It is likely that anyone who read a motorcycle magazine in the second half of the 20th century was familiar with Cliff Boswell. Cliff had an important and powerful influence on the sport and on those who participated in it. Cliff combined his love of motorcycling and the outdoors with his ability as a teacher, his main profession. As a consequence, his articles on cycling and camping, which appeared in most of the major motorcycle publications, were inspiring to others. Through his articles and books, this quiet man was able to educate others in the ways of traveling and camping by motorcycle. This resulted in his founding and for many years leading, the International Brotherhood of Motorcycle Campers, an organization which was, and remains, unique in this sport.
Cliff Boswell was born in Central Point, Oregon, in 1905. He moved to Southern California in 1932, where he earned his teaching degree at Santa Barbara. It was there he met his wife-to-be, Marge. In 1941, the Boswell family moved to Arroyo Grande, Calif.
“After several years of writing a column called "Camping with Cliff" for Road Rider magazine, the idea occurred to me that a club comprised of people who liked to ride and camp with motorcycles might be just the ticket,” Boswell said. “This was in 1973. After consulting with several Road Rider staff members and others, the idea was put into motion … and the Brotherhood of Motorcycle Campers was born.”
At that time, the abbreviation was written as BoM/cC to distinguish it from the many governmental agencies using all capital letters. The M/c stood for motorcycle, a popular abbreviation.
The original membership was made up of 30 honorary members who were active in motorcycle circles. This got the club off the ground. Included in the list were several Road Rider staff members, as well as Bill Harmer, founder of the BMW Riders of America club and George Spidell, one of the founders of the Retreads, and its president. Other pioneers in several phases of motorcycle development, such as Ez Berg, Dean Wixom, and George Hays, were included.
"I served as President and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, as well as writer and publisher of our Quarterly Report, forerunner of The Campfire Ring,” Boswell recalled. “An advisory group of seven, called the Board of Directors, was appointed. An annual meeting was held at a campground in the west, which happened to be the first of the many campouts now scheduled throughout the land. The meeting was generally given over to getting acquainted and to discussing any new ideas or suggestions for improving the club."
Members paid yearly dues of $1 (later raised to $3). They also furnished five large self-addressed stamped envelopes in which their copies of the Quarterly Report and an annual membership roster were mailed. As membership grew, the envelope collection and bookkeeping problems multiplied. The solution eventually was to go the computer route as initiated by Don and Glenna Stansifer, after they took over the handlebars.
In 1975, several motorcycle groups were discovering the advantages of incorporating as non-profit organizations. So the BoM/cC decided to try it, too, with the help of Russ Sanford, state lobbyist for motorcycle rights in California. However, the book work and the organization became so ponderous that it was impossible to operate without an expanded staff, and the corporation was dissolved in two years. To illustrate: The BoM/cC had several officers, a complicated set of by-laws, a board of directors and 20 voting members, with the latter selected from various parts of the United States. Phil Spooner, the Ol’ Desert Fox, was the first and only official president. Upon dissolution, the organization's assets were converted to cash and were donated to the M.O.R.E. Foundation, a non-profit corporation designed to benefit motorcycle riders.
Final dissolution of the incorporated status was made at an annual campout meeting in December, 1977. To say the least, the group had fallen into disrepair, and was looking for a way out.
“Our bacon was saved when Bill and Betty Poteet, who had sponsored the annual campout and who had served on our board of directors, volunteered to take over the group and return it to its original status with no frills attached,” Boswell said. “Steve Kimball, then with Road Rider Magazine, and later with Cycle World, took over the editorship of the Quarterly Report.
“Bill and Betty kept the club going for four years, with membership reaching close to 400. The emphasis then was mainly on correspondence among members, with the development of friendships and the distribution of information through the Quarterly Report and among members, about camping facilities in parts of the country through which a member might be traveling. Members were encouraged to have information on hand about local camping facilities. They were also invited to indicate whether or not they could furnish camping space for travelers. A small tent symbol was placed in front of the names of those with such space available.”
Since the beginning of the Brotherhood, members have been encouraged to schedule informal campouts at various points, or rather, at any place convenient throughout the United States and Canada. At first, the effort was aimed toward planning for campsites near some of the large national activities, such as the Indianapolis 500, or the Aspencade Convention in New Mexico. Under the leadership of Don and Glenna, campouts became the most binding activity of the club.
The BoM/cC designation of the Brotherhood was modified to IBMC by Don and Glenna Stansifer, in order to reflect the international aspects of the club, and to reassure the growing number of motorcycling women that the club is indeed for "sisters" as well as "brothers." Don and Glenna took over the operation of the club as director and newsletter editor in September, 1981. Their efforts over the following 10 years resulted in an expanded membership of more than 1,200, with a broad participation in campouts throughout the nation.
Through all these changes of the organization, one thing remained constant: Cliff's original idea of the lone biker communing with the outdoors in his cozy campsite, has always been the goal. Bikes and campsites change, but the ideal has continued to be to experience the outdoors in all ways. From their mode of transportation to the choice of accommodations, its members are living out of doors. In a world increasingly dominated by concrete, steel and glass, they remained up close and personal with wind, bugs, grass and trees.
Boswell made no headlines, but he was a thoughtful and thinking man whose written words and special philosophy made motorcycling a more special sport for his hundreds of thousands of readers. He was a leader, a teacher, and a philosopher.
Boswell, the old master of motorcycling, passed away on May 20, 1993. There are probably those who have camped more and gone farther, but few who shared the experience like he did, causing as many others to go try it for themselves.
Cliff Boswell was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.