My Town Monday: The Oregonia Hill Climbs

Motorcycles as far as the eye can see! The blue one on the left is mine.

Oregonia is a normally-quiet little hamlet just outside of Lebanon, Ohio. But every year on the second Sunday in October, it’s overrun with bikers, biker wannabes, race spectators, and people who just want to party.

The Motorcycle Hill Climbs have been held annually at Powell’s Farm (no relation to me) since 1948. The Dayton Motorcycle Club has hosted the event since 1973. Local lore says that when the original owner passed away a few years ago, the will stipulated to his heirs that the property would be made available to host the Hill Climbs for the next 50 years. As far as I know, the event has been cancelled only once in its history, due to rain. It was rescheduled for the following Sunday, (which has happened more than once), but this one also had rain.

A view from the bottom of the Devil's Staircase

The big draw, of course, is the motorcycles. Not just the dirt bikes in the race, but those in the parking area. Thousands of motorcycles, of every shape, color, size, make and model, from the most plush touring bikes and trikes, to battered, historical fixer-uppers that are barely roadworthy. My husband and I rode up with the guy my husband does funeral work for – who rode one of the special edition Harley Davidson police bikes, with the purple flashing light for funeral use. He got some long looks, LOL.

Beer is sold at the Hill Climbs by the cup – and by the gallon. Years ago, the gallon jugs were numbered. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was, but by the time we arrived, typically between 11AM and noon, people with single- and lower two-digit numbers were usually passed out, jugs in hands or nearby. I had my own, ubiquitous jug – of water.

The races can be pretty exciting. The Oregonia Hill Climbs is the last race of the year for the AMA Pro Hill Climb Racing circuit. Called The Devil’s Staircase, the dirt track goes up something like a 40 degree incline, which doesn’t sound like much, until you try to walk up it. Then imagine riding a motorcycle! The hill is stepped, which presents the greater challenge: the rider must get up enough speed to crest the first step, fifty feet up, then slow enough to not wipe out. If the first step doesn’t cause a rider to wipe out, the ones near the top of the 330-foot hill sometimes do. The winning bikes in the Unlimited and Extreme classes make the climb in seven seconds or less.

Sometimes dirt clods go flying into the audience. One time several years ago, a rider lost it and his bike went over toward the audience. Usually about one in ten participants either drops his bike, or breaks a chain (with the same result). One motorcycle caught fire yesterday as it crested the top of the hill. But not to worry – fire fighters and medical crews were standing by at both the top and the bottom. (The fire was extinguished immediately, and neither rider nor bike were hurt.)

A lot of bikers come to Oregonia on the day of the Hill Climbs and don’t even attend the races – instead, they party on private property, or go to the Little River Cafe down the road – a historic bar/restaurant with lots of outdoor seating. My husband and I usually leave after the first couple of racing classes, in the interest of getting out before the drunks do. It’s not unusual for someone to get hurt leaving the Hill Climbs – unsurprising, considering the amount of beer served. Law enforcement is always present, too.

If you live in the area, have you ever been to the Hill Climbs? If not, is there an event like this in your hometown?

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My Town Monday: The Waynesville Sauerkraut Festival

Continuing last week’s homage to our area’s German heritage, let’s take a look at one of the biggest food festivals in southwest Ohio: the Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville. And yes, it’s huge: according to the Sauerkraut Festival website, the event drew around 350,000 visitors last year, who ate seven tons of sauerkraut!

Last year's Sauerkraut Festival

Situated in the very northeast corner of Warren County, about 15 miles or so southeast of Dayton, Waynesville is known for its small town charm, and is considered the “Antiques Capital of the Midwest(sm).”  The festival started in 1970 as a feature dinner for a sidewalk sale, which quickly became the main event. Subsequent years brought more and more vendors as well as a steadily-growing attendance, and included unusual items like sauerkraut pizza, sauerkraut donuts, and even sauerkraut ice cream! I can’t help wondering if the ham and sauerkraut pizza is as good as Marion’s. For those who don’t like sauerkraut, there are plenty of other offerings, including perennial festival favorites like funnel cakes, deep fried candy bars, pulled pork, burgers and hot dogs.

image of sauerkraut ballsOne of my favorite foods, which we typically only have during the holidays, is sauerkraut balls. My grandparents went to the Sauerkraut Festival once in the mid-seventies, just to get the annual festival cookbook. With no Internet and limited bookstore offerings, it was the only place she knew she could get the recipe for sauerkraut balls. Even though I was a kid at the time, and like most kids, didn’t like kraut, those kraut balls were awesome! Grandma’s no longer with us, so if we get them now, it’s up to me. They are a lot of work, but some years I still make them, they’re so good. One of my coworkers makes the festival a must-go every year – his wife goes to shop for crafts, he goes to eat. The kraut balls are one of his favorites. He was disappointed in last year’s; said they must’ve used a different recipe. If this years’ kraut balls aren’t the good ones, I might have to make some to take in to work and share.

The Sauerkraut Festival is held every year on the second weekend in October, which would be the 8th and 9th this year – next week! I will admit I’ve only been to the Sauerkraut Festival a couple of times, and a long time ago at that. I do sometimes pass through on the way to and from another event that’s always held on the second Sunday of October, which we’ll visit next week: the Motorcycle Hill Climbs in nearby Oregonia.

What are some of the fun food festivals in your area? Are there any foods you specifically look for there – and maybe learned to make because of it?

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Festival photo via official Sauerkraut Festival website, sauerkraut balls via