"Big Mike" Wenzel stood beside his black and yellow zebra-striped Harley-Davidson Softail at noon yesterday outside Toledo Speedway and gazed at the expanse of motorcycles in the parking lot.
For him, the founder and organizer of the motorcycle ride, it was a pleasing sight. Already, several hundred bikes and riders were lined up, and the bulk of the group - not to mention Santa Claus in his red 1939 fire truck - was still due to arrive.
The occasion was the 17th annual Bikers of Northwest Ohio Toy Run, a Christmas toy drive and fund-raiser aimed at providing holiday cheer for area underprivileged children who receive developmental services through Harbor Foundation.
The number of bikers in the toy run has grown steadily since the first year - 1989 - when 83 riders hit the road on a December weekend to deliver Christmas presents to the former Miami Children's Home in Maumee. "It was snowing, and it was 29 degrees," Mr. Wenzel, 56, of East Toledo, recalled. "By the time we got to Maumee, we were frozen."
Yesterday's temperature, in the low 50s, was significantly more comfortable riding weather.
Mr. Wenzel was interrupted from telling his story by a low rumbling in the distance. "Hear that roar? Hear that thunder?" he asked.
Moments later, a string of motorcycles entered the lot after a trip across town from Toledo Harley-Davidson, 7960 West Central Ave., Sylvania Township. They joined a group that was later counted at 1,031, the largest toy-run turnout ever, Mr. Wenzel said.
A toy or $10 donation to Harbor Foundation was required to participate, and riders agreed that the charitable purpose seemed to bring an added sense of camaraderie.
"It's nice to see everybody get together like this," said Lee "Grandma" Blackwelder, 58, her jacket decorated with colored beads and flag pins.
The riders started their bikes shortly after 12:30 p.m., their engines filling the air with roaring, popping, and revving sounds, as well as exhaust.
They left the parking lot in a police-guided motorcade, making the three-mile trip to Mayfair School, where they and Santa Claus were set to appear before a group of children and parents.
The school yard was transformed into a giant bike rack for the next half hour as Santa and Mrs. Claus, in knee-high fringed boots, handed out presents.
Francesca Flores, 4, of Sylvania, squealed with delight as she unwrapped her "favorite" Bratz doll.
"She's been talking about that doll for I don't know how long," her grandmother, Lucy Flores, said.
Harbor Foundation raises about $4,000 in cash and toys from the toy run and gives Christmas gifts to about 400 children, said Kasey Hoag, a marketing specialist with the foundation.
The bikers next retraced the route to Speedway Bar and Grille, and spent their afternoon at a party and silent auction fund-raiser.
Contact JC Reindl at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.