Never a dull moment for this firefighter

DOWNEY - In one of those defining moments that shape the course of one's life, Don Lamkin, the youngest of seven children and 9 at the time, saw the 1971 motorcycle documentary, "On Any Sunday," with his dad. It was filmed by filmmaker Bruce Brown, and featured the likes of motorcycle racing legends Malcolm Smith, Dave Roper and world champions Wayne Ramie and Kevin Schwantz.Ramie is a Downey native, and Roper is the only American to win the Tourist Trophy in 1984; contested annually in the Isle of Man. The documentary also had a segment on Steve McQueen. Lamkin was absolutely hooked! At first, he was just a spectator at racing events. A year later, he got his first motorcycle. It was a 1973 Honda XR-75. It sits today in his house on Pellet Street, which he bought as a bungalow and continues to remodel, adding a room here and a room there - its design a creation of his mind. Viewed from the street, it's looking more and more like a mansion. He chuckles at the memory of when - this was a period in between elementary and junior high - a cop would chase him as he satisfied his need for speed on Downey's railroad tracks and on the riverbeds. He and sometimes a buddy were too fast for the police, he says: they knew escape routes the cops couldn't negotiate. They never got caught. "We had a lot of fun!" Lamkin says. "I just got home from Daytona Beach where I finished the Thruxton Cup national series for the 2011 season," he said. "The season begins in March and ends in October. Before this, I raced in Birmingham, Alabama. I finished the season, my third, with the fifth overall ranking in the nation." The motorcycle racing circuit to which Lamkin belongs involves travel around the country, and it has taken him to such places as Georgia, Michigan, Utah and Willow Springs, to name a few. "I've traveled around the world, too," he said. "I've raced with the best." His work schedule, plus vacation time, allows these action-filled activities. He travels in his van with his two border collies, Dixie and Venice. "Everybody in the circuit knows the dogs," he says. "I've just spent 17 days living in that van." Last year, he made the front cover of the January 2010 issue of the racing magazine, "Vintage Views." He is photographed aboard his 400-lb. Triumph Thruxton 900 in full throttle mode down the Daytona Motor Speedway. Barrel-chested and all of 175-180 pounds packed into his lean 5'9" frame, the summer circuit motorcycle racer moves like a cat in his house, alive to the moment. He picks up his narrative: "I was already 40 when I got interested in ice hockey. A friend of mine invited me to play a little roller hockey. Before this, I'd never even touched a pair of ice skates. Within a few months, I was playing in the Leaf League circuit based in Anaheim. We'd play occasionally at Staples, at the Honda Center, places like that. In the seven years I've been involved, we won two championships while playing for the L.A. Enforcers, which was sponsored by the L.A. County Sheriff's Office. Currently I'm in my third year with the L.A. County Flames. Our sponsor this time is the L.A. County Fire Department." "So in the summer I've got motorcycle racing, and in the winter I play ice hockey, both bruising sports. At times there's a bit of an overlap." Living alone, Lamkin has meanwhile cultivated a garden at the back of his 13,000-sq. ft. property, which he bought in 1994. In addition to tending his 20-odd fruit trees (orange trees, macadamia nut tree, tangerines, persimmon, etc.), he raises vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, etc.). He also maintains a 33-acre working cattle ranch in Venice, Utah, which is a two-hour drive south of Salt Lake City. He says, "I have 20 head of Angus Saler cattle and they feed on grass. A river runs through the ranch. I get organic beef from the operation, which a neighbor runs for me. The cattle we sell at auction. I go to the place twice a year. I race motorcycles there, too. I love the place. Utah is a beautiful place. I love Utah." "I've been a rodeo rider, as well," he adds. In the meantime, Lamkin has dabbled in painting. He's thrilled that at the recent Taste of Downey festival, some prints of one of his paintings actually sold. "I've never taken an art course in my life. I've also done metal sculpture." Another of his deeply evolving interests is music. He knows bands and people in the music industry. His house, he says, has more than once hosted serious music sessions far into the night. "I have a huge passion for music," he says. "Myself, I like to play drums." Incredibly, these are really just adjuncts to his regular professional role as a firefighter, more precisely as a fire engineer since 1989, with the Santa Fe Springs fire department. He has served, all told, for 28 years. He says his fire engine duties take him and crew on daily trips to Downey "to help." He says, on average, a fire department such as Santa Fe Springs' handles medical calls about 80 percent of the time, and just around 10 percent responding to actual fire situations, and 5 percent 'other'. He has taken fire science and general education classes since high school graduation, at Rio Hondo College, at East L.A. College, off and on, and one year of general education studies at Dixie, Utah. He was born in Lynwood in 1962, but he says, "I've lived in Downey practically all my life. I grew up on 3rd Street and Old River School Road." He is of Irish-English ancestry. His five sisters are all residents of California. His brother, the oldest and a former firefighter, has passed away. His dad, he says, was the executive director of the YMCA in South Gate, then served as South Gate Chamber of Commerce manager, followed by a stint in some managerial capacity with the Downey Chamber of Commerce. "He was owner and operator of the Downey Beauty & Barber Supply store on Firestone Boulevard and Downey Avenue," he said. His mom was the actress and musician Dorothy Lamkin, a contemporary of John Hume, etc. Knowing all the above, his active involvement with the Downey Arts Coalition begins to make sense. Indeed, he says the very idea of the coalition, now headed by Andrew Wahlquist, originated with him. Lamkin professes his unconditional love of, and passion for the future of, Downey. He says: "I wanted people to get involved, especially in its arts and cultural life. I envision a Downey enlivened by the presence and works of as many fine artists as possible." "This is my city and my community," he went on. "It goes without saying that we'll need a lot of support from the City Council. I feel that art and culture in the city will help us reach a level that'll put us head and shoulders above the surrounding areas. These are what will make our children want to stay in the community, and not want to move away, when they reach 18. To achieve this, we need to provide them programs that they can get involved in. We have our own symphony orchestra, civic theatre, and now a Downey Arts Coalition, as well as a Downey Art Vibe. We need not only to maintain these [wellsprings of culture], but to build on them." He adds: "I love Downey. I have tremendous passion for this city. I think we have a fantastic situation here-a lot of homegrown talent. We got to take advantage of that." The fourth show of 'Art on the Vine' at Mari's Wine Bar on Firestone Boulevard is on Nov. 12. This is preceded by Downey Art Vibe's two art shows at the Downey Theatre: the first, on Nov. 5, is in conjunction with the America concert, the second, on Nov. 10, is its art gallery presentation, "Suburban Renaissance", both under Valentin Flores' leadership. "I'm involved with both shows," Lamkin says. "Everyone in the Downey community should come out and show their support. A show of support will help our city immensely. There's lots of other things we can do with what we've already got--more venue development, for example." There's one cool Downey dude for you.

********** Published: November 03, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 29