A lifelong resident of Madison, Doug Moe has
written a daily column about the city for The Capital Times
since 1997. Prior to that, he was editor of Madison Magazine.
His books include "The World of Mike Royko," which was a
Chicago Tribune Choice Selection of the Year, and "Uncommon
Sense: The Life of Marshall Erdman," written with Alice
D'Alessio. His new book, "Lords of the Ring: The Triumph and
Tragedy of College Boxing's Greatest Team," a history of the
storied varsity program at the University of Wisconsin,
published in 2004.
ONE of Jeff Barrette's close friends died
and was cremated several years ago, the man's sister approached
Barrette and asked for advice on what to do with the cremated ashes.
Barrette, 49, who works as a mechanic for the city of Madison,
recalls that they looked at traditional urns and were not
"You wouldn't put me in them," he said.
Barrette thought about it and realized that his late buddy's true
passion in life had been motorcycles. Barrette is a biker, too. He
began thinking about how his friend might really appreciate riding
into eternity on a Harley.
Rejecting a gas tank as too clumsy and smelly, Barrette decided
that a good urn could be made out of a motorcycle's engine
He got hold of a Harley engine cylinder and took it out to his
friend Rich Saric, who builds miniature locomotive
trains for Little America near Marshall. Saric made a very nice urn
and when he was done he turned to Barrette and said, "We could
probably sell these."
After adding a third partner, Little America proprietor
Darrell Klompmaker, they did just that, forming a
company called Riders Last Rest.
Their Web site, www.riderslastrest.com, asks the question: "Do
you have a loved one who has gone on to the great open road?" The
site then recommends "a final resting container that is truly a
tribute to the motorcycle lifestyle."
With cremation becoming ever more popular, many people are faced
with the decision of what to do with the ashes of the departed.
Barrette just returned from a National Funeral Directors Association
convention at McCormick Place in Chicago, and said there are an
amazing number of "theme" urns and caskets on the market.
A recent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal quoted South
Carolina sociology Professor George Dickinson: "I
think methods that a few decades ago were thought very bizarre are
now very appealing to people."
Barrette concurs: "We hear people say they don't want their
The Courier-Journal said other options include "blasting cremated
remains into space, putting them into paintings, lockets and bird
baths," and even "turning the deceased into manmade diamonds and
The article said that an Atlanta company, Eternal Reefs, mixes
the cremated ashes with environmentally safe concrete to make reef
balls which are dropped into the ocean.
Since the company's founding in 1998, the paper noted, "almost
300 people have become reefs."
It is best when people think ahead. I've always admired the
writer Dorothy Parker, who requested that her ashes
be kept on the bar of the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan along with a
small sign saying "Pardon my dust."
The problem comes when the deceased has left no instructions
about what to do with the ashes.
This was the case with my parents, who died within months of each
other about five years ago. Unlike Barrette and his inspired engine
cylinder invention, I have pretty much avoided thinking about it,
and as a consequence my parents are sitting side by side in boxes on
a high shelf, near some VHS tapes of Frank Sinatra
concerts, in the closet of my downstairs office. At least
they were Sinatra fans.
Many people choose to have their ashes scattered. I recall that
at the 1994 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, a UW band member granted a
Badger fan's last request by sprinkling the dead man's ashes on the
But scattering ashes isn't completely foolproof. I came across a
San Francisco Chronicle story about a pilot who took a funeral party
up in his small plane: "After a tearful ceremony, relatives of the
cremated man attempted to hurl their loved one's remains out of an
airplane over the Pacific Ocean, but the ashes blew back inside."
The pilot said later: "We had to vacuum grandpa out of the
Barrette said his Riders Last Rest company is now about three
years old. He showed me one of the engine cylinder urns. They are
beautiful and substantial, weighing 25 pounds. Asked how much they
cost, he said, "They're not cheap." More details are available on
the Web site.
They don't have a lot of money for advertising, Barrette said,
but word of the engine urns is getting out. The National Funeral
Museum in Houston, Texas, recently requested one, which Barrette
I asked Barrette, who is big, burly, wears a bandana and really
looks like a motorcycle guy, what he envisions for himself when he
finally goes to that "big open road" in the sky. He grinned: "I hope
they crank up the rock music and have a party. Don't mourn. It has
been a great ride."
So will his ashes go into a Riders Last Rest urn?
"Me, personally?" Barrette, who is from Mineral Point, thought
for a moment. He said he'd like a biker to carry his ashes in one of
the engine cylinder urns, find a back highway in that beautiful part
of the state, and let the bike rip.
"Then take off the lid and let me go!"
Heard something Moe should know? Call 252-6446, write PO Box
8060, Madison, WI 53708, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published: 9:59 AM 10/17/05
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