BY VAL SCHOGER PHOTOS BY VAL SCHOGER
Laura and Richard Roesch live in a quiet neighborhood in Panama City Beach – quiet until Rich revs up the engine of one of their motorcycles or vintage cars. Not just one but two garages are filled with vintage vehicles at the Roesch residence and the vehicles are all in driving condition.
“Every vehicle we own is licensed and drives,” Rich and Laura state. A retired commercial and Navy diver with an engineering degree and aptitude for mechanics, Rich likes to work on and maintain the bikes himself.
Laura is a State Court judge and, when sitting on one of the large Harleys, the first thing that comes to mind to describe her is simply “in charge.”
Laura reminisces “My earliest memory of a motorcycle is my father’s Harley XLCH.I must have been four or five years old. I remember thinking what a huge motorcycle it was. It seems very tiny to me now. I remember riding motorcycles with my father and later by myself.” She has owned motorcycles since she was a teen. “The very first motorcycle I ever rode was my father’s Triumph Trident three-cylinder.It seemed huge back then.Later on I owned a Honda Mini 50 and a Honda 125 Scrambler.”
Laura and Rich first met while working for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute near Vero Beach, Florida. The year was 1978.At the time, Rich was a commercial diver and Laura worked for the company’s PR department.Rich was one of the submersible divers participating in Harbor Branch’s underwater excavation of the Civil War Vessel USS Monitor offshore North Carolina in 1977 and 1979. “We had very exciting jobs. The Institute was in the news a lot back in the day. We were in National Geographic and several newspapers on a frequent basis.We were setting new records for the deepest dives,” remembers Rich.
Both shared their enthusiasm for motorcycles from the day they met.In fact, the 1977 Honda Goldwing that Rich owned at that time was his preferred means of transportation and they remember traveling together on the Goldwing.In Rich’s opinion, it was one of the most innovative bikes on the market at the time. He recalls how he became the owner of the very first Goldwing that was sold in the United States. A friend who owned a Honda Dealership in Daytona Beach called him to let him know that Honda was coming out with a big motorcycle with a very low seat. “I think you should have the first one,” the friend said. Rich did. “I immediately got on it and rode it to California. At that time I worked offshore and my diving assignments were 30 days long. I would get on the motorcycle, ride cross-country and, after my 30 days of work, I would get back on the bike and ride back cross country.”
Both continued to travel extensively after getting married and during graduate school. Laura attended law school in Indiana and, after graduating from Virginia Tech, Rich completed his engineering Master’s thesis at NASA in Houston.
Luckily, his next assignment at the Navy Base in 1986 brought them both to Panama City.
Rich, now retired, has steadily expanded the collection of motorcycles and it now is more than a hobby. “We like the history that is associated with vintage vehicles. There is always a story. Realizing the history that comes with an old car or motorcycle intrigues me.”
While he cannot pinpoint his favorite, each vehicle holds its own fascination for different reasons. When looking at its history, the 1949 Sunbeam motorcycle with a Watsonian sidecar is most interesting. The Roeschs found the bike in England and bought it from the relatives of the original owner who had kept meticulous records about trips and maintenance in a logbook. “He even kept several old gas rationing coupons from right after the war and the original title. The very last entry in the book is “Last ride?” The owner died shortly after this last remark,” Rich explains and adds with appreciation “The owner bought the motorcycle new and put 180,000 miles on it.” “We thought it was 80,000 miles but then Rich studied the logbook and found out it was 180,000 miles,” Laura says.
Different than other collectors, the Roeschs are active drivers and are out and about riding bikes at any given occasion. Laura remembers not being concerned with the dangers of riding when she was a teen but today safety is an aspect that she is very conscious about. “People are constantly multitasking while driving their cars. They will be on the phone or texting. I think riding a motorcycle makes you a better vehicle driver. You are so much more aware and mindful of what’s going on around you. We often ride in groups and that adds to the safety.”
As this article is written the Roeschs are on an extended trip to South Dakota, the motorcycling mecca, and are touring the Black Hills, the Badlands, and Mount Rushmore.
“We purposely designed our trip to England last year to coincide with several car shows and we visited vintage motorcycle museums. We even had the opportunity to visit a private collection on the Isle of Man. There are a lot of collections behind closed doors,” says Laura.
“There are a lot of collectors of antique cars in Panama City and many of them own much larger collections than we do, but I think that we have one of the most interesting collections of fully operational vintage motorcycles around,” says Rich.Keeping all of the vehicles in driving condition has become a full-time occupation for him and, in the spirit of a real collector, he concludes, “While it is costly to maintain all the motorcycles, it is easily our best investment.They keep going up in value but none of ours are for sale.”
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