Lil Joe Story

"The Wild One"

by Colleen Graves

Located in the “For Ever Wild” Adirondack Mountains of New York there’s a legend that lives on today, the legend of the “Wild One”. 

The “ Wild One” earned by the legendary Marlin Brando live’s on in a man most people know from coast to coast as Lil Joe, and it’s no wonder, standing at only at 5” ft. tall, this mini guinea has more history and stories about Harley’s and biker life than you can ever imagine. Just one trip to his garage (referred to as his museum) and one can feel and see his love and devotion to being a true biker and being what you could definitely classify as a “wild one”. He is known from the 60’s for his earlier notorious biker days, but presently known and still maintains the smallest guy with the biggest biker attitude and image around, actually you can’t even consider it a image, as his love and devotion is truly dedicated to the sport of motorcycling and the “Live To Ride, Ride TO LIVE” attitude. He ride’s his 97 Heritage Springer as often as the weather will permit him to, and supports those with the same interest and knowledge, if you will. With out a doubt this little guy knows his stuff and is no stranger to the history and “Revolution” of his favorite motorcycles, Harley Davidson’s and Indians.

Trust me he refers to all the others as “Jap Doo Doo” In his museum you will find his Japanese motorcycle repair kit which is no surprise is a “BOMB” among other symbols of his background knowledge and history of a being a “wild one.” Besides all of the chrome, autographs, pictures, collectibles and bikes in his garage, He has now again in his possession one of his biggest pieces of his history and prize possessions of his life, his very first motorcycle.

 It is this very piece of history that allows us to go back in time and explore the background history of Lil Joe Ricciardi and perhaps gain perspective on his life and all the events that helped create this “Wild One”.

Joe Ricciardi grew up with Paul and Jim Valovic from “Van’s Harley Davidson” In Gloversville. At the age of 5, he learned to ride everything possible. In 1954 at the age of 10, the movie “The Wild One” was released. This movie really inspired his interest and lifestyle. He reminisces about The Glove City District Riders parading up and down Main St. in Gloversville and parking out front of The Glove Theater where he saw the movie at least 20 times. It wasn’t long after this; the legend of Lil Joe began. With out knowing the events that would take place in his life, he began the journey.

As a teen he then moved to Brooklyn with his family. He remembers that he and a friend had a single cyl. 500 A.J.S. that they used to take out only and night and laughs as those were the times no one ever asked where it came from.

One of the highlights in Joe’s life was attending The Alan Freed Rock and Roll Show where he saw Rock and Roll legends Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valen shortly before their tragic plane crash. He recalls hearing the news.

In 1960 at the age of sixteen, he moved back to Gloversville where he purchased his first motorcycle, a 1949 Indian Super Vertical Scout. 

(Picture taken Easter Sunday 1961.  The cycle is an old 1949 Indian Scout.)

Having no interest in cars, its easy to see why a motorcycle was his choice, two wheels were all he needed. This was as he states, “Is when it all began”. He at that time attended a Catholic school that is up until he was told not to wear that hoodlum black leather jacket or ride that motorcycle to school. Knowing that his lifestyle wasn’t going to change at the nun’s request, he left and finished public school. He eventually traded his Indian for a 1940 Plymouth coupe and bought a 1946 Harley Davidson flathead 80 and bobbed it to resemble the one he saw on the cover of Life Magazine from The Hollister event. He then traded for a 1959 FLH he called “Slow Twister”.

During this time, Joe began racing both motorcycles and cars at Fonda Speedway where he won many races. He recalls racing against Shirley Muldowny who later became the famous Cha Cha. He also has many trophies from a national Gypsy Tour in Caroga Lake from the 50’s to the 60’s. He said that this was a huge event put on by the New York Dealers Assoc.

In 1963, Joe sold the 59 FLH and bought his first brand new bike at Van’s Harley Davidson, a 1964 XLCH 1400 with tax and accessories. He rode with a crazy bunch called U.C. Club. They were so crazy they actually drank Utica Club and went on what he referred to as “ Fast and Furious” rides from bar to bar. Things you could never get away with in this day and age.

Another memorable event in his life and happy to say he walked away from was Laconia in 1965 as he was stuck in the middle of the big riot. Even The National Guard was there with tear gas and rock salt to try to stop it. He still feels that things were at there best back then.

After buying a 61 pan head, Joe married his sweetheart Rosemary and they had a honeymoon ride on that FLH from Caroga Lake, N.Y. to California and did it with out any problems, although this cross-country trip was filled with a lot of memorable adventures along the way. He recalls riding through a tornado in Iowa with corncobs flying through the air and even being chased by real Indians swinging chains. Making a stop in the Bonneville Salt Flats they met the famous Bert Munro was a New Zealander from Invercargill. NZ, who held the land speed record on the Monroe Special, which Joe says, is an Indian in a nutshell. This bike has been featured in many magazines through out the years. Joe said having dinner with Bert was unbelievable and a major high point in his life. Within the first week of arriving in California, Joe was issued 7 traffic tickets by an L.A P.D motorcycle cop. He claims to still have those tickets in his possession, Wait a minute, doesn’t that make him an outlaw?

Ironically as it may seem, he then got a job as a police tow truck driver out there and remembers it to have been a very interesting job, meeting movie stars including the original fugitive David Jansen.

Rosemary was a trophy queen at Ascot Park and presented trophies to Cal Rayburn and a lot of other famous H.D. racers, Unfortunately like the late great Dale Earnhart, Cal was also killed doing what he loved and what made him famous, racing.

Before returning back home to Caroga Lake, Joe also met Evil Kineval, the man who took his Harley to the limit. He also met a few club members, but won’t say whom. He then has enough of California and returned home.

In 1968 Joe’s daughter Colleen was born. Today at 32 she is also a motorcycle enthusiast and has been riding, like her father, since the age of 5.

Joe’s really proud of his daughter, as she’s a singer who released her own C.D in 99 and is currently working on her second. Her album “Taken By Storm” has a song “Motorcycle Rides” that actually has an actual Harley Davidson through out the song. Colleen has also performed in the antique barn at Am-Jam in the past and it’s no doubt that her biggest fan is her dad, Lil Joe, “The Wild One”.

In 1970, Joe divorced and met Diane, who is still his girlfriend today.

Around 1972 Joe was the president of the Caroga Lake chapter of The Huron’s M.C. he did this for a short time and then started collecting cycles and junk which is now valuable and considered to be memorabilia. He had a 47 Indian Chief with a side car that he had in several shows and events. That ended up in Hawaii. He bought a 53 Chief (the last year produced). Then he bought a bike that attracted the attention of all walks of life, even people with out interest in motorcycles. It was a purple 58 Pan head called “The Cyclone” from Coney Island. This was decked out with hundreds of chrome balls and accessories and even had a T.V. mounted on the handlebars. People wondered how this little guy could handle such a big machine. He ended up winning a lot of show for “most unique” and was also featured in magazines. This was also at the Am Jam for a few years. He also at the time had a hot pink 49 Ford Barris custom. He drew attention wherever he went!

Joe recalls that through out the years he has lost a lot of friends and made many from around the world and usually people who share his interest in motorcycle (bikers). Joe is respected on both sides of the law. He is affiliated with many motorcycle chapters and attends many chapter events, but he chooses to remain an independent. It’s not unusual for him to hop on his bike and ride to N.Y.C to a party, to Staten Island to a Trotter M.C. party or to An Over The Hill Gang event. He is known and respected by many clubs. He is a friendly biker who loves to raise hell and be in the company of bikers.

In the early 90’s Joe opened a bar appropriately named “Lil Joe’s Handlebar” This was a biker hot spot for a while until Joe and his business partner had a falling out. People constantly ask him to open another bar, as it’s sure to be successful knowing all the people he knows. Joe and Colleen had a small extra part in the movie “Out Of the Rain” featuring Bridget Fonda and Michael O’Keefe.

These days Joe, who has for many years, still drives an 18-wheeler. This is 16 more wheels than he’s used to, but it’s how he make’s his living. He was also a volunteer fireman for Caroga Lake for over 25 years.

Joe received a phone call early last summer from Van’s Harley Davidson. They asked him to come down because they needed to talk to him. Upon arriving, Jim and Paul brought him in to the old shop out back. To Joe’s amazement, there stood all by it self his first 49 Indian. It had sat there for over 40 years. Although it had been badly scorched from a fire, it was candy to Joe’s eyes! It was now again back in his possession, an important piece of his history, where it all began.  It’s not to often things like this happen. So many things have happened in Joe’s life (some not mentioned) since he had his first motorcycle.  This was like having the first shoes he’s ever walked in;( they probably would still fit him) and so will this bike as he plans on restoring his old 49. This definitely will complete and signify his garage as a museum.

Meeting this man is a wonderful experience. If you see him walking around the Am-Jam, stop and say hello. You can tell people that you’ve met the “Wild One”.

Colleen Graves ---

Let's go on to Lil Joe's "Museum"




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