach for bike week, he’s stood beneath Mount Rushmore and watched progress on the nearby Crazy Horse monument. He’s hiked up next to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and even rode up Pikes Peak in Colorado.

At the age of 74, this adventure-seeker even went to the ultimate bikers’ week — in Sturgis, S.D. He didn’t ride his motorcycle all the way there, he said, because he wasn’t sure he could do it at that age. He hasn’t been back to Sturgis, either. “I wanted to see it,” he said. “There were 700,000 people there. You can’t even picture something like that.”

The country roads still call Lane’s name and he answers. He stays close to home these days. But traffic has gotten so bad, it’s just not the same, he said. It gets harder and harder to sidetrack the fast pace of everyone else.

He’s been lucky a few times. Back in 1979 as he was riding down U.S. Highway 411 South, a woman pulled out in front of Lane. “I buried (the motorcycle) in the car,” he said. “I went over the top and landed on 411 on my head. It wasn’t my time to go. I should have been killed then.”

That ordeal put Lane weeks in recovery but left him with no fear of getting back on two wheels. He had hopped back aboard before he was off crutches, he said.

Putting the brakes on

Now at 83, his reflexes and coordination are a little slower. He’s also been recently diagnosed with macular degeneration. Lane said he never expected to live this long. “I would have taken better care of myself,” he explained.

Family members say this longtime Harley rider can sit on his porch, hear one coming down the road and tell what year it was made, before it comes into sight. Lane said that’s mostly true, but he has been fooled on occasion. Some others are making their motorcycles to sound like a Harley, he explained.

Today, Lane does many of his rides with his nephew, Gary Payne, who just bought a Harley a few weeks ago. “He’s crazy about it,” Lane said.

An activity meant to help Lane deal with the loss of his brother did that. He said there are no days that go by that he doesn’t think about the loss. “I don’t think my mother ever got over it,” he said.

He has kept a photo of his brother during war time and places a flag on his grave each Memorial Day. Lane used to keep a shrine to John at his home, but as he got older, he worried what would happen to these keepsakes. A second cousin in New York agreed to keep them safe with her, Lane said.

WBIR-TV did a feature on Lane for Memorial Day. The station even discovered old video from back in the 1960s when Lane used to ride on his Harley with his dog. He still has fond memories of that.

He sort of wishes he’d kept track of all the miles he’s ridden. But like a true biker, there are still places Lane wishes he had gone — like Yellowstone National Park and the Redwood Forest. He’s happy, however, with the tracks he made across this country he loves.

“I’ve got a few miles on me,” he said.