They were dedicated, if that characterization is not a bit too pious, in the words of David Dodge, “to the airing of elderly motorcycles and the oiling of forgotten roads.”
For a decade or so, in the 1980s and early ’90s, a dozen or so Dew Drop Thunder Lizards — as Grand Lizard Dodge and Peerless Dinosaur Charlie Taylor dubbed the brazenly shiftless group — would depart from the old Dew Drop Inn on Route 2 in North Stonington on temperate Thursday evenings for idle rumbles down back roads atop arthritic, but lovingly stroked, motorcycles.
On any given Thursday there likely would be these vintage bikes: the British-made Vincent (also the rare Argentinian Vincent), BSA, Norton, Velocette, Matchless or Triumph; the Italian Ducati, Moto Guzzi or Moto Morini; the American-produced Indian or Harley, and the BMW from Germany. In the spirit of camaraderie, the group tolerated a few contemporary Japanese interlopers.
Dodge, who died in early January in Providence from complications of Alzheimer’s, chronicled the Thunder Lizard forays, and whatever else tickled his fancy, in a series of newsletters, essentially cartoons drawn by him. The newsletter, some 50 in all, was called variously “Thunder Lizard News,” “The Reptile Reader” and “Sweet Thunder.” In one issue, Lizards were advised to keep a supply of donuts on the handle bars, as an antidote to dissuade intrusive police intervention with their motoring. In another, he penned this ditty in the corner of a page: “The letters of ‘February’ can be arranged to spell ‘Bear Fury.’” He drew some marvelous Lizards on motorcycle icons, suitable for framing or bumper stickers.
The Grand Lizard’s array of interests and talent went beyound his artistry, and whimsy. He attended Pine Point School in Stonington and St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., spent time at the University of Chicago and graduated from Columbia University. In the 1970s, he worked as first engineer aboard the Steamboat Sabino when it first came to Mystic Seaport. He was also an intrepid photographer and a model airplane builder and flyer.
He and his wife, Ellen, moved to North Stonington in 1969 to a house, as his obituary read, in the corner of a 10-acre field down a half mile dirt road off Pendleton Hill Road. As the place drew a community of friends with children and dogs, he eventually named it Dogfight.
On his mother’s side, Dodge was a great-grandson of the renowned American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, creator of, among many notable works, the equestrian monument to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in Central Park, and the Robert Gould Shaw memorial at the Boston Common. As a child Dodge played with siblings at Saint-Gaudens’ house and studio, now a National Historic Monument, in Cornish, N.H.
Dodge’s principal co-instigator was Charlie Taylor of Stonington, whose business, Peerless Dinosaur Works, restored older motorcycles, with a fondness for British bikes. Ellen also rode with the Lizards, on a smaller Moto Guzzi or a Triumph. Jim Friedlander of Mystic and William Douglass of North Stonington, both on their cherished Indians, were among the other stalwarts. On occasion, Friedlander’s wife, Kathy Weinberger, would ride her BMW R-50 with young daughter, Rachael, bundled in the sidecar. John Harris, a lawyer with a practice in Danielson, toured on a ’61 Matchless, and helped Dodge keep the newsletter going.
The Thunder Lizards welcomed a splinter group, called the Stateline Thunder Lizards, based in Putnam. But just as the Dew Drop group fell into dormancy and finally dissolved — as the venerable restaurant itself inched toward extinction in the mid-1990s — so, too, did the Stateline branch disengage.
It is with an eye and ear for a time gone by to remember those leisurely back road rambles between the old Dew Drop and, say, Ashaway, and the lost byways in between. Here’s to you, David Dodge, leader of the pack.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.