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After burning to ground, iconic Sturgis bar open in new spot

STURGIS, S.D.--After narrowly escaping the fire that burned down the famed Sturgis Rally Full Throttle Saloon nearly a year ago, employee Lynn Day said there was nothing left to do that night but sit and watch it burn.

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The Full Throttle Saloon, a hub of activity during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the subject of a reality TV series, burned to the ground early Sept. 8, 2015 in Sturgis, S.D. Photo courtesy Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department

STURGIS, S.D.-After narrowly escaping the fire that burned down the famed Sturgis Rally Full Throttle Saloon nearly a year ago, employee Lynn Day said there was nothing left to do that night but sit and watch it burn.

"It was horrible," said Day, who lived there about four months each year and was the only person in the facility when the building caught fire Sept. 8. "We watched it burn all night long."

But at the new 550-acre site where construction workers, welders, artists, volunteers, friends and employees have worked a dizzying number of hours in an effort to open in time for this year's rally, Day said the 2016 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will unveil a new and better Full Throttle.

"From the ashes, we will rise," he said.

The annual Sturgis rally, which draws thousands of bikers and visitors to the Black Hills officially kicks off Saturday.

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Just five days before Friday's first scheduled concert at the new Full Throttle, campers arrived, parking among the dust, hammering, and frenzied pace of crews under a strict deadline set by owner Michael Ballard. The new location is on South Dakota Highway 79, home of the former Broken Spoke.

Six miles away on South Dakota Highway 34, visitors stopped to visit the site of the former Full Throttle, where employees set up a bar, small stage and a T-shirt shop, keeping it open this year as a gathering place for those who want to reminisce.

But the charred trees and ground, burnt vehicles and open, empty lot is a hard thing to see, said Michael Garner, national sales representative for Full Throttle S'loonshine & Jesse James Bourbon.

"It was a hard pill to swallow," he said. "When I pulled up, I couldn't help but tear up. I wouldn't even walk the grounds at first."

The rebuild wasn't always a sure thing. Ballard lost much more than a building, Garner said. Years of investment and hundreds of classic, antique pieces of memorabilia also were lost that night.

"He had been collecting since he was 17," he said. "He'll never be able to replace all the memorabilia, but you can't change his heart. I see a new life in Michael."

The community rallied behind Ballard, his wife Angie and business partner and Jackyl lead singer Jesse James Dupree, urging them to rebuild. The business is featured on the TruTV television series Full Throttle Saloon, where Ballard is known as a frank businessman with signature dreadlocks down his back.

"Everybody got behind him and supported him and we realized, we can't go out like that," he said. "Michael's not a quitter."

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But not everyone is onboard with the new location. Pam Woerth, who lives in Iowa and comes to the rally every year to work, said she has talked to several people who are upset that Ballard didn't rebuild in the same location.

"It's a landmark for Sturgis," she said. "I'm upset he didn't rebuild there and a lot of vendors are upset. We all have our own names and people get into a habit and look for the same thing every year. Now it's even further out."

But Garner said there was a very good reason for the move.

"It was landlocked; there was no room to grow," he said.

The former saloon was located on 38 acres, the new location is on 50, with another 500 acres for camping.

Dupree said the new location will house three times as many vendors, the state's largest stage, and an Olympic-size pool. The former Broken Spoke Saloon building was gutted and divided into a buffet and convenience store.

Inside the new saloon recently, Armando Coelho of Extreme Metal Fabricators in Florida, wiped sweat from his forehead and slipped on a welding mask.

"What this man's done in three months, most people couldn't do in three years," he said.

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The saloon will be floor-to-ceiling Americana history, Coelho said, a nod to Ballard's love of history. The bars are one-of-a-kind and made by welding hundreds of sockets, screws, and metal together.

"He's a historian," Coelho said. "He comes alive with this stuff. It's an homage to the American effort."

At the new location, Ballard was mum about the long-term future of the old site or why he chose a new location, but agreed to talk about the people who have supported him.

"We've got a huge fan base and a lot of loyal fans," he said. "It's uplifting."

The rebuild has hit a few snags, including a delay at the start of the week in checking in campers after some electrical power issues needed to be addressed.

Dupree said he understands the people who yearn for the original Full Throttle.

"It's sentimental to us too and it hurts," he said. "But you can look at it as the glass is half full or half empty. We created a moment in time over there and we're going to create another moment in time here, but bigger, badder, better."

Coelho said the first Full Throttle was just a prelude.

"Thirty acres is like Pamela Anderson working at McDonald's," he said. "Imagine what Ballard will do with this. We're going to own this rally."

Sturgis Rally Highlights

Visit sturgismotoryclerally.com for a complete listing of events

Aug. 8

City of Riders Mayor's Ride - 9 a.m.

Foghat - Full Throttle Saloon - 7 p.m.

Lynrd Skynrd - Buffalo Chip - 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 9

Biker Belles Ride - 8: 30 a.m.

Randy McAllister - Rally Point 4 p.m.

Ted Nugent - Full Throttle - 7 p.m.

Cheap Trick - Buffalo Chip - 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 10

Jackpine Gypsies Verta-X Hillclimb - Jackpine Gypsies Club Grounds - 7 p.m.

Judd Hoos - Loud American Roadhouse - 8: 30 p.m.

Five Finger Death Punch - Buffalo Chip - 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 11

Ridin' the Rez Poker Run - Journey Museum - 9 a.m.

Stolen Rhodes - Buffalo Chip - 7 p.m.

Jackyl Night - Full Throttle - 7 p.m.

Miranda Lambert - Buffalo Chip - 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 12

Whiskeymouth - Ironhorse Saloon - 1 p.m.

Buckcherry - Buffalo Chip - 10:30 p.m.

32 Below - Loud American Roadhouse - 11 p.m.

Aug. 13

Burnouts in the Sky - Buffalo Chip - 6 p.m.

Zackk Wylde Book of Shadows II - Full Throttle - 7 p.m.

"Weird Al" Yancovic - Buffalo Chip - 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 14

Captain Jack's Burnout Bridge Party - Buffalo Chip - 1:45 p.m.

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
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