The guidelines were few for the Cackle Brothers.
“No dues, no meetings, no rules,” said Don “Tuna” Larson.
None of the three men was actually named Cackle. Their nickname came from the noise their motorcycles produced. All three rode Harley-Davidsons that had shovelhead engines. Each of the two rocker boxes is shaped like a shovel, which is where the engine gets its nickname. The end of the tailpipes were also shaped like a fish.
Their motorcycles made an unusual sound. When the three men were leaving a Frederick establishment one day, someone said, “Boy, they really cackle."
"And that was the birth of the Cackle Brothers,” Larson explained.
Larson, 60, is the only one of the Cackle Brothers still alive. Joe “Hosay”cq Swanson died in a motorcycle accident in Sioux Falls in 2001. Jerry “Crusher” Signs, a Frederick native, fell victim to cancer in 2004.
But the Cackle Brothers’ annual poker run is still going on. Even though he underwent triple bypass surgery April 25, Larson led the Cackle Brothers poker run Wednesday evening. Every year, the run leaves Aberdeen on the eve of July Fourth. About 20 bikers took part in this year's poker run, traveling to Groton, Pierpont, Bristol, Andover and back to Aberdeen.
Larson always figured his two buddies were going to bury him. But you never know what's going to happen.
With Signs and Swanson around, Larson didn’t have to worry about his back. “They were stand-up guys,” Larson said. “What I liked is I could always depend on them. If I ever needed anything, all I had to do was ask.
“Joe was the character of characters,” Larson said. Swanson used to visit local offices of the South Dakota congressional delegation when he had something on his mind.
“He was pretty outspoken on how things should be.”
When Swanson died, the office of a South Dakota U.S. Senator sent flowers to his funeral.
Swanson had a lot of trouble spelling, said Larson's girlfriend, Sylvia Aadland. The poster for the Cackle Brothers poker run misspells "Melgaard," but in honor of Swanson, they let the misspelling remain. “There should be one word in there misspelled. Kind of a tradition,” Larson said.
In starting the Cackle Brothers poker run, Larson chose July 3 because nobody works the next day. “It's kind of like a Saturday night,” he said.
Most poker runs start at noon, so when participants arrive at small-town bars, few people are there. Swanson decided to start the Cackle Brothers event at supper time. So when they arrive in the area communities, the bars will have more people in them.
Larson used to go on half-a-dozen poker runs a year. But he's getting old and stiff, he said. “Hard to get my leg over the seat anymore.”
A few weeks ago, his friend, Shane Brinkman, asked Larson if he was going to take part this year. If not, Brinkman would’ve led the way to “make sure the run still went on.” If he hadn't taken part, Larson would have ridden along in his truck. But a few days ago, after taking his motorcycle for a test drive, he decided he was up for it. Larson rode with Aadland in the seat behind him.
Larson got the nickname “Tuna” when he was 10 or 11 years old, swimming in the YMCA pool with his friends. The kids were dunking each other. In doing so, each gave himself a fish name. “Mine stuck,” he said.
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