New River’s Angels:
Bike shop bump-starts a life
By TOM SCANLON
NEW RIVER – It was Friday, July 5. A skinny, rough-looking man is trying to get back to Lake Pleasant, where he has been staying in a cave. “I call it camping,” he later says. “It sounds better than ‘homeless.’”
It’s late in the day, he’s over by the Wild Horse West Saloon off Lake Pleasant Parkway, and his old motorcycle stalls. He pulls over, tries to start it up. No go. Out of gas.
So, he’s homeless, out of work, having medical problems and now he’s on the side of the road, in the blazing sun.
As they say, after losing jobs and finding his health fading, he thought he’d hit rock bottom – until he found out rock bottom had a basement.
Who would blame this prison alumni for thinking that trying to be on the straight and narrow just wasn’t working out? Watching uncaring drivers zoom by to their nice cozy homes, why wouldn’t he ponder about returning to his “bad ways,” boozing, doing drugs, maybe even funding a run by robbing another bank …
Then one little thing starts a chain of events that told Dan Walker that he might be down, but he wasn’t out.
Jon Ritzheimer happens to be driving by on his way home from the Gremlin Garage, the motorcycle shop he owns and operates in New River.
The code of bikers is you always stop to help, so Ritzheimer pulls over and asks Walker, dejected next to his old bike, what was up.
Out of gas? No problem. Ritzheimer heads off to a gas station and comes back with a gallon container.
That doesn’t solve the problem, as the old bike wouldn’t start, due to battery issues. But the two were able to “bump start” the motorcycle (pushing the bike, then one jumping on popping the clutch out to get ignition).
During the process, Ritzheimer – who also served prison time for his role in the infamous Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff in Oregon – got to know Walker, a gregarious 54-year-old.
“He was not shy about his past addictions and I genuinely believed he has been on a long road to recovery,” Ritzheimer recalls. “I could tell from that first interaction he had a good heart and I wished him well.”
Two weeks later, Ritzheimer is heading home again, and sees Walker’s recognizable old bike off the side of the road in nearly the same spot, this time with a flat tire. He is nowhere to be found. So Ritzheimer leaves a note with his cell phone number, telling him to call and he will help him out with a battery and a tire.
“I also put a little side note at the bottom,” Ritzheimer added, “telling him that God works in mysterious ways. I said this because if he had broken down anywhere else that was not on my normal route home, then I would have never seen his bike and been able to help him.”
The next day, Ritzheimer gets a call from an emotional Walker, saying how much this help would be appreciated and giving permission to have Ritzheimer tow his bike.
Ritzheimer picked up the bike and looked it over with his technician, Ricky Brough.
They grimaced. No way to fix the old thing and make it anywhere near safe.
“So right then is when I made the decision to start looking for a replacement motorcycle for Dan so that we could surprise him with it,” Ritzheimer says.
He found a 1995 Harley Davidson Sportster that was reasonably priced, then started a fundraiser on the Gremlin Garage Facebook page.
“Lots of people stepped up to help including one very close friend of mine named Michael Albert in Massachusetts who has personally donated over $550,” he said.
Same guy put up the money to get Walker a phone.
The Gremlins raised a little more than $2,000, enough money to buy Walker that used Harley, which the Garage took to town: New brakes, new tires, spark plugs, handlebars, foot pegs, tune up. Good as new.
When it was all set, the bike shop owner called Walker to tell him to come by on Saturday, July 27. A family that recently took him in would bring Dan over to New River. He figured he was picking up his old bike that the Gremlins were patching together.
With a small crowd gathered trying to act nonchalant, Walker was looking around the shop for his old bike, when Ritzheimer walked him over to the shiny Harley. This is yours, he told Walker.
For a while, all the normally loquacious Walker can say is “Are you kidding me?” He bends over in emotion as the shop owner hands him the title, plus an envelope with some cash and gift certificates.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Walker addressed the dozen shop employees, friends and family members gathered around him.
“It doesn’t get any better,” he says. “The bike is great. The money is great.
“But knowing people care, that’s the best. People who don’t even know me.”
An onlooker’s question takes Walker back to July 5, when he broke down off of Carefree Highway.
“I thought I was through,” he recalls. That cranky old motorcycle, a present when he got out of prison Jan. 27, 2018, was his connection to the world.
As for the head Gremlin, Ritzheimer says he feels blessed to help someone in need. “This is just a random act of kindness,” says Ritzheimer, “for a stranger named Dan.”
In a span of three weeks, why would so many people – perfect strangers – come together to give him a helping hand? “I’ve been thinking about that,” says Walker, the tattoos that tell his life story running his body like a road map. “One word: God.”