A lifelong Hamlet resident is the grand marshal for this year’s Yellowstone Trail Festival Parade. Jim Cooley is known as the Hamlet Inventor. He’s been tinkering since his teenage years, when he worked at Jones’ Repair Shop. Cooley did body work, mechanical repairs, painting and whatever else needed done on a vehicle. He also got hands-on lessons about gyrocopter manufacturing from Merle Jones.
That expertise, along with on-the-job training in the Army, at Bob Good’s Shell Station on Old 30 and at Koontz in Plymouth and their Gravel Yard in Argos, helped Cooley hone his skills. He retired 15 years ago and opened Cooley’s Custom Creations, where he specializes in making all types of bicycles and tricycles.
Cooley also helped Jim Kersting of restore vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles for his World of Motorcycles Museum south of North Judson. Kersting also gave John F. Kennedy, Jr. Cooley’s name to help put a Harley motor on an Ultra Light plane. “If anyone could build it Jim Cooley would be your man” was the referral that Jim Kersting gave for this project.”
Cooley has also volunteered countless hours at the Hamlet Town Park since retiring to improve the equipment offerings for all ages. He built and donated the two big skateboard ramps.
Cooley’s creations have never missed a parade in Hamlet. He started at age 14 riding a bicycle built for two with Betty Jones during the Hamlet Centennial Celebration. Cooley’s bikes travel with an entourage of youth, and his granddaughter Riley is often seen with him on his blue tricycle.
Cooley also organizes the annual bicycle races in Hamlet as part of the Yellowstone Trail Festival. This year’s event takes place Aug. 20 and 21 at the fairgrounds. The festival celebrates the nation’s first transcontinental automobile highway. It ran from Washington through Massachusetts and passed through Starke and Marshall Counties.