(Originally Posted by Creeping Jennie on Sunday, 20 September 2015 in Sturgis.com Blogs)
In the wee hours of Tuesday, the eighth of September, 2015 a fire was reported at the Full Throttle Saloon. By the time fire crews were able to respond, the fire had well engulfed the complex. The situation was made more complicated by the lack of fire hydrants and running water at the site, dry conditions, high winds, the wooden structure of the compound, and 500 gallons of explosive grain alcohol on site. All of these factors combined to render the ten million dollar property a total loss.
Social media was aflame with the news, and frantic queries of, "Is Emmitt the donkey ok?" Knowing that Lynn Day, caretaker and sculptor for the FTS compound lived on site year round, I was relieved to find out that he and the donkey had escaped unscathed.
The week following the devastating fire was wrought with emotion, doubt, and questions, especially for the devoted fans of the franchise. The FTS fanclub presence roiled with support for their favorite Sturgis Rally venue, offering prayers, kind words, more prayers, and the promise of raising funds to rebuild, along with more prayers. The "stars" of the FTS television series expressed their grief over losing their beloved bar on social media, garnering lots of support and prayers from friends, family, and total strangers.
So many questions swirled through the minds and hearts of the fans, and also in Facebook groups. What happened? Did the distillery on site make it worse? Was the distillery functional? Why was the so much grain alcohol on site? Why wasn't the fire put out quickly? Would Michael Ballard rebuild? Did Angie ever have that baby? Was the bar insured? Was it arson? Did Ballard do it? Did Jesse do it? Did Emmitt the donkey do it? Shouldn't someone set up a fund raiser to rebuild? What will the town of Sturgis do now that the only bar in town has been destroyed? When would the show be on TV again?
Paula and Dale, the two active admins of the Facebook Full Throttle Saloon; Family, Friends & Fans group certainly had their hands full. They were suddenly inundated with join requests, questions, prayers, and controversy. One of the most important rules of that group is that no one is ever allowed to say anything negative about the Full Throttle Saloon, its staff, subsidiaries, or any of the group "family" members. When group members began to ask questions, all hell broke loose. One comment asking, "Doesn't it look like the fire was deliberately set?" caused pandemonium. Responses were swift and nasty. "How dare you accuse Michale and Angey of setting the bar on fire for insurance money they lost everything EVERYTHING PRAISE GOD they wernt in there with there sweet little babby when it happened!!!!!" ""You hartless asshole how dare you say they did it!! Why are you in this group if you hate them?" "Praying!" "You don't even no them they are good ppl shame on you! Get out of this group Paula ban him!"
Immediately FTS fans rallied together and talked about fundraisers. Some actually went through with creating GofundMe pages, calling for the rebuilding of the Full Throttle Saloon. "Bigger and better!" Some called for raising funds for the one person who did lose his home and all of his belongings- the caretaker, Lynn Day. Admins of the FTS fan group demanded that all fundraising efforts cease, save the one official campaign for Lynn.
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms stepped in on the investigation, reigniting the rumor mill. Not only in the FTS fan group, but in other Sturgis groups and pages, comments and speculation flew like snowflakes in a blizzard. "He must have done it! They don't bring in ATF for nothin!" "See I told you he didn't do it! Someone else did it probably one of the other bar owners! They should be shot!" "I heard there was an explosion! That means a bom! That's why the feds are there!" "They will find him guilty of arson for sure!" "The investigation will clear him!" "Prayers!" "Who did it?" "Jewish Lightning." Ballard would never set fire to his dream and destroy everything he worked so hard for!" "That's a little too convenient. The timing was just perfect and now he can just walk away." "Where was the city of Buffalo Chip's fire department? Where was Woody when the fire started?"
Of course, Ballard issued an official statement thanking everyone for their support, asking people not to start fundraising efforts, thanking the fire crews from the multiple communities that came to the aid. He also cast doubt on not only the ability to rebuild, but the desire. Jesse James Dupree, his partner, in other aspects of his businesses, but not FTS itself, was more optimistic in his short statement, saying that his fellow band members may take up the mantle and rebuild.
Angie issued her own statement, a syrupy, open love letter to her husband proclaiming that she would do anything and everything needed to help her man get through this terrible time, even domestic duties. In my opinion, it was a letter written for the benefit of the fans and haters, proving to everyone that even though he lost a ten million dollar property, she loved him anyway. Touching.
The FTS fan group continued to bubble. Although the group of over 90,000 members is "owned" by Dale Cross, it is largely ran by one admin- Paula. During this time, Paula worked very hard to keep the group wall from becoming soiled by negativity, profanity, and any discussion of the possibility of arson. As expected, the group experienced a glut of new join request, so many in fact, that Paula chose to add new members without checking their profiles, as is her general rule. This only created new problems, as a few spammers and bots slipped in and annoyed the group members. I know very well that this is a thankless job, but more so for Paula. She has no say in making the rules, as she makes very clear, but all of the responsibility of enforcing them. I have seen little to no recognition nor thanks from Ballard himself, and the "stars" of FTS never post in the group.
Dale is not absent due to a lack of caring or concern; he is not a well man, and has not been for quite a while. The stress of these events were definitely worrisome to his health. Dale was devastated.
Then word came out from ATF- the fire was accidental in nature. FTS fans posted in righteous indignation. "I KNEW he didn't do it!" "A true fan would never even question it!" "That was a waist of taxpayers money to tell you something I already know!"
The other camp did not always share the same perspective. Comments ranged from "Ballard must have written a big check for that" to "Ok it was accidental. Now is he going to rebuild or not?" and everything in between.
At the slightest hint that rebuilding his iconic bar in Sturgis was not financially a priority, the fanclub whipped into action, posting appeals to any facebooker who could read their post to volunteer their time and work to rebuild a new bar, a place for everyone to call home. The problem with this outpouring of generosity is that Ballard is a multimillionaire, he has only lost one aspect of his business, and even if the fans did pull together and build a new bar, they would have donated their efforts for naught. The volunteers would bear no ownership rights, no recognition, and no royalties. This would simply create a new, more entitled breed of FTS fan. "Oh yeah? I'm a bigger fan than you! I helped rebuild it! Thank you Mike and Angy and Jessie!" That Ballard has all but come out and directly said he will not rebuild in Sturgis is also problematic. His fans want an answer right now, and are willing to overlook his hints in order to hold out hope.
Some have read between the lines and have accepted that there will not be another FTS built in Sturgis. Many of those fans are now mourning the loss of the entire Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Many of them either honestly believe that there is nothing else to the Rally, or that the Rally revolves around Ballard, Jesse, Angie, Goat, Senior, and Fajita Mike, when neither are actually the case. But I guess that's what happens when the majority of your fan base originates from a reality television show that is most certainly NOT based in reality.
I am very much aware that this blog entry will attract attention from the fanclub, will be misinterpreted, and I will be put on blast. With this in mind, let me close with this:
FTS was not my favorite bar, and I have never kept that a secret.
Ballard is not my favorite person, and I have never kept that a secret.
HOWEVER, I do not wish harm on anyone, and that includes Michael Ballard.
Whatever he decides to do regarding the Full Throttle Saloon, I wish him nothing but the best.
I understand that the "Stars" of FTS have lost something very important to them, and they may feel like they have lost a family member, or that they are mourning the end of a very important part of their lives. To you, I offer you my love and support.
To everyone, I wish you a happy 2016 Rally, and I hope to see you there.