BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Renegade Pigs don’t need you – but you just might need them.
This Iowa chapter of the International Renegade Pigs Motorcycle Club is very specific about who they are and what they do. They find solace in each other in an otherwise demanding world of every day life.
You may see these men riding down the road and think that Fort Madison is now home to Hell’s Angels, but you’d be better off just dropping the “Hell’s”.
“Those are what we like to call 1% gangs,” said Adam Benda, the president of the group. “That’s the term given to outlaw clubs.”
But these guys are no outlaws. As a matter of fact, they’re mostly former military or police officers who’ve taken up careers in public safety. They now dawn leather vests with three patches on the back indicating their membership in Renegade Pigs as the only Iowa Chapter. Benda said the three patches they wear on their backs can be confusing to other riders.
“We’re trying to change perceptions,” he said. “Most three-piece patches are considered 1% outlaw clubs. We’re looked at differently because we wear three. Outlaw clubs notice that we wear that and there’s some friction, but because of that other people also notice and automatically assume we’re on the wrong side of this.”
Randy Strunk, one of the original members with Benda, said the club meets once a month and travels to sanctioned events throughout the year. But while riding in town, it’s important for people to know who they are and what they are about.
“We want this town to know that it’s our home,” Strunk said. “Speaking for myself, I want to feel this town knows that when they see us they know these guys are home.”
Benda said the club has met with Mayor Brad Randolph and most of the police officers in town so they are aware of the club’s activities and makeup.
“When we go by a cop I always wave, and usually they initiate the wave to me, and they know when we go by… they know a bunch of cops just drove by. I don’t know about everyone else, but that makes me feel good to know he knows we’re a bunch of cops.”
Strunk said the group raises money each year through poker runs and registered rides and they donate the money to area projects, typically focusing on public safety and the families of those serving in those capacities.
“One guy from work’s house burnt down and we raised $2,300 in less than a week,” Strunk said. ‘We’ve had events in the Quad Cities where we raised thousands of dollars in just a few days to help law enforcement. At national rallies out east, riders will pass hats for many different donations and the more than 300 Renegade Pigs at the rally will donate more than $6,000 in a weekend.”
Recently the group donated water to a Central Lee High School class that was building houses in Donnellson and gave a teacher a microphone ball to help students and teachers hear better in the classroom.
The seven current members each have different, and often inside and humorous stories, of how they prospected, the probationary period of membership, and why the group is so important to them.
Mike Fullenkamp, a firefighter with the Fort Madison Fire Department said the group and the riding is therapy for him.
Fullenkamp said Benda’s wife and his wife hung out together, which opened up a chance for him and Adam to start chatting about motorcycles. Fullenkamp said he had never owned or ridden a bike before. Then Benda started tagging him in all the Renegade Facebook posts and he started to get an appetite for a motorcycle.
“I told Adam I had seen one that I liked and one day he showed up at my house with a trailer and we went up to look at it. I fell in love with it and we loaded it up that day, drove it back and it was the best thing I ever did,” Fullenkamp said.
“I was in the military and I miss that brotherhood. We have it at the fire station, but not as much. I see the tight-knit group these guys have. You can’t explain it, you go on these rides and you have the wind in your face. It’s therapy and when you do it with guys like this it’s a brotherhood, it’s a group, it’s love…it’s family. This was kind of one of those things that’s changed my life.”
Strunk and Benda tried to get a club going after taking part in an event in Springfield honoring law enforcement officers who had died that year.
“I’m pretty out there and I say it like it is,” Strunk said. “They bagpiped and we looked at each other like two school girls and fell in love with it and realized this is where we need to be.”
They found a club in the Quad Cities, but wanted to form their own. Renegade Pigs national charter requires a minimum of five members in a club and the two couldn’t get three additional members who fit, so they joined the Quad Cities group and drove four hours each month to the meetings.
“Originally, we didn’t want to join Quad Cities, we wanted to have our own chapter. We met with them in 2014 and we had five guys we thought were good,” Benda said. “Three decided to step away and so we sat on it for a couple months and we said, ‘Screw this,’ we wanted to be a part of the chapter. So we contacted Quad Cities and asked if we could be a part of their chapter and they said yeah, but we’d have to drive there every month. Well (shoot), that’s was just another chance to ride.”
He said they got a lot of respect from other chapters because of their willingness to go four hours to be a part of a monthly meeting. Strunk and Benda both patched, which means they were accepted into the group after a prospecting, or a probationary, period. That lasts from six months to a year where both sides evaluate whether or not the relationship will work.
Andrew Cartwright and Mike Benda are also charter members of the Fort Madison club in 2016 with Adam and Strunk.
“I got in in 2017 when I patched in. Originally I didn’t have a bike, but I ended up getting a bike. I knew Benda and Strunk, but I didn’t know anybody else,” Cartwright said.
“They told me about the club and what is was about. I was all for it – giving back to people. That’s what I do whether it’s through coaching or my profession, this is our community and that’s what I’m about. Our motto is family first, work second, and club third. But these guys are a spin-off of my family.”
Justin Smith said he was looking for something that had the same values he had. After talking with Adam, he was encouraged to check out a club meeting.
“I drove up to the meeting and it was cold and somebody looked out and said, ‘Wholly crap somebody rode a Honda up here?!'”, he said to laughs from the group.
“I ended up having dinner with them and met everyone and I eventually ended up training my Honda in for what I call a Dirty Sally, and my Dirty Sally is a Harley Davidson Ultra Classic.” he said to more laughs.
Club members can only be considered for membership if they ride a Harley Davidson, a Victory, or Indian American made motorcycles.
Smith came in with Tim Mason and the two prospected together and became friends.
Tim Mason, who is former military, but is the only club member who is not in public safety, is a civilian by profession.
Mike Benda is the patriarch of sorts of the group. Adam, who is his son, says Mike is the voice of reason among guys who don’t always talk with reason.
“I’m gonna be 66 next month hand I intend to keep riding and stay with the club until I get too old to ride. Then maybe I’ll find a trike with a reverse.”
Strunk said the group is as big as it needs to be, but the right people are the right people. He said the patches hold that value and carry meaning for each member.
“What this means to us, all these guys wearing these cuts, we don’t need anybody. We don’t actively go out and look for nobody. People come to us and we turn a lot of people way because you have to be like-minded to who we are,” Strunk said. “We push you to check your personality and we expect you to take it and then some. It’s 100% to vote you in, and 70% to vote you out.”
He said his life in corrections is exhausting because officers are trained to read people at all times.
“It’s exhausting, man. Everywhere we go we read people. It’s our instinct and our training but that’s what’s sucked about my career in corrections. It’s exhausting,” he said. “But in this group, I don’t have read anyone. I know who they are. Even if we’re at an event somewhere in other parts of the country. I can just relax.”
Benda agreed saying he, too, sits with his back against the wall when he’s out, but when he’s with the Renegade Pigs parties he can relax.
“Everybody’s got me there, I go out for dinner now and I sit with my back to the wall and read people. Here, I just don’t have to worry about it. It’s a comfort level no one else has in this profession, because everywhere you go into you’re constantly aware of what’s going on around you. But with the club, I don’t have to worry about that.”
Strunk said each member’s loyalty to each other goes even beyond what most people think they have with family.
“People think they have that. Everyone thinks they got someone to come help move a fridge because it blew up or whatever and they put out a request for help, and maybe a dad or brother shows up,” he said. “But we put out a text and they all come. This is why we don’t just take anyone. We’re brothers.”