Joy Magazine

Born Rebel

Medford woman is the world's oldest Motorcycle daredevil
Cookie Crum of Medford is the world's oldest, female motorcycle daredevil, according to ‘Ripley's Believe It or Not.'Photos by Julia Moore

At a time when women typically weren't seen sporting pants instead of dresses — let alone tearing up the highway on a motorcycle — a teenage girl named Cookie Coffman could hardly stomach the monotony of high school, much less imagine life as a housewife or office worker.

At Sarasota High School in Florida, a noisy road just outside the school's thin windows offered a steady stream of distractions for the restless girl.

Cookie on display

D&S Harley-Davidson, 3846 S. Pacific Highway in Medford, will host a display of Cookie Crum memorabilia during business hours Tuesday, Jan. 3, through Saturday, Jan. 7. The store is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The display will include Crum's three-wheel bike, a mural of her riding the Wall of Death, along with books, news stories and old pictures detailing her exploits.

Crum will visit the display in person Jan. 7, from noon to 4 p.m.

"I always loved motorcycles, and my high school was right on the highway," says the now-80-year-old Medford resident.

"Every time a motorcycle would go by, I would stand up in my seat and say, 'Oh, I wish it could be me!' One day a girl came to town, and she was on a motorcycle and that cinched the deal."

Coffman went on to become known as the "Queen of the Hell Drivers." In September, she was featured in a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" book as the oldest, female motorcycle trick rider.

Perhaps it was in her blood. Her parents met when her mother, a free spirit in a racy, bright-yellow Dodge, intentionally sped past her father, a motorcycle cop on the lookout for speeders.

One of her family's five children, all of whom would eventually ride, Cookie had a petite frame and flowing, blond hair that belied her fearless nature. She was taught to ride motorcycles — behind her parents' backs — at age 14 by a local boy her parents trusted to be well-mannered.

"I would toss my boots and jeans out of my bedroom window, go out the front door, run around to the side of the house, get my stuff and get in his car. We were supposed to be going to a movie, but we would go to the service station where he worked and get his bike," Cookie says.

After her junior year, she left high school behind for a stint riding horses and elephants for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1949, a newspaper advertisement offered "a personable girl with nerve and courage" the opportunity to become an "exhibition rider in Motordrome."

Fate seemed to have offered a reprieve from dull normalcy for the strong-willed Cookie.

"I always knew I was never going to just sit in an office all day," she says.

Fudging her age, "just a little," from 17 to 18, Cookie spent months training on an Indian Scout motorcycle before spending eight years crisscrossing the southern United States with various carnivals and shows.

Circular contraptions with high, nearly vertical walls, "Wall of Death" motordromes wagered excitement and power against science and balance. Riders built up speed on a flat area at the bottom then ventured sideways with a little help from centrifugal force and sheer luck.

Hundreds of 'dromes toured the country in the mid-1900s, though female riders were a rarity in what was a dangerous sport even for men.

"Women didn't ride motorcycles on the street, much less in a carnival performing stunts on a wall," Cookie notes.

Always aware of "biker" stereotypes, Cookie went out of her way to combat them. She always donned white leather, made countless, lifelong friends in various organizations and advocated for women to ride motorcycles.

Cookie moved to Portland in 1959, then to Medford a year later to run a Harley-Davidson shop downtown. Over the years she's held a series of jobs, including a stint at long-haul trucking. Not unlike her parents' story, she met her husband, Bob Crum, from the back of a motorcycle, rescuing him from a flat tire on the Siskiyou Pass 26 years ago.

In 2009, she became one of the few women inducted into Sturgis (S.D.) Motorcycle Hall of Fame, and she's been featured in a handful of books, including "The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900-1950."

Just over a year ago, Cookie was forced to retire her two-wheeler after breaking her back trying to recover a fallen bike. The couple now own a blue Harley three-wheel with a mural of Cookie in 1950, "riding the wall" with no hands. The couple plan to travel in coming years.

Dick Martin, owner of D&S Harley-Davidson, describes Cookie as "one-of-a-kind" and an advocate for all riders.

"There's not a person here in this valley or in the Portland area who knows her who doesn't like that lady," he says.

"She just turned 80, and she had to quit riding her two-wheel. But her and her husband got a trike, and we still see her up here all the time."

Her blond locks now silver, Cookie has no plans to slow down. She still enjoys motorcycles and advocating for female riders.

"I think everyone should ride," Cookie says.

"There is nothing like the feel of the open road, the things you see, the wind on your face. If you don't ride, you're missing out."

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.