Thunder cleanup

An employee with Tennessee Leather loads jackets and other goods onto a box truck Sunday, June 23, 2019.

In recent years, soggy conditions have made the weather an unwelcome guest for Thunder in the Valley.

This year, Mother Nature was its starring act, organizers said.

For the first time in five years, the rally was met with blue skies Friday through Sunday, luring the type of crowd the event often saw during its strongest years, Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lisa Rager said.

“This just served as a reminder of how much the weather impacts the success of this event,” she said Sunday. “There have been naysayers over the past few years, when the weather hasn’t really cooperated, about the recent turnouts. But when we get days like this, the turnout is still massive.”

Crowds packed the rally’s stages, sprawling across a wide-open Walnut Street parking lot for headliners FireHouse and Hairball.

Bikes were parked from one end of the downtown to the other this weekend, “in places we haven’t seen them in years,” Rager said.

Organizers were still adding up sales figures and other information used to estimate this year’s attendance, but Rager and advertising director Jayne Korenoski said the crowd was the largest in six years or more.

Vendors noticed.

Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop, which set up two craft soda fountains for the event, has been coming to Thunder in the Valley for well more than a decade and has used its prior years’ success rate to help decide how much inventory to bring for the latest event, said Joe Domingo, of Wild Bill’s.

The company produced thousands of 2019 Thunder in the Valley mugs for the weekend. By late Saturday afternoon, every last one of them was gone, he said.

“Friday and Saturday were crazy. There was a point Saturday when we had a line all day,” Domingo said. “We had to sell extras from 2017 and 2018 the rest of the weekend.”

Korenoski said they hear success stories across the city, noting that Yamaha reported record merchandise sales this year – totals that topped every rally the bike manufacturer has attended this summer.

“I think everyone came out to ride this weekend,” Korenoski said. “With the years we’ve had recently ... this really rejuvenated us.”

Rager agreed, acknowledging that soggy weather put organizers on the defensive in recent years, forcing them to address “baseless” rumors about the event’s future.

“We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears – and hours – into this event because even on the down years, it’s a major economic generator for the Johnstown region,” Rager said. “But the turnout this weekend was fabulous. I think it says a lot about Thunder in the Valley – that it’s going to be as strong as it’s ever been when the weather cooperates.”

The four-day rally has been a Johnstown staple for 22 years and is credited with bringing tens of thousands of people into the area every year and generating millions of dollars in impact on the community itself.

Cleanup a ‘massive’ undertaking’

A handful of groups – Convention & Visitors Bureau staff, a cleanup crew, interns and prison workers – all worked throughout the day to put downtown Johnstown back in order Sunday after thousands of bikes rolled out of town.

A Cambria County prison crew dismantled the Wall of Death, while a temp agency crew of Johnstown-area residents drove from site to site, filling up trailers of trash and transporting it all to a Pro Disposal garbage truck to compact and haul away.

Brian Geiser, who oversees the cleanup effort, said Thunder in the Valley has generated as many as 20 tons of trash each year, and his crew worked for four straight days to keep up with it.

Sixteen more people were scattered across the Johnstown business district, sweeping sidewalks and parking lots used for the event.

“We try to leave it cleaner than it was before the event started,” Geiser said, standing next to seven fellow workers, who had boarded a U-Haul trailer bound for the next pick-up site.

Once they wrap up – often late at night – city Public Works crews take over, using street sweepers to brush up the city’s streets.

“It’s a massive undertaking,” Rager said. “People have no idea how much work that’s left to be done after the last bike leaves.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.