Terry The Tramp

May 21, 2012

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The first time I saw Terry the Tramp was in the early 90s. I was “securing” a section of a parking lot in San Bernardino when a perfectly green Chevy Caballero pulled into the other end of the lot. “Is that Terry the Tramp,” a guy near me asked. Then he answered himself, “Yep. That’s the man. The man himself.”

All I said was, “I thought he was bigger.”

Now Keith “Bandit” Ball has written a biography of Terry “The Tramp” Orendorff, the longtime President of the Vagos Motorcycle Club. Ball began writing for Easyriders magazine in 1972 and he was the editor during most of the years when that magazine was at its best. He now owns and operates bikernet.com. Motorbooks published Terry the Tramp: The Life and Dangerous Times of a One Percenter about five months ago so the book has probably already found most of its intended audience but if you missed it you should probably read on.

Good News Bad News

The bad news is that Terry the Tramp is an uneven biography. The text and the dust jacket cannot agree about whether Orendorff remains a retired patch holder holed up in Hesperia or “after a lifetime of service to the club, he was unceremoniously expelled.” The book is sometimes schizophrenic about whether the Vagos are good guys or bad guys. It is not a think piece so Ball doesn’t waste time exploring the possibility that the Green could be both at once or something entirely different. The closest the book comes is with lines like “His abusive childhood brought out a fervent need to protect his brothers.” Ball mentions many Vagos by name and includes dozens of photos but he takes pains not to name any of Orendorff’s successors. He carefully avoids biker politics. And, he is sometimes maddeningly shallow when he writes about even recent events like the Hemet Hoax. (You can read more about that here.)

But there is more good news than bad because Ball can write, he is informed and when he wants to be he is insightful. At one point he describes bikers in the 70s as “like a captured hawk released.” In another passage he observes “It’s unfortunate that clubs didn’t invent the World Wrestling Federation and make their disputes an entertaining sport.”

The good news continues with the fact that Ball has been looking at Southern California bikers forever. He is informative about the American Motorcyclist Association during the administration of Arthur Welch — who is now remembered mostly for more or less inventing the idea of one percenters and for doing a lousy job on the AMA’s taxes. And Ball brings up other incidents that would be forgotten without his words.


Ball’s book includes the best account yet of the framing of four Vagos for a murder in Albuquerque in February 1974. All of the book’s account rings true.

“’We got along with hippies,’ Ron (Keine) said. They were all part of the same subculture. But the drunken bikers were too rowdy for Kathy’s sensibilities. Ron stripped and jumped naked into her lap and she freaked and started chanting Hail Marys, so they buckled to her fervent request to be let out.”

A paragraph later Ball continues this tale. “Just up the road they picked up two male hitchhikers and offered them a beer. When they caught one of their guests stealing brews, Art Smith pulled Doc’s .22-caliber pistol out of the glove box and threatened the thieves. Spinning the gun in the old-fashioned Western style, it went off and clipped one of the hitchhiker’s ears. Doc was pissed, but they cleaned up the kid and discussed hauling him to a hospital. But because it was just a flesh wound, they dropped the two off on a deserted stretch of Texas highway to allow the Vagos time to escape, in case the hitchhikers filed a complaint.”

If Hunter Thompson had fired the gun he could have turned the incident into a fortune. The five Vagos in the car were eventually arrested for the murder of a man named William Velten and the unfortunate event with the .22 became part of the case against them. The men in the car, had nothing to do with Velten’s murder. They were provably in Los Angeles when it occurred but they were still framed. Four of them spent 17 months on death row before they were cleared. And, Ball contextualizes this injustice with, “Terry, the young leader in California, quickly learned that the most cold-blooded, fiendish crimes were inflicted by authorities gone bad.”

Ball also describes at length and with sagacity another incident in which the city of Hawthorne, California (near Los Angeles International Airport) decided to crack down on the Vagos. Then as now the cops employed a concatenation of punitive raids. Housewives were dragged naked out of their showers by commando cops. Children were knocked down with rifle butts. The list of “places to be searched” was based on a listing of Vagos residences seized in an earlier raid. Unfortunately for everybody, the list was not accurate so many of the people punished by search warrant had never even heard of the Vagos.

Buy The Book

The best reason to read Terry The Tramp is for the dozens of anecdotes it contains. These stories may or may not have some connection to Orendorff and the book’s narrative but most of them are wonderful stories anyway.

One of these classics begins: “While Terry was in the gunshot ward a black man who had been shot by his wife for cheating was admitted…. As the nurse worked with him in the large sanitary headquarters, which housed six gunshot victims, a nasty-looking, big, black woman appeared.” Ball’s account of the subsequent gun battle is worth the cost of the book. If Sons of Anarchy included scenes like this one more bikers would probably watch the show.

Another great story begins when: “Terry experienced his first heart attack at the age of forty-seven while he was having his way with a beautiful blonde in her second-story, Hacienda Heights apartment.”

“One day the bubbly blonde who had been riding Terry like a rented mule when his heart sputtered and quit popped in the door. ‘She wanted to be my ol’ lady,’ Terry said, ‘but I wasn’t having any of that.”

“A brother jacked her up in the restaurant, dragged her outside and said, ‘Get out of here. You tried to fuck my brother to death.’”

Stories like that, unimaginable by most people who write about the outlaw world, are the reason to buy Bandit Ball’s book. The type is big, the chapters are short and it is a fast read. If you ride in Los Angeles you will find some names you already know. You can get a copy here.


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22 Responses to “Terry The Tramp”

  1. Lil David Wonder Says:

    Unfathamable 30 + riders ride in early morning to pick Tramp up as he leads the way out. Don’t scratch the paint- don’t cut my grass – don’t let Harry fall , hold these forks – I’ll rip your head off, just a few sayings ima gonna miss .lil ol me at times watched his back but he had mines always.gonna miss you’ll friend . Lil Terry my condolences . Much love & respect Brother: I’ll come & headout to your new

  2. Nancy gately Says:

    Trying to find Terry, my husband was his friend and attorney for years! Frank was a judge and he and terry stayed in touch. Frank passed away 5 years ago and Terry always called to check up on me. The last time he contacted me, he was staying in a hotel, his book was published, but having some health issues. I tried using the last number I had to contact him. Just know he needed surgery and hoping Terry is ok. I haven’t found his son Terry. If you are in contact with him pass this on to him. He knows my number. Thanks NancyGately

  3. JB Says:

    There was only one Terry The Tramp and he died in 1970. He was a Hell’s Angel.

  4. GD Says:

    I thought the book was OK. It was very selective on the exploits that were published, and it tended to bounce around on the timeframes a bit. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I appreciated the insight on the Warlords MC slaughter. My dad’s very good friend was one of those killed. I still have a piece of biker folk art he made in 1970.

  5. Rebel Says:

    Dear C4,

    You can buy Out Bad from the Barnes and Noble website or you can ask your local B&N to order the book. It has no marketing and it does not sell well enough to be stocked by most brick and mortar stores.


  6. C4 Says:

    Finally made it down to Barnes and Noble last night to pick up a copy of Out Bad, but it was nowhere to be found. What’s up with that? Anyway, picked up Terry The Tramp. Good reading so far.

  7. grumpy Says:

    yeah the 70’s in so.cal were great,cant say i new who the vagos were at that time cause i never saw one that i can remember.i was a hang around with a couple of clubs in berdoo,and whittier at that time.got my first shovelhead at 19 yrs old. the first terry the tramp that i knew of was from oakland,anybody who knows who im talking about knows what club he was with.i met vagos terry the tramp a couple times just in the last few years,seems like a stand up nice guy,he even new some of my old friends from the 70’s.yeah i’ll get the book one of these days should make for some intersting reading for sure.

  8. cerati Says:

    Great review by Rebel. My favorite quote in the book is: “To own a Shovelhead was to tell the world that you could overhaul your engine by the side of the road in the middle of the night with nothing more than an adjustable wrench and a zippo lighter, because sooner or later you would be doing just that.”

    I also agree wholeheartedly with Charlie Chingon’s comment. I would definitely recommend The Unknown Mongol and Out Bad. Both are great reads to where you will sacrifice sleep to get in those “last few pages” that turn out to be the “last few chapters”.

  9. observer Says:

    Charlie Chignon: Thanks for all that. You’re very well spoken yourself, and another example of the value of this venue. I don’t even own a bike, but this is the first and last site I check every day. There’s something transcendent about what’s written here; it’s beyond bikes, and though they are perhaps the surest route to it, “it” is out there for anyone with the eyes and heart to seek it.

  10. Charlie Chingon Says:

    Observer: There are many instances in Scott Ereckson’s book where his gift as a leader can be identified in ones self; depending on your walk through life as an accidental tourist, or your exposure to all things criminal. His account allows you to feel and revisit the sense of pride and respect for the people in your life that Scott represents by proxy. This is the epitome of an honorable man in the way that he approached his destiny and dealt with his circumstances as a man’s man; his commitment to his club, his friends and love for his parents and significant others. The undeniable confirmation that one of the baddest dudes in the biker planet has heart, and his utilization of that heart in battle and in relationships validates his existence as a “brother” his club should hold in high regard. In the rough and tumble environment of the OMC culture we often times forget who we are because of what we have become; his message acknowledges the fact that you can still put your best foot forward while your other one is deeply planted in someone elses ass

  11. observer Says:

    Charlie Chignon: That’s how I feel when I read Rebel’s stuff, particularly “The Rebel Rides” episodes. Mr. Ereckson must have some serious gifts.

  12. Charlie Chingon Says:

    A good read, but two books which will give you a better bang for your buck and appreciation for your local OMG are: Out Bad and The Unknown Mongol. Rebel’s assembly of facts and details captivate, intrigue and entertain the imagination. Scott Ereckson takes it to the proverbial next level; this guy can write…no ghost writer, but his prolific ability to provide first-hand account of been there, done that, brings you along as a ghost rider. There is sufficient detail and colorful account to engage; the explanation of past to present allows you to visualize as as his ride unfolds through various familar haunts of So Cal and beyond. His “diary” leaves you convinced and elevates your respect to acknowlege he is the man we all aspire to be. The best part of the revelationn is that it was like sitting in a room and listening to a friend reveal, without saying it, that you are in the presence of greatness.

  13. Grumbler Says:

    BigV – Then there’s The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers by Daniel R. Wolf. Despite being dated and based in Canada, it’s an excellent book. My local public library has it.

  14. 10Gauge Says:

    I enjoyed it and can appreciate the reasons for vagueness in certain areas. I thought it to be strait forward and honest when speaking about his personal life and motives and reasons for decisions made through out his life. Good read and not sensationalistic. I liked it for many of the same reasons I enjoyed reading Rebel’s books.

  15. BigV Says:

    The book was ok in my opinion. It reminded me of the older Easy Riders pieces, stretched to book length form. They had a tendency to gloss over things and so does this book. That’s to be expected, though, as its a 1%er biography.

    I recommend Biking and Brotherhood by Dave Spurgeon- formerly Outlaw Cowboy 1%er. Except for the last two chapters, Biking and Brotherhood is a good book- despite the man’s annoying habit of calling clubs “gangs”.

    I liked Bikernet and Bandit until he started working for The Horse. I despise that rag, and the effect it has had on bringing in the little jockey shift riding “I-am-so-old-school” skateboard punks and morons into motorcycling. And fuck the The Horse too for the shit it encourages these idiots to do with “rat bikes”.

  16. Dante Says:

    I will have to pick this one up.

    Also watched Outlaw Empires and found it to be largely void of anything actually interesting. Lot of rehashed stories and of course insightful commentary by Kurt telling me things I already knew. But then again, at least it wasn’t Gaynglandish.

  17. Erudite Hillbilly Says:

    Quote: “The best reason to read Terry The Tramp is for the dozens of anecdotes it contains.” From reading the samples provided, I think I’ll do that. I also appreciate the sample line from the book as follows: “Terry, the young leader in California, quickly learned that the most cold-blooded, fiendish crimes were inflicted by authorities gone bad.” Ain’t that the truth!

  18. things that make you go hmm Says:


  19. Grumbler Says:

    When the book was first announced, I had assumed it’d be about Terry the Tramp (12/39 – 2/70) of the Oakland 81: http://nicatic.com/TerrytheTramp.html

    Watched Outlaw Empires: American Bikers as well, and my thoughts echo those of RVN69.

  20. RVN69 Says:

    Read the book, enjoyed it, good not great. Not as good in my opinion as either of Rebel’s books. Now if Bandit is as good as his word and reviews both of Rebel’s books, maybe some balance will return to the universe.

    Watched “Outlaw Empires” American Bikers last night, best thing I can say about it is that it wasn’t Gangland. 4 exmembers, 5 clubs, as best I can tell no snitches but nothing special.

    “I am not an angel, nor am I the devil, I am the bastard stepchild of both.”

  21. Rashomon Says:

    I liked this as well as Riding on the Edge. Having not grown up here, I enjoyed the historical/social context sprinkled in with the stories. It painted a good picture of life in general as well as where the characters fit in.

    Good to see something other than the mindless drivel that the “experts” come up with. We can live without the Kerrie Droban and Yves Lavigne’s of the world.

  22. IRISHPUNK Says:

    I got the book not long after it came out, some pretty good stories, a few hard to believe they actually went down that way though. It was cool to see the names of streets and places here in my back yard.

    The book also gives a good account of how the COC came to be and Terrys involvement.

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