Woody’s 2015 Message

August 26, 2015

It’s Time: Every year I get to summarize experiences of the just-completed rally event.  It’s been a real pleasure these last few years as we closed in on our goal of not having a single legitimate complaint. The 2015 rally went off successfully, but there were some hiccups that made it clear we still have a ways to go before achieving that goal.    

The Chip in 2015 hosted the largest motorcycle rally in history, with multitudes having actually turned out for the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis Rally. I can’t say the 1.2 million the government predicted actually showed up, but by golly, there were far more people here than ever before and, really, the local folks appreciate that there was no really serious misbehavior reported to law enforcement or the press. That’s pretty cool, but, like I always say, this rally is relatively trouble-free because it’s attended by a bunch of very nice people. You’ve never proven us wrong.

Regardless of how many folks came, the same number left. The trash got picked up. The rabbits and grouse once again provide most of the motion against the landscape that has again returned to green grass. We’re back to reading compliments, complaints and suggestions for how to make 2016 still better.

The Chip’s permanent crew has spent the last two years preparing for the 75th to ensure everything they could to help fill your vacation with only pleasant memories. Now this crew is continuing on in the same frame of mind to prepare for the 76th.  

More than twice as many of you as ever before have already made reservations for the Chip’s 35th annual event during the 2016 rally. We all thank you so much for having shared the 2015 rally with us, and we love you all the more for already having told us you’ll be here to enjoy the 2016 rally as well.  

The Chip’s permanent crew is amazing. Their preparations, attitude, determination and willingness to get into the trenches and work 24 hours a day, when necessary, to make things work during the rally was flawless. Many of you, particularly those in businesses of your own, noticed their efforts, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to pass your compliments to the crew. It’s a big part of what keeps them going.

Our goal remains that perfect year where nothing breaks and everything works exactly as intended throughout the entire event. While the Chip’s crew may have tried hard to achieve that goal in 2015, it just didn’t quite happen.  We experienced some serious issues, more of which will be mentioned later.

This is my annual post-rally report. I need to report the warts and all, but I still get to tell you that it was another record-breaking party.  2015’s rally was one for the record books - way out of the park.  You’re the ones who made it happen and made it fun, so thanks to you all. 

Chip Veterans:  We again extend a special thanks to all of you who’ve been here in prior years. This was the year many folks returned after not having been here for several years. We enjoyed hearing comments about the Chip’s improvements and growth that now provides so much infrastructure.  

Some of you remember when the Chip was a pasture without water or even so much as a light bulb. You’re the ones who know where the Chip’s come from and at least some of what it’s taken, after 34 consecutive annual events, to turn the Chip into a city hosting tens of thousands. Your appreciative awe of the work done is the source of great pride in the crew. Thank you.  

The Rest of You Guys:  2015 saw more first-time Chipsters than expected. Parts of the campground were heavily used for the first time, which made for some new challenges. But you and the parking staff made it work so well that other event promoters made a point of complimenting us on the preparation and organization.  Thank you for helping make such great impressions on industry professionals.  

Chip Permanent Staff:  The Chip is blessed with a permanent full-time staff of 27 of the hardest working, most dedicated people I could ever imagine. These are 27 people who 24/7/365 eat, sleep and dream of making everything happen correctly during those few days when tens of thousands of you will be here expecting perfection.

It’s the things they can’t control that cause the big problems.  

Chip Parking Staff:  The South Dakota Department of Transportation is owed a special thank you for coming to the Chip just prior to the rally and conducting a traffic flagger class. The Chip had 42 people attend and get certified as traffic flaggers so they could help keep traffic moving and get vehicles properly parked. These folks were all part of the Chip’s temporary hires. A few were ranchers from the region; most were part of the Chip’s other temporary staff that travels from all over the US.

Other Temporary Staff:  The Chip has more than 400 temporary staff to help make the rally a smoothly operated event. Such a labor force is not available in this area, and so these folks come from all over the US just for this event. They get a quick orientation and job instructions. They’re here to pick up trash and help with whatever.  

Like many of you, these folks have never been here before and can’t be expected to know details of the region or much of the Chip’s operation. This frustrates some folks who stop anyone in a staff shirt at any time of day or place and would like answers to questions. We’ve yet to figure out how to completely avoid this.  

We’d hoped to inform all our campers through the mobile-friendly website, the bi-weekly newsletter, 100,000 copies of the FREE Buffalo Chip Gazette/Sturgis Rider News, 10,000 copies of the Buffalo Chip’s Essentials Guide handed out to everyone who’d take one at registration, 9,500 copies of the free Sturgis Rider Daily newspaper distributed every morning at 6 a.m., the 4’ x 8’  “You Are Here” maps erected throughout the campground, the directional signs posted throughout the campground, the daily schedules posted on roadside signs and at bars, and the helpful folks at the Buffalo Chip’s Chamber of Commerce. We remain open to further suggestions.

Noisy Water:  The Chip almost always enjoys a thunderstorm or two. It rained on four different days in 2015, however. It also hailed in parts of the Chip during each storm. Even though it was only small hail, there was one time it hailed so hard visibility was reduced to a few feet. Godsmack joins Toby Keith and Kid Rock as Chip Champions for performing through a heavy rainstorm, and the band stands alone for having performed during hail. No one floated away, thankfully, and it was truly an amazing show.

We have yet to figure out how to mix water with soil without it become wet and slippery.  It’s really just a part of the rally camping experience for almost everyone. We try to stay out of the bottoms of the draws or creek and make the best of it.

Quiet Water:  The Chip’s entire water system, miles of it, worked almost flawlessly.  There were a couple of leaks, but the grounds crew immediately opened a trench and repaired them with almost no inconvenience to anyone; most folks remained totally unaware there’d ever been an issue.

Electricity:  We’ve installed about a dozen new transformers and, thanks to Black Hills Power & Light, West River Electric Association (REA) and Conrad’s Electric, the entire system seemed to work almost flawlessly throughout the rally. That isn’t to say that, on one really hot day, a transformer didn’t burn up. That’s exactly why the smoke was billowing out of it. Conrad’s Electric and West River Electric were prepared, however, a replacement transformer was at the ready and replaced, along with a bunch of melted wiring, within about 3 hours.  

The folks who’d had three air conditioners running in their RVs didn’t even know what had happened while they’d been out riding. I don’t personally know a thing about electricity (except the light is supposed to come on when I flip the switch), but I reckon the electricians will be making some adjustments for voltage distribution in preparation for 2016.  

Road Improvements:  The Chip continues annual road improvements. Pavement is very expensive. 2015 saw an approximate one mile of additional streets paved. The veteran Chipster knows comparatively how little dust there is at the Chip now compared to not so long ago before any pavement existed at the Chip.

Toilets:  This is absolutely the most challenging part of being in the hospitality business. The Chip has its own sewage treatment system that services a limited number of flush toilets. The Chip’s Staff gets the credit for them working so well.

The problem this year was with the permanent outhouses, private potties and the hundreds of portable toilets. It’s not easy to find folks who will clean bathrooms. The non-flush toilets are serviced by two organizations, both of which have a history of providing good service.

The first is Waste Connections, Inc.  A major sanitation company is required to supply and service the hundreds of non-flush temporary toilets. A special thanks to Fred Folsom and Seth Green for convincing corporate officials to send extra equipment and staff sufficient to pump and sanitize each bathroom every morning. That said, Waste Connections’ service fell short of adequate this year. I do not yet know why, but it will be the topic of conversation at our upcoming meetings.

We met with Fred and Seth multiple times during the past year in preparation for the 2015 event, and we made the expected number of guests and camping locations well known. We understood corporate was sending still more staff and additional equipment to provide the service. Instead, however, Waste Connections was simply nowhere to be found as the campers arrived.

Many had paid for private porta-lets and did not get them. Many had paid to have their RVs pumped and could not obtain service. Public porta-lets that had been placed were not pumped, and some that had been placed were suspected of having been “stolen” and moved elsewhere. People were angry. There was nothing we could do but try to get Waste Connections to perform.

Waste Connections may have simply been overwhelmed, as ultimately they did try to perform and, toward the rally’s end, were doing pretty well. However, damage had been done, and many had upset wives to deal with. Waste Connections gave refunds, but what people really wanted and needed was the service. It was a miserable experience, and it can’t ever happen again.

I understand other campgrounds had similar experiences with Waste Connections this year. At the Chip, at least, the service they did provide was apparently done correctly.  Reports, some pretty outrageous, were made to the Department of Health, but to Waste Connections’ credit, inspectors found no evidence of violations.

Toilet Attendants:  The Chip also contracts with Chris Graham Cleaning Services, Daytona Beach, to provide toilet attendants. CGCS arrived early with a large crew to ensure all bathrooms were ready for your arrival. They then proceeded to service them each day as they were used throughout the rally.  

The CGCS crews are the folks who clean and sanitize each toilet after each use, provide hand sanitizer and ensure the lavatories remain fully stocked and functional.  They try always to be smiling, happy to ensure you get the best and cleanest bathrooms possible. Thank you for showing your appreciation through your tips.

Showers and Shower Attendants:  Chris Graham Cleaning Services also provided staff to keep the Chip’s showers clean and supplied. They came early to put a fresh coat of specialized paint on the floors and to ensure cleanliness. Thanks again to Chris and crew.  

Thanks, too, to Clean & Shiny Showers, one of the shower vendors that supplements the Chip’s FREE showers with its own affordable, clean and shiny showers and portalets.

More vendor showers were added to the Chip this year and placed around the campground for more accessibility. Special thanks to the plumbers who spent so much time ensuring the water pressure was good and the temperature at the Chip’s FREE showers were always within the appropriate range of not too hot and not too cold.

Trash:  This is the third consecutive year we’ve had a continuous stream of compliments from folks very impressed by the campground’s cleanliness and how quickly the trash seems to disappear. You campers are part of that, too, so thank you for keeping your campsites picked up.  

Here again, however, we had some issues.  The busiest (messiest and most highly trafficked) areas were picked up first. More remote areas were picked up later. The big issue was after the garbage had been taken to the dumpsters.  

Waste Connections has been contracted to empty the dumpsters, previously done twice daily, and haul the trash some 40 miles to the landfill. The level of service wasn’t adequate to keep the dumpster areas free of trash, however, and they were a mess for those who saw them.

Tent Camping Areas:  One of the new things done for 2015 was to fence off the creek and shady areas to make them exclusive to tent campers and motorcycles, excluding RVs and cars from those areas. That seems to have really worked well.

Wi-Fi:  The Chip previously was able to provide Wi-Fi only in the main amphitheater. It was free, but not particularly reliable.

The Chip was approached by a telephone company shortly before the rally. The company wanted to provide really high-quality Wi-Fi service to the Chip’s campers. The Chip itself wouldn’t get a dime from the service, but we thought it would be a great thing for those who wanted reliable Wi-Fi, something the Chip couldn’t afford to provide.  

The service was completed a couple days ahead of the Rally and was accessible for a fee, just like at a hotel. We hope it worked well for you.

EMTs:  The Chip has multiple onsite certified EMTs who work through a local doctor to provide medical care and services. They again treated dozens of people with injuries and more than one who needed oxygen and serious treatment. Once again, they saved lives!  

The Chip has its own ambulance for onsite transport, and the EMTs work very closely with the local ambulance service, which has an ambulance stationed adjacent to the Chip.

Traffic:  The SD DOT did an outstanding job of keeping traffic moving, especially in light of the fact that one million is a lot of visitors and each of those had to go through the intersection of Lazelle and Junction to get anywhere. We are cautiously optimistic that direct access to I-90 Exit 37 from the Chip’s main gate will be completed (gravel) by 2016’s rally, which would mean getting in line to get through Sturgis’ intersections and series of stop signs would no longer be a necessity. 

2015’s traffic was greatly helped by heavy usage of the alternate routes that provide access from Rapid City.  Thanks for checking out the route maps on the Chip’s website.

Vendors:  The shopping experience was very good again this year, with more than half Meade County vendors located at the Chip. The variety of goods and art available made a real marketplace; there was everything available from furs to gold and from fruit to nuts.

Food Vendors: Yup, there were many, and some, of course, were better than others. My personal favorite might be the Free Pancake Breakfast. This Buffalo Chip tradition began long ago, around 1990, and I’d have to say the pancakes are simply the best. Lots of folks enjoy them, obviously, since more than a ton (literally – more than 2000 pounds) of pancake flour was used this year.

The grilled prime rib at the Sturgis Rider Café was so good it made it onto a live television food show. But what sticks out in my mind were the repeated exclamations, “Holy cow!  That is the best F***in’ cake I ever ate. I’m not kidding!” Yup, good cake.

The farmers’ market stand was again popular. They promise to return again next year to provide fresh fruit and veggies for the health minded among us.

Those folks not quite as health conscious continued to take advantage of another Buffalo Chip tradition - $1 Dogs and $1 drafts.  This, too, started back in the early ‘90s.  Thank you to the Sturgis Rider Café for continuing to provide FREE COFFEE to all comers and for continuing to hold the price of the hot dog to $1, despite costs having increased substantially over the last 25 years.

The Naked Truth:  Catchy title, don’t you think? The 2015 Motorcycles As Art exhibit was a world-class exhibit that existed for exactly one week. Thirty-five world renowned builders built bikes just for this exhibit. You were the only folks who got to see it, and you got to see it for FREE. It’s now history, and we’re planning for next year’s exhibit, which will again be world class and have FREE admission.

The Buffalo Chip’s PowerSports Complex:  

TORC:  The Off-Road Racing Championship built the world’s premier off-road racetrack at the Chip, and several thousand of you enjoyed the excitement of 100 mph+ speeds with jumps in excess of 150 feet.

AMA ATV EXTREME DIRT TRACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:  Once again, you got to enjoy two days of AMA sanctioned ATV races. The racing was the best. This track, incidentally, was chosen as AMA’s ATV dirt track of the year for 2014!

OUTLAW TRUCK AND TRACTOR PULLS:  There’s no substitute for this kind of raw horsepower. The track and grandstands were moved to improve your viewing of these 9000 hp + tractors doing their thing. Horsepower, speed and daredevil engineers like none other.
NITRO NATIONAL PRO MOTORCYCLE HILL CLIMB:  I still can’t figure out how those guys can ride a 250+ hp motorcycle straight up a cliff. It’s just one more of those things I can watch and won’t try at home.  

Doug Danger Completed the Jump Evel Knievel never could and did it on Evel’s own stock 1972 H-D. Now that was something to see. Absolutely beautiful. The jump was made before thousands right in the Chip’s main amphitheater. It wasn’t a cinch by any stretch of the imagination; Evel had tried that jump and failed. The bike just doesn’t have enough horsepower to make it that far, so we built an extra quarter mile to the approach, slightly downhill, in hopes of getting more (enough) speed.  Like I said, it was simply a beautiful moment. I think there’ll be a television show, as they had something like 15 cameras to catch it.

The Shows:  The shows were outstanding. The bands love to perform for what is known in the industry as one of the world’s most dependably enthusiastic and appreciative audiences.

Never in the past 25 years has a day gone by without some effort made to secure bands we know you’ll enjoy. 2015’s lineup included four (possibly another record) acts that had hits on the charts during the rally. It was great to see you partying to the juice provided by Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown, Godsmack and Pop Evil.

And part of what’s made the Buffalo Chip “legendary” has been fantastic performances from music icons, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, John Fogerty, Dee Snider and Styx. Wow! And that’s not to take a single thing away from the wonders provided by the rest of the more than 50 performers who appeared on the Chip’s seven stages.

I thought it pretty cool you could read reviews of the headliner shows six hours later every morning in the Chip’s daily newspaper, the Sturgis Rider® Daily.  

I could go on forever, but instead refer you to the website.

The Evidence:  Every year there are multiple magazine articles and television shows that show the great times, the fantastic people, the gorgeous bikes and the crew’s professionalism. At the same time there are always some complaints, some of which are legitimate. Here’s where we fell short of perfection.

The 2015 Complaints:  

Rain:  It rained, and it hailed four times. The first rain was on Monday and dumped approximately 2 inches. I’ve talked to The Man about it and must report that it will rain again, and that the ground will get soft and slippery and soft every time.

Toilets and Trash:  Waste Connections didn’t provide service as expected or as promised. That surprised us and made us as miserable as it did some of you. We’d taken pride in having contracted with a huge sanitation company, even posting the photos of the clean trucks and white uniforms.  

Waste Connections’ performance this year simply didn’t meet needs, commitments, expectations or plans. We’ll be having more meetings with its management. We have a long-term contract, but will do what we can to put a backup plan in place. This will not happen again.

2016 will be the Chip’s 35th:  There’s a lot of excitement and pride amongst the Chip’s crew as we move toward the Chip’s 35th consecutive annual motorcycle and music festival. That’s 35 consecutive years of changing these pastures and fields into a biker city that, for a week or so every year, becomes one of the largest cities in the State of South Dakota.


Fred Folsom, local manager for Waste Connections, and I had our first post-rally meeting yesterday, September 11th.  I apologized for not having contacted him before throwing him under the bus in the Message From Woody.  I, as a businessman, should have known better.

Businesses rely on key employees.  Sometimes one doesn’t perform up to standards.  Management can’t be everywhere, which is why operations such as providing services to the many people at the Chip is under the supervision of  the most trusted staff member.  It’s tough when a real problem develops at that level.

Fred moved into the Chip and took personal control when the Waste Connections’ staffing failure became apparent.  I know this because Fred and I were on the phone “frequently”.  He was always cool, calm and collected, the always-professional and courteous man who recognized the problems, understood the requirements of how to best manage the situation and who continued to reassure of Waste Connections’ commitment to provide Chipsters the highest level of service.  The few inches of rain did not make it easier for their heavy trucks to get around, either, but they managed. 

The invoice from the regional dump confirmed that Waste Connections had been working hard every day, and that they did all they could to resolve issues and “catch up”.  They hauled hundreds of tons of garbage out of the Chip.  They also pumped out and filled with water more than twice as many RV’s as ever before.  Truly, there’s no other single company that could have provided the Chip as much service.

The conference concluded with reassurances and a mutual confidence that the challenges encountered have been recognized and dealt with.  The challenges encountered in 2015 will not reoccur.  We are pleased to continue working with Waste Connections, confident everyone at the Chip will receive the highest level of service available.


We’re busy making more improvements and lining up the events and entertainment.  Like always, we’re looking forward to seeing you again and, for now, we leave you with the traditional but sincere wish that you continue to

Ride Free, Take Risks & bring those smilin’ faces back here again next August.

Woody & Crew