The leather-clad riders filed out of the Fort Thunder Harley-Davidson parking lot in orderly pairs and lines Sunday, riding off into the near-freezing morning with a special mission.

Over the next few hours, they would make seven stops on their trip, each with the goal of spreading Christmas cheer to families who needed it.

The motorcycle riders were off on the OK Kids Korral Toy Ride, an annual collaborative effort that brings toys to children with cancer. This year's riders, with Santa Claus in tow, travelled to Oklahoma City, Moore and Norman to deliver Christmas gifts and surprise children, stopping at the OK Kids Korral along the way.

Fort Thunder Harley-Davidson is at the center of the engine rumbling madness each year -- the dealership partners annually with Toby Keith's OK Kids Korral to host the ride, while simultaneously teaming up with the Moore Fire Department to collect toys for the department's Santa Express program.

The event started with just five riders nearly 10 years ago, when it was only focused on the Santa Express program, said Fort Thunder marketing manager Ashli Schmitz.

Santa Express provides Christmas gifts and essentials to about 600 kids in need in the Moore area, said Darren Sigmen, Moore assistant fire marshal. The dealership collects toys in its lobby for weeks before the annual ride.

"It's a very big impact -- it helps these families that can't help themselves, that may have somebody missing a parent, somebody may have cancer, the kids may be sick -- you never know what is happening in their family," said Sigmen, who noted that Fort Thunder and OK Kids Korral are instrumental in collecting and donating many of the toys involved. "...They can go get groceries, pay bills when we help them with these gifts."

Fort Thunder began partnering with OK Kids Korral about five years ago, and has seen the ride grow to 200 to 300 riders each winter, Schmitz said. For the last few years, Keith and former OU football head coach Bob Stoops have attended the ride as it's grown.

"It's wonderful because it's so visible," Keith said. "It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and when you're coming through with all the police force, the law enforcement, the loud bikes and Santa Claus, everybody sees it. They know, and it keeps what we're doing on people's minds."

Sunday's ride brought gifts and visits to six children with cancer and to the OK Kids Korral, where families with children undergoing cancer treatment can find a home. The 2019 ride brought out hundreds of riders Sunday morning, along with local police and fire officials.

Darrin Bayman, the general manager at Fort Thunder, said the ride is the largest event his store hosts all year. For everyone involved, "it's the right thing to do," Bayman said.

"For most of the kids, it's a big surprise. And it's a really emotional experience to go on the ride, so it has a pretty profound impact on both the families and the riders," Bayman said. "Most of the riders that are here, once they've gone on the ride once, they typically come back and do it again because it is such an emotional and moving experience."

Emma Keith


Follow me @emma_ckeith

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