The Iron Horsemen Motorcycle Club of Southern Maryland was out for blood last Saturday.
The club was also out to improve its public image.
A blood drive, in conjunction with the Southern Maryland Hospital Center and the Metropolitan Washington Blood Banks, seemed just the ticket, said club president Jim Osborn. Too many people he implied, equate biking with with the wrong kind of blood-letting.
"We want people to know we're not outlaws -- we just wear different clothes and like to ride motorcycles," said Osborn, who is known in biking circles as "Nightrider."
The Horsemen came, their sleeves rolled up, to the Stardust Inn Bingo Hall in their "colors": Levis, black T-shirts with orange lettering, and denim vests emblazoned with their insignia -- a skull with long hair circled by the club's name -- and personalized with patches and pins.
Like many members of the club, "Kinky," a resident of Waldorf who declined to give his real name, has long hair and wears one earring. "Kinky" said that good PR at Christmas is on the road to becoming a tradition with the Horsemen: Last year they collected toys for underprivileged children.
The blood drive was open to the public, but most of the donors were Iron Horsemen, their friends and relatives. Forty pints of blood were collected, said Inez Berry, a supervisor for the hospital center.
Berry said an Iron Horseman approached her with the idea for the bikers' blood drive after several club members donated blood at a church drive last August. Although she was "surprised at first" by the suggestion, she said, "I decided I couldn't be prejudiced when it comes to blood."
As publicity coordinator, "Kinky" posted flyers and invited local merchants to donate. He also was responsible for "pre-screening" the club's members by distributing questionnaires asking for information such as past diseases and physical condition -- even inquiring whether members had recently had tattoos or ears pierced. All the questions help health officials determine whether to accept a potential donor's blood.
The blood drive will "help a lot at this time of year," said Mark Davis, acting director for the blood bank organization. "People are too busy to take time to donate during the Christmas season."
"Members of the Iron Horsemen "are not hard-core killers or PCP runners," Davis asserted. He said club members hold jobs and that the organization is "a social outlet" for them.
Law enforcement officials say they have had no problems with the club. "They're a bunch of individual people who have a common interest in motorcycles," said a spokesman for the Charles County sheriff's department. "(They're) keeping pretty legal."
The Iron Horsemen won't disclose how many members are in the club, but they say members live in Prince George's and Charles counties and range from 21 to 55 years old.
"Pop," the oldest member of the club, is a small man with a flowing gray beard and long hair who takes his 4-year-old granddaughter for rides on his bike. He's been biking since he was 16 years old, he said, and, like most of the members, he owes a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
What brings these men together, they said Saturday, is their interest in motorcycles and the brotherhood the club promotes.
"Take a look at us," Pop said. "We're all family." Jim Osborn's wife, Miriam, wearing a black leather jacket, black studded pants and boots, said club members are "basically family-oriented," and wives and children are included in a "run" when the bikers go camping at the beach or to the mountains.
Several parents of club members turned out at the blood drive to show their support and donate to the cause.
Dick Hillery, of Annandale, sat at a table in his white shirt and tie, eating a hot dog after giving blood. A retail manager for Safeway stores, he looked a bit out of place among the blue jeans and vests. Both his sons ride motorcycles, and one is an Iron Horseman.
Hillery has never ridden a bike, but his wife has. "I graciously decline," he said with a smile. "I've kind of gotten use to them. I don't really like them, but I don't dislike them."
"I was amazed at how nice the [members of the club] were," said Hillery. "It's the image -- people don't take time to get to know the true person".
As the five medical technicians finished drawing the day's donations of blood, members of Southern Express, a local rock-and-roll band, set up and began filling the large room with sound. As promised on the flyers, a post-drive party began. Iron Horsemen sat around the tables, cans of beer in their hands, talking about when they will hold another blood drive.
The hospital center allows groups to donate only twice a year, but "they'd do it every eight weeks (the minimum time allowed between donations) if they could," Berry said. "They're so enthusiastic about it."