William Shatner may be most noted for manning the helm of the starship Enterprise into the final frontier for the benefit of mankind. Now he hopes that navigating a different type of vehicle across the United States will do some good for the families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen.
The actor, most well-known for his role as Capt. James T. Kirk in the Star Trek television show and movies, and officials from motorcycle-builder American Wrench unveiled a new style of motorcycle June 23 at the company’s Aurora, Ill., headquarters. Escorted by a film crew and American Legion Riders, the convoy will spend eight days traveling down to St. Louis and then along old Route 66 on the way to Los Angeles.
Along the way, the group will be joined by local riders and will stop at American Legion posts where members will show Shatner bits and pieces of Americana that only the locals know about. He’s hoping to relive some of the memories from a hitchhiking trip he took across Route 66 before he entered college.
“There is a nostalgia element to this - going on a vehicle that is open to the air,” Shatner said.
The trip also gives Shatner and Legion Riders an opportunity to promote The American Legion Legacy Scholarship, which supports children of servicemen and servicewomen who have died on active duty since 9/11. The funding children of fallen soldiers receive from the federal government often falls short of the amount needed for a four-year education, so the Legacy Scholarship attempts to make up for the shortfall.
Rodney Herring, a member of Post 116 in Port. St. Joe, Fla., rides with Legion Riders out of Post 392 in Panama City and is making the journey with Shatner. He said the Legacy Scholarship is there to help children push toward a better future.
“When I came home from Vietnam, nobody did a whole lot for us. There was a lot of negative publicity,” Herring said. “These kids deserve what they can get. We need to look out for them. We don’t want these guys to be forgotten.”
Shatner said the Legacy Scholarship is a natural extension of the work he has done with the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, which raises money for programs that use horses in therapeutic programs for disabled children.
“The kids are the future, and we’re always looking to the future. We hope that they’ll solve problems that we haven’t been able to solve,” Shatner said. “Hopefully there will be press and media, and we will try to raise the consciousness and need to donate to the Legacy fund.”
Shatner noted the hard work so many do to raise even a few dollars at a time for the fund.
“It’s very touching that an individual would go into a tavern, hat in hand, and try to raise $350 from individual donations,” he said. “Maybe we can raise some large funds … with our helmets in hand.”
Debbie Bickel, a Legion Rider out of Post 97 in Auburn, Ind., said she also hopes to show the country a different view of Legionnaires. “So many people have a stereotype about members of The American Legion being old,” Bickel said. “This will show people a different side of The American Legion - different ages and different faces.”
That’s something Bill Sloan, program administrator for the Legion Riders, believes this trip can do well. “It’s a chance to shine a light on that sleepy little post at the end of Legion Road and show that they are up to something,” he said.
Shatner hopes the footage taken along the route will turn into a television show or documentary. A major piece of any media made from the trip will focus on the type of vehicle he is driving on the route - the new Rivet motorcycle.
Shatner, American Wrench personnel and dozens of onlookers huddled around as the Rivet was unveiled Tuesday morning. The vehicle is, as Shatner says, “Part motorcycle, part car and neither of them.” The bike was presented by Rivet Motors, a partnership between Shatner and American Wrench.
The three-wheeled Rivet has a front and back seat, which Shatner’s wife, Elizabeth, declined to try just before Shatner started the machine and moved it slowly through the throng of people trying to stay as close to it as they could. Its body is made from sheets of dull gray metal studded with rivets. The engine boasts 500 horsepower. The idea was to build a vehicle with the stability and comfort of a car, with the exhilaration of riding in the open air.
Shatner and his crew left American Wrench headquarters Tuesday afternoon. He will ride a Harley Davidson Trike most of the trip while testing the Rivet in different locations along the way.
Kevin Sirotek, American Wrench designer, and owner and vice president of sales and marketing, said the marriage of Shatner, the Rivet and The American Legion just made sense.
“The open road and the freedom of the open road is something we take for granted,” Sirotek said. “The best way we could begin to raise awareness about those freedoms we have is to work with The American Legion.
“As a company and as a country, we’re very lucky to have the men and women who make great sacrifices every day."
Fittingly, the group left American Wrench’s headquarters Tuesday afternoon on Enterprise Street in Aurora. Shatner said there are a lot of dreams riding on the trip - those of the children who would benefit from the Legacy Scholarship, those of American Wrench, which hopes to have a successful product, and his own hopes for a successful show and safe ride.
As for the Americana he hopes to find along the way:
“Barbecue would be really good,” Shatner said.