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A shrine to fallen motorcyclists

Bill Tuchscher had been riding dirt bikes in the desert for more than two decades when he and a group of friends set out for a weekend ride near California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Late in the afternoon, far from their camp, the riders became tired. It was well over 100 degrees, and their water bottles were dry.

Tuchscher, seeming disoriented, fell. Then he fell again. He pushed his bike into a bit of shade, took the group’s only map out of his pocket and gave it to one of the other riders. He told them to head back to the camp while he rested up.

He never followed. Hours later, a search party found his body — not far from a running stream filled with fresh water.

“It looked like he had just slowed down and fallen over,” remembered Paul Ralph, then 15, who was with the group that found Tuchscher. “They told us later he had some kind of heat stroke.”

That was May 1977. Tuchscher, who ran a motorcycle shop in San Diego, was buried at Glen Abbey Memorial Park in the nearby community of Bonita. Hundreds attended the service. The procession from church to cemetery was escorted by 100 motorcycle cops.

Late last year, his family traveled to a remote location in the Mojave Desert to add Tuchscher’s name to a little-known shrine dedicated to fallen motorcyclists — to honor him, and his love of motorcycles.

The shrine is known as the Husky Memorial or Husky Monument. It cradles stones and statues honoring dozens of riders. Circular and 60 feet across at its widest point, with a tattered American flag snapping in the wind, it’s sacred to Southern California motorcyclists, especially those who ride in the desert. It’s not marked on any map, and it’s 15 miles from the nearest paved road and 30 from the nearest town, but serious riders always find a way to make a pilgrimage there.

The original monument dates from 1987, when the Desert Zebras Motorcycle Club decided to memorialize a friend, Jim Erickson. The 46-year-old veteran desert racer had killed himself. His friends, grief-stricken, chose to honor him by taking his motorcycle to the desert and burying it up to the hubs in concrete.

The bike was a race model made by the Swedish company Husqvarna, familiarly known as a “Husky.” Every weekend for several years, Erickson’s friends would ride out to the monument and pay their respects.

Over time, additional memorials began appearing — a pair of boots fixed in concrete, a helmet and goggles set on a post, a headstone or a plaque planted in the sand.

Within 10 years, there were at least a dozen other riders memorialized there.

Douglas Anthony Clark — “Son, brother, friend” — was commemorated in 1999 at age 18. Little Jimmy “Bitchin’” Lewis, a fellow Desert Zebra, got his plaque in 2002. Other Zebras were nearby, like father and son Bob Lamar (died 1999) and Jim Lamar (died 1996). In 2005, Ron “Ogre” Griewe, a Zebra who rode with Erickson and whose son Donnie welded Erickson’s original Husky Memorial, joined them.

Today, there are close to 100 plaques, stones and markers, each honoring a fallen rider. Some died riding in the desert, some in accidents they had riding elsewhere, and still others from illness or old age. Many had visited the monument and expressed wishes to be similarly memorialized.

The first few honorees were all friends. Those who came later might never have known the owner of the original Husky. But they all shared his love of riding in remote places.

On a cool, blustery morning last November, Stephen Marks and Fernando Garcia chopped at the dry desert soil with shovels and picks.

Television literary manager Marks, who married Tuchscher’s daughter, Michelle, many years after her father’s death, was helping motorcycle shop owner Garcia pick a spot for the memorial they’d made — metal angel wings welded to the front end of a vintage bike. Garcia used a plastic tub to mix cement, which Marks shoveled into the ground.

Standing back to check their work, Marks remembered that when he first visited, a decade earlier, there had been about 20 markers. “Now look,” he said. “Every year, the circle gets a little wider.”

Husky Memorial sits on land controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

For years, rumors have swirled that the BLM wanted to tear down the monument, fearful that leaving it alone would create a legal precedent for unsanctioned building in the desert.

Stephen Razo, external affairs officer for the BLM’s California Desert District, said the agency has no plans to disturb it, as long as it involves no danger to people or the environment.

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Pat Verfuerth hugs Billy Tuchscher after unveiling a motorcycle memorial Nov. 8, 2015, for the late William Cory Tuchscher at the Husky Monument near Randsburg, Calif. Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times
Olga Krasnoff, at the motorcycle memorial for her late husband, William Cory Tuchscher at the Husky Monument near Randsburg, Calif. Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times