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By Brendan Higgins, contributing writer
If you grew up in Rhode Island, you know the family name Quattrocchi. Perhaps you had a concrete patio, driveway or pool apron design courtesy of Quatro Concrete over the past 20 years. You may have experienced a magical transformation in your home or business with Suzy Q’s Painting. If you live in Scituate/Cranston District 41, you know Robert J. Quattrocchi (Bobby to his friends) as your long-time state representative. One thing is undeniable. Everyone immediately associates the name Quattrocchi with Harley Davidson Motorcycles.
The story begins on January 8th, 1913, with the birth of Alli Quattrocchi. He was the first-generation motorcycle rider in the family. He had no way of knowing it at the time, but his family members would be riding Harleys for the next 100 years and beyond. Alli was an original member of the Rhode Island Ramblers motorcycle club. Back then a motorcycle club was not what they are today. They were actual riding clubs. At times, men wore a suit and tie while riding. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle around town, but his true passion was competitive motorcycle racing. He was a pioneer in the sport.
When Alli was 21 years old, he welcomed one of his 6 children, Robert (Bob), to the family on October 29th, 1934. It wouldn’t be long before Bob became the 2nd generation biker in the family. Alli worked in the piledriver’s union, operating a heavy-duty machine used to drive piles into the earth as part of deep foundations for massive structures like piers, bridges and buildings. His true passion, however, was motorcycle racing. During the mid-1930s, young Alli was already competing at the highest-level motorcycle racing had to offer. Thousands upon thousands of spectators would gather to witness these exciting races. The riders were fearless. They traveled at speeds in excess of 100 mph. They risked their lives every time they entered a race. The field of competitors that started the races would dwindle down to only a handful who would actually cross the finish line. Men lost their lives trying to win these dangerous events.
Quattrocchi would travel up and down the east coast and as far west as Pennsylvania making his mark as a respected racer. Then, World War II broke out, and during those years the races were halted. After the war Quattrocchi resumed his passion on 2 wheels. On June 22nd, 1947, Alli Quattrocchi entered the 100-mile National Championship Road Race held in Laconia, New Hampshire. The race itself could be described as the Super Bowl of motorcycle races. It was the most prestigious event of its time, and it still is today. Back then the course was dirt and asphalt and held in Belknap County. Today the course is all paved and is held in the town of Loudoun. Alli was one of 40 racers that day. He was one of 11 riders on Harley Davidsons. Right from the starting flag it was apparent this would be a race among races, hard fought and grueling as they come, with only 14 entrants finishing the race. The heavy favorite to win was Buck Brigance of Charlotte, North Carolina. Buck was winning many of the biggest races around the country and had no reason to think this day would be any different. Unfortunately for Brigance, a different story was about to unfold. Buck did lead for a large portion of the race, but it was Alli Quattrocchi who made his move in the 85th lap, making his bid for fame and fortune. He left Brigance in the dust. Buck ended up finishing 5th, while Quattrocchi never relinquished his lead and surged across the finish line collecting a whopping $1000 cash prize. In addition, Alli was now known as the man who defeated the premier racer of the era.
Alli continued to compete on the racing circuit until his last race in 1952. He finished 3rd while holding the distinction of riding the last WR Harley to place in the top 3. This was a huge accomplishment, because that particular motorcycle would have been considered a dinosaur of a racing bike compared to the modernized English racing bikes on the scene that actually won the race that year. When Alli Quattrocchi retired from racing, he had unquestionably left his mark on the sport. He continued to ride motorcycles into the 1980s, until an accident sidelined him for good. He suffered multiple injuries including the loss of one of his eyes. After that, he added to his mystique and fearless reputation by wearing an eye patch.
After his historic victory in Laconia, Alli was already working as a mechanic at Arnold Harley Davidson located at 521 Broad Street in Providence. This Harley Davidson dealership was a well-established company. Alli always wanted to open a dealership of his own. After winning the race at Laconia, he used the prize money to do just that.
In 1948, Quatro Motorcycle Company ushered in a new era in the Ocean State. The new venture was located at 154 Smithfield Avenue in Pawtucket. Alli’s son, Bob, began working at Quatro when he was only 13 years old. The second-generation biker was now on board and about to become one of the most brilliant mechanics around. At a young age, Bob built a reputation as a walking encyclopedia of Harley Davidson. This resulted in requests from bikers to have Bob make modifications to countless motorcycles.
Bob enlisted in the Army right after graduating from Mount Pleasant high school during the Korean War era. When he arrived at Fort Bragg, it didn’t take long for the brass to discover they had a motorcycle surgeon on their hands. Bob was assigned to the Military Police Battalion. After that, Bob was put in charge of the fleet of WLA Army motorcycles on the base. They had approximately 50 bikes, all in various states of disrepair. Bob single handedly returned the motorcycle fleet to top running condition. This got the attention of one of Bob’s commanding officers who was a biker. The two became friends and Bob kept his CO’s bike in peak running condition. Needless to say, Bob Quattrocchi earned a desirable position at Fort Bragg.
After serving his country, Bob returned to Rhode Island. He wanted to get married and start a family. His grandmother told him if he wanted to meet a good woman, he needed to go to Italy to find her. In 1961 Bob and his grandfather went to the old country in search of his future bride. Word began to circulate around town that a young American man was in search of a wife. After that, Bob was introduced to young ladies in the area. During one of his visits to a local family home, Bob did notice a beautiful young woman, except it wasn’t the family’s daughter, it was the housekeeper who caught Bob’s eye. Her name was Susan. That was the last house Bob would visit. He began courting Susan. The story is right out of the Godfather, with the two walking together down the street with the entire family walking a few yards behind them. Bob and Susan were married, and they returned to Rhode Island. They moved to Scituate in 1967 and lived there for many years. They had 7 children together. Bobby, Alli, Susan, Carmella, Richard, Maria and the late Peter Quattrocchi who would all become 3rd generation bikers.
Quatro operated as a sub dealer for Arnold. What that meant was anytime they sold a part or a motorcycle, they had to pay a percentage of the sale to Arnold. In the 1970s, they grew tired of this. The decision was made for Bob to travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to visit the home office of Harley Davidson. Bob made the case for Quatro to stop being a sub dealer for Arnold and become a full-fledged dealership of their own. With a large customer base already in place, it was easy to sell the proposal to the home office and Quatro Harley Davidson’s request was granted.
In the 1980s Harley Davidson dealerships across the country were becoming more and more modernized. They began to have a boutique feel. Some added bars and restaurants. This did not appeal to old schoolers like Alli and his son, Bob. They resisted the change. In fact, they flat out refused to do it. As a result of this decision and other family dynamics, Quatro Motorcycle Company in Pawtucket closed its doors in 1991. The building along with the entire inventory remained untouched for several years.
I spoke with Bobby about his father, Bob, and his grandfather, Alli. He filled in the blanks on all the family history in this article. When I asked him of his first motorcycle memory in life he said, “When I was a kid, my father came home one day with a Harley Davidson minibike for me and my 6 brothers and sisters to share. That was where it all began for us. We would take turns riding it. As you could imagine, that did not always go well with so many kids wanting a turn. We had various minibikes we kicked around on over the years. I remember going to my grandfather’s shop and seeing posters of Evel Knievel on the wall. Evel was a big deal back then.” I asked Bobby when he got his first street bike. He said, “In 1982. I was a year out of high school. I wanted a bike but for some reason my father was against the idea. At this point, I had to use an underhanded tactic. I told him I knew a guy selling a Honda for 500 bucks. After my father heard that, he helped me find a bike. I had a 1977 Sportster within 2 weeks.” Shortly after that, Bobby began doing repairs on his bike. He didn’t have a garage at the time, so he worked at home in the yard doing various things to improve his Sportster. He started spending more time at Quatro in Pawtucket hanging out with his grandfather Alli. Bobby was curious about his grandfather’s racing career. Bobby would go to the shop on Sunday when Alli was there by himself. The two of them would go for rides together and stop for pizza. Bobby was learning more and more about motorcycle repairs but more importantly he was getting to know his legendary grandfather. Bobby revealed to me that his grandfather was not easy to get close to on a personal level. Bobby continued to spend time at the bike shop until it closed in 1991.
In 1994, Bobby became aware that the family-owned building on Smithfield Avenue where Quatro Motorcycle Company operated for decades was going to be rented. He felt the time was right to open a repair shop of his own. With his family’s blessing, he went to the Pawtucket location and transferred the entire contents of the building to what was about to become the new Quatro Motorcycle Company located at 1186 Main Street in Coventry. A family tradition may have laid dormant for a few years, but it was about to be brought back to life by Bob’s son and 3rd generation biker and mechanic Bobby. He explained “When I first opened my shop in Coventry, I was all full of piss and vinegar. I was so excited. The return of Quatro Motorcycle. I was so proud. I had a nice shop. I was proud of my shop. I didn’t have to start from scratch. I had everything I needed to open. It was definitely a good start.” For the next decade, Quatro Motorcycle Company in Coventry serviced motorcycles and built a few one-of-a-kind bikes. Bob explained, “When I opened my shop in 94, one of my first customers was Norman Marsocci. We became best friends over the years until the day he died. We always talked about doing this and that to bikes. So, when I opened my shop Norm came in with a 1991 Springer. We wanted to model it after a 1947 Knucklehead. So, we proceeded to rip it apart. We made it into what we wanted it to be.
I asked Bobby how many motorcycles he owned over the years. He said “Dozens of bikes man. I had 7 brand new ones. Never mind all the used ones over the years.” I asked Bobby what his favorite bike was. He said, “You know, I’m not sure if it’s about the favorite bike. I always think about my first bike which was a simple 77 Sportster. All the great times I had and the places I’ve seen. I don’t know if you can ever duplicate that first ride. That very first ride I had on that Sportster, I was totally by myself, I took off out of my yard, my dad wasn’t with me, nobody was with me, I just took off on the street. I remember I took off and I was yahooing out loud. You can never recapture that. As for my favorite bike, I like the one I have now. It’s a 2021 street glide.”
Bobby has traveled by motorcycle extensively over the course of his life. With the exception of Texas and a few surrounding deep south states, he has seen the entire country on 2 wheels. He also rode through parts of Canada. He said, “I rode from Rhode Island to Daytona Bike week 4 times. One year I left Rhode Island for Daytona during a snowstorm. I went down there 18 years in a row. I also rode out to Sturgis, and up to Laconia countless times.” It would be far easier to list where he hasn’t been on a bike, but he was quick to mention “I guess one more trip would take care of that.” His most memorable motorcycle adventure was to Alaska. This was a trip he and his best friend Norman Marsocci discussed many times. Unfortunately, Norm passed away before they could make this idea a reality. Bobby decided to make this journey as a tribute to, and in memory of, his close friend Norman. He embarked on this epic adventure with 3 other men included Bobby’s brother, Richard, his childhood friend, Dave Magnone, and another close friend, Roger Fish, from Newport, Tennessee. Dave was living in Utah at the time. Bobby and Richard left Rhode Island together and met up with Roger in Ohio. Then the three of them met up with Dave in Utah to embark on the ride of a lifetime. Bobby said, “The scenery was spectacular. I wouldn’t know how to describe it. It was like seeing the frontier for the first time. You can pick any one of those states out west like Idaho, Utah and Colorado, any of them and say the same thing. They are just spectacular. Then when we arrived in Seattle, we spend 4 or 5 days on a ferry to get to Canada. It takes that long to get there.” When all was said and done, they traveled over 10,000 miles. Bobby laughed and said, “I wore out a brand-new back tire on that trip.” I asked Bobby of all the places he has travelled on a motorcycle, what was his favorite destination. Without hesitation he replied, “Alaska. Hands down. Not to diminish any of the other beautiful places. As many times as I’ve been to New Hampshire, it’s still nice.”
Rhode Island is full of iconic locations including Twin Oaks, Rocky Point, The Ocean Mist and Wright’s Farm. Another favorite spot comparable to all the others and worthy of mention is Suzy Q’s Place. I asked Bobby to share his thoughts on this landmark. He said, “My father bought the property while I was still in high school in 1980. It sat vacant for a long time. At first, we sold Christmas trees and pumpkins seasonally. The idea of bike night was never really a plan, but once we decided to do it, we had a great turn out right off the bat. We had biker games like the slow crawl and other games. We had live music. It grew and grew. The parking lot would be full, plus the street. It wasn’t a drinking crowd. It was an ice cream shop. There was never any problems or trouble, but of course, it was immediately met with a negative reaction from the neighbors who tried to shut it down. People want to shut things down for all kinds of reasons.
My sister would remember better about it. You really should talk to my sister Susan.” After Bobby told me that, I called Susan and set up an interview.
I sat down with the Granddaughter of Alli Quattrocchi to get her perspective on The Quatro legacy. But first I wanted to hear her thoughts on her Grandfather. She said, “To me, my grandfather was charming. Very small build. He always smelled good. I remember him riding a brown AMF Sportster all the time. I don’t know, (laughing) he liked to pull my ear. He really wasn’t around a lot. I went to Bishop Keough and I was in the bike shop every single day of my life after school. Here I was, in my Catholic school uniform, and I would walk to the Harley shop walking by the bikers. My father would make me go up in the attic and do my homework and study. So, I didn’t see my grandfather a lot.”
I asked Susan to tell me about Suzy Q’s Place, which was located at the corner of Plainfield Pike and Route 116 in Scituate. Here is what she had to say. “The ice cream stand opened in 1988. My mother and father opened it together. That’s why its called Suzy’s, because my mothers name is also Susan. They sold ice cream, but they also sold Italian grinders, real Italian homemade meatballs, eggplant Parmesan, Saugy hotdogs and other good stuff.”
I asked her when bike night was born. She said, “Around 1990 it started. It was originally a Thursday night. It was great for a while, then people started to complain, and the town said, ‘no more motorcycles.’ they shut it down. After that nobody really wanted to do it anymore, so I took over the business in 1993. I decided to try and bring bike night back. That meant I had to fight the town and it worked. I felt it was discrimination. You can’t discriminate against what people are driving. Plus, to call in entertainment, there had to be a cover charge. I had free live music. The town gave in. So, ready or not, here comes bike night again. I changed the night to Tuesday, because I would have been competing with Sharon’s on Route 100 in Burrillville. They had a car show and a bike night in one. All the bikes went there on Thursday, including me. So, once I changed it to Tuesday it was like (snapping her fingers) instant. It was good for everyone because the same crowd could now go to both places. I kept the same menu and added live music. We had The Mary Day Band, The Rhode Island Rednecks and others.”
I asked Susan how early in the season she opened and had her first bike night. She laughed and said, “Bike night started before I opened for the season. They were waiting for me. Same thing at the end of the season. The location became a meeting place regardless of if we were open or not. We have been closed for several years and bikes still go there now.
I asked Susan to estimate how many bikes would show up on any given Tuesday night. She said, “I have a photo from one night with so many bikes it was hard to count. I realized this was becoming so massive I had someone get up on the roof and take a picture for me. Back then, there were no drones, so they took multiple pictures in all directions. They can be put together like a puzzle.”
With the ice cream stand closed for several years and the property being sold recently, I asked Susan if she has any desire to try and recreate Suzy Q’s Place. She said, “I don’t think so. It would be so different. My fathers not going to be there running my grill with me. The time is not right.”
The Quattrocchi family will always be associated with Harley Davidson. The entire family and extended family have all owned a bike at one time. Bobby lives in Scituate, with his wife Edwina. He has 2 daughters, Brianna 28, and Sofia 18.
I asked Bobby if he ever owned any other type of motorcycle other that a Harley. He replied, “No.” Then I asked what Harley Davidson meant to him. He let out a long exhale and said, “It means a lot of great times. Great people. Lifelong friends. In my life, Harley Davidson has been an absolute blast. To have camaraderie with my friends, and of course to travel. My family. When my daughter Sofia was 3 years old, I took her in a sidecar from Rhode Island to Tennessee. She absolutely loved it. It was like her playground. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Sofia Quattrocchi has become the 4th generation biker in the family. She recently got a Sportster that fits her perfectly. After all, it runs in the family.
All photos courtesy of Quattrocchi family except when noted.
Brendan Higgins, writer and author, RIPTA bus driver, former professional wrestler (Knuckles Nelson), and North Kingstown resident.
We welcome Brendan as a contributing writer to RINewsToday.
To read a story about Brendan, from our sports department, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/knuckles-nelson-waking-up-from-the-wrestling-ring-to-the-yoga-mat-john-cardullo/
Higgins is the author of “Waking Up: From the Wrestling Ring to the Yoga Mat”