Friday, October 15, 2010

Wheels Through Time

You remember that I went to the Deeley Motorcycle Exhibition up in Vancouver British Columbia a few weeks ago.  They show parts of their extensive collection of motorcycles in an extension of their Harley dealership.

Well, I ventured out to a closer-by motorcycle exhibit a couple of weeks ago, up in Maggie Valley North Carolina, called Wheels Through Time.  I figured I had better go now before the mountain roads get crowded with fall foliage gawkers and the road surfaces become covered with leaves.

I mapped out a route that would take me up some twisty roads and past some pretty scenery.  We are blessed with some very nice motorcycle roads not far from my house.  There is US-178, NC-215, and a great section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that is north of home by about 51 miles.

This is not the first time I have visited the museum.  The last time was with a couple of guys who are much faster riders than I am, and I couldn't keep up. They were very understanding, and never said a word about it, but my riding confidence evaporated and I didn't have a good day of it.  I'll try to do better today.  

I go out about 7:00 AM because I want to spend some time looking around the museum and I don't want to get home too late.  My ride starts out a little iffy as far as the weather is concerned, though.  It is foggy and damp.  I head up US-178 to the Holly Springs Country Store where a lot of bikers meet up.  It is apparently too early today to see other riders there, so I pass right by and begin the more twisty section of the road.  It is called the Moorefield Memorial Highway after the road engineer who designed it.  The fast riders go at warp speed on this road, and the residents don't like it much.  Law enforcement officers on bikes and in cars frequent this stretch, too.

I take my time and ride as fast as I feel comfortable with, well below warp, but above the advisory speeds. It gets very foggy near Rosman North Carolina, and I consider turning back.  After a short stop, I decide to press onward.  That turns out to be a good decision, as the fog dissipates nicely in a few miles. The temperature is a cool 65 degrees here at this higher elevation. 

NC-215 is a continuation of US-178, after a slight jog above Rosman.  This road has recently been paved, and there is gravel on many of the turns.  I keep the speed down here too, for fear of a slip on the stones.  At least the road surface is much better than it was the last time I came up here.  There were many potential edge traps and gravel then too.

I stop at a pulloff just south of the Parkway to take in the view.  I note that the gravel pulloff has not been graded up to the level of the new road surface as yet, so the dropoff is five inches or more.  It is a little unnerving to plunge off the edge onto the gravel, but I slow down and take it at as near a right angle as possible and it goes well.

See that black line just beyond the bike?  That is the step I have just come down. 
Hmmmm.  That step should be an interesting hurdle when I leave.  I put it out of my mind while I look over the scenery and rest for a few minutes. 

The road ahead beckons in this picture.  The Blue Ridge Parkway entrance is just a fraction of a mile further on.  I get ready to move on. 

As I survey the pavement edge situation, I manage to find a place where the bump up to the pavement is not as great, and take it at a near right angle, and, again I make it OK.  That was easier than I thought, though there is some risk here because the road curves and the entry point is blind, which is especially bad if a vehicle is traveling above the speed limit.

I reach the Parkway, and head south.  I have not ridden very far in this direction before, so I want to look at the scenery -- and that requires stopping frequently at overlooks. 

Here is one scene this morning.
It almost looks like a painting -- a bit otherworldly, in fact.

Not far along, I stop at the highest point on the Parkway, at 6053 feet above sea level.   

For comparison, Rosman is at 2200 feet, and Easley at home is at 1091, so I have climbed nearly a mile, not counting the downhill sections that have been regained. 

There is a visitor center at Waterrock Knob, near the place where I will be getting off the Parkway.  Here is a shot taken from part way up the knob. 

It is located at milepost 451.2, just 18 miles from the south end of the Parkway.  Note how the road curves around beyond the parking lot, so you can see it on both sides.  The hike up to this vantage point is steep and I have to stop a few times to catch my breath.  The top of the knob is a little more than a half mile walk.  The summit has an elevation of 6,292 feet, but I stop before that -- just a quarter mile along -- to take the picture.

By now, the temperature has climbed and the sun is bright.  A little sweat has netted me a wonderful view of the surrounding creation.

Some other views from here. 

The road I came in on. 

I like the views from here, but I am hot, and it will be good to get moving again. 

I ride on a few miles and exit the Parkway onto Soco Road, which leads to the museum.  As I near it, the roads are laden, mostly with Harley riders.  Although I didn't know it, this weekend is the Thunder in the Smokies Fall Motorcycle Rally.  I marvel at how few of the Harley guys and gals are wearing protective gear.  Helmets, yes -- but maybe because they are required in North Carolina.  Oh, and some of the bikes have loud exhausts.  What a surprise! 

Here is a picture of the front of the Wheels Through Time museum building.

There are many other bikes in the parking lot when I arrive.  I maneuver mine to a place under a tree and dismount.  I walk up to the entrance, and this old veteran greets me there. 
...and so does this one. 
Yes, there are both restored and unrestored bikes on display.

I go in, and walk to the desk.  The ladies there greet me warmly, with genuine friendship in their voices and on their countenances.   I pay the fare, and they point out the way to the displays and restrooms, and tell me that I am free to come and go all day if I want.

On my way in, I note that there are several of these around, also freely coming and going.  Friendly, and trusting, all. This one was sprawled out in the lobby area, and all of the visitors gently stepped around her. 

The museum is owned by Dale Walksler.  His son Matt is active here as well.  Established in 1993, it was closed for a while, but is now open again. It contains mostly American motorcycles. 
One interesting aspect of this museum is that it is not entirely hands-off.  In fact, there is little that keeps a visitor from touching many of the display items except good behavior, from bikes on down to literature relating to motorcycles.  Read this account from the Dixie Biker website.

Many of the bikes are in operating condition, and the staff sometimes starts up various of them so visitors can hear and occasionally ride them. There are considerable areas of the concrete floor where rubber has been laid down from quick starts and stops of the vintage iron. 

The last time I visited, Dale Walksler himself, with a sidecar rig, gave rides to the kids who were visiting.  Here he is taking Tater dog and a friend for a ride that day. 
[photo by Ryan]

This time, Mr. Walksler is away, on the Cannonball RunThis is a two week, coast-to-coast endurance run for motorcycles made before 1916.  Over 45 riders are competing in the run and thousands of fans and spectators gather to cheer them on every step of the way.  They passed through the Wheels Through Time museum just a week ago.  They started at Kitty Hawk, NC and will run to Santa Monica, CA.  Mr. Walksler, is one of the 45 riders on the run, competing aboard a specially-prepared 1915 Harley-Davidson. 

On to the displays.  

This bike has an acetylene headlamp and handlebar muffs to keep the rider's hands warm in cold weather.  Kind of like the Hippo Hands I have for winter. 
Here is an in-town delivery truck/trike.  These must have been practical, but also provide eye-catching advertising space for a business, similar to the little Japanese truck I saw in Vancouver. 

Here is a police trike, probably from the 1950s.  It is nicely restored.  I remember these from the big city during my youth up north, except they were white and black instead of blue.  Note the brass pump-type fire extinguisher to the left of the rear wheel.  It was sold by the Pyrene Manufacturing Company, and filled with carbon tetrachloride. 

This is the Fred Ham special.  This 1937 Harley-Davidson 61 cubic-inch EL Knucklehead is an exact recreation of the motorcycle Fred "Ironman" Ham rode to a new 24 hour endurance record of 1825 miles at Muroc Dry Lake on April 8, 1937.  Seventy years later, this machine would make a run at history at Talladega Superspeedway traveling nearly 1400 miles in 24 hours. 

This is very unusual. 

At first, it appears to be a sidecar rig, but look more closely.  See where the handlebars are?  And look inside the car. 

The handlebars extend to the person seated there, and there are controls on the floor.  Do you suppose it was meant for an adventuresome lady who preferred not to straddle a motorcycle? 

Mr. Walksler's father Bernie walks up about the time I am looking at this rig.  He begins to explain what I am looking at, and he shows me a few of the other displays nearby.  Later, I see him helping museum visitors to mount one of the old bikes on display so their families could take pictures.  This is really NOT a hands-off place!  

How about single-speed belt drive?

An old Indian. 

Silver and blue. 

This is part of a vintage hill climbing bike display. 

Over in this corner is a mockup of a motorcycle service shop. 
With real oil stains on the wooden floor. 

Not all of the displays are labeled, so I can't identify all of these relics.  The staff would help, I am sure, but they are busy with others so I don't bother them.  

This is a 1924 Harley-Davidson FHAC.  This specimen is particularly rare, containing a 61 cubic inch, indirect-action, two cam engine.  The drive also includes a unique slipper sprocket.  The "FH" was a truly dominant machine used for racing on wooden, steeply-banked boardtrack ovals.  This bike has mostly original paint. 

In 1924 Harley Twin Cam board track racers were capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph. note the photo of racers on such a track in the background.
[photo from Charlotte Observer]

1909 Reading Standard Board Track Racer.  Reading Standard entered the racing game in 1907.  It developed a series of successful racing engines and sponsored a field of professional riders including Ray Seymour and Frank Hart.  In July 1909, Seymour set a new one mile record in the Los Angeles Coliseum Motordome, lowering the record to 47 seconds at 76.6 MPH.  This bike remained undiscovered at Ford's Greenfield Village, sitting in the basement of the Orville and Wilbur Wright house there.  It was sold to Wheels Through Time in 1990 and restored in 1992 and 1993.  This 1909 Reading is probably the most elegant early board racer in existence. 

1929 Harley-Davidson DAR Board Track Racer.   It was built to compete as a Class A 45 cubic inch racer.  This creation of this class was influenced by the Excelsior Company's year earlier 45 cubic inch motorcycle, the Super X.  Soon after the development of the new class, Indian followed suit, building a factory-built special called the Altoona.  Harley sensed the need to develop a good 45 cubic inch machine, to compete with these others.  The first factory-built OHV 45 cubic inch Harley debuted at a hill climb in August 1929.  As hill climbing became the big American motorcycle sport, the DAH became a force to be reckoned with over several seasons, culminating with a National Championship in 1932.  Approximately ten OHV 45s are known to exist, and this is the only original DAR Board Track Racer. 

Some more racers.  

1924 Harley Davidson JDCA. 

A 1915 Dayton hack.  

Look where the engine is on this Dayton Motorwheel.  

A 1917(?) Traub.  Said to be the only one ever found. 

You can easily touch this exceedingly rare piece.  Here is a picture of it outdoors.  

An engine closeup.  

The story, from the Wheels Through Time website is as follows:  

"Wheels Through Time is home to what many consider to be the premier collection of Vintage American motorcycles on the planet, containing over 300 of the rarest and most significant two- and three-wheeled American vehicles ever produced.  Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the museum was founded by curator, Dale Walksler, as a way to preserve the history of motorized Americana.  A true shrine to our countries motorcycle heritage, the Museum contains a plethora of machines dating back over 100 years to 1903.  From prototypes and production models to boardtrack racers and hillclimbers, Wheels Through Time is a living, breathing museum, as each and every machine in the collection is kept in running condition, and are regularly started for visitors.

"Of the hundreds of machines housed at Wheels Through Time, perhaps none are more rare than the 1917 Traub motorcycle on display in the museum's "One-Of-A-Kind Motorcycles" exhibit. 

"The Traub has a unique story -- one that has baffled previous owners and vintage motorcycle enthusiasts alike for over 40 years.   Dated to 1917, the Traub is built entirely of its own design and to this date, no documentation on its origin has surfaced.  Found in 1967 behind a brick wall during the renovation of a Chicago apartment building, the Traub fell into the hands of Chicago bicycle shop owner, Torillo Tacchi.  After Tacchi had owned the machine for several years, actor and Hollywood stunt double, Bud Ekins, purchased the machine while on set for the Blues Brothers Movie in the late 1970s.  The Traub was later sold to collector and restorer, Richard Morris, who then sold it to Wheels Through Time Museum curator, Dale Walksler, in 1990.  It has been on permanent display in the museum collection ever since.

"When comparing other top motorcycle makes and models of the era, the Traub has no equal.  Comprised of a sand-cast, hand-built, 80 cubic-inch 'sidevalve' engine, the machine has the ability to reach speeds in excess of 85 mph with ease.  This is largely due to the builders development of a unique three-speed transmission -- a feat that was only achieved by only a few of the most notable motorcycle companies during that time.   Each and every part and component on the machine is hand-made and unique.  During the early part of the 20th century, there were as many as 200 different motorcycle manufacturers, many of which used common parts found on other makes and models.  What sets the Traub apart from other early 'one-of-a-kind' machines is that of all the hundreds of parts that make up the this wonderful motorcycle, none can be found anywhere else in the world.

"But perhaps the most interesting part of this cycle's history is the story, or lack there-of, of its creation.  Numerous public records searches by current owner, Dale Walksler, have yielded no results of a Traub Motorcycle Company ever existing.   In fact, Walksler has been combing through Wheels Through Time's historical archives for years, and has yet to find even a mention of a Traub motorcycle or company.

"For a machine to have such advanced features, unparalleled by other motorcycles of the same era, is truly outstanding," said Walksler.   'It's my opinion that The Traub was an attempt at a new breed of motorcycle.'  But how on earth could a machine have been produced in such great form, with capabilities that far exceed that of any comparable machine, without the knowledge of the rest of the motorcycle industry during that time?"

"While the Traub's story remains a mystery, the search for its origin continues.  'While we may never know why the machine was placed behind that wall, we do hope to one day find out more about its history and the genius that created it,' said Walksler.  Until then, the machine's past will remain unknown, and it will hold its place as perhaps the rarest motorcycle on earth.
More photos can be found here on the Speed TV website

This next is a few-of-a kind bike.  It started life as a Flanders motorcycle, and was purchased by a man in Elkhart Indiana, along with the remaining inventory of the Flanders Company when it went out of business.  Given a quick makeover, and an "ELK" emblem, they were sold out of a hardware store by their original purchaser.  Note that the control cables run inside the frame. 

1936 Harley Davidson UX2.  Based on the 61 cubic inch overhead valve chassis, this model was Harley's update of the conventional but outdated side valve VL.  The UX features an 80 cubic inch displacement with a recirculating oil system similar to the overhead valve version, while its predecessor, the VL, featured a total loss system.  This is number two of six VL prototypes produced.

1936 Harley Davidson EL.  The "knucklehead" was Harley's first production 61 cubic inch overhead valve engine and featuring an entirely new chassis and a recirculating oil system.  The revolutionary knucklehead was produced from 1936 to 1947, and is given credit for making the modern motorcycle what it is today.   This one also features a maroon and Nile green paint scheme.

1937 Harley-Davidson ULH.  A new model for 1937, the ULH was an update to their VLH produced the year before.  The VLH used many of the improvements to the 80 cubic inch knucklehead engine, including recirculating oil system, double-downtube frame and popular teardrop shaped tank. 

1948 Harley-Davidson WRTT.  With 1948 being the peak production season for the Harley-Davidson WR, the AMA class C racing circuit was back in full swing, with races popping up all across the country.  This WRTT, one of only 292 produced, was raced on the west coast into the 1950s, and is featured exactly as it would have been raced over fifty years ago.  It has a side-mounted WICO magneto, and its original number plates. 
1950 Harley-Davidson WR.  Labeled the "Hot-Dog Bike," this Daytona WR is featured in original as-raced condition.  The bike was raced in Daytona and on various other circuits across the Midwest by Jim Kruse, #22 from Kenosha Wisconsin.  It is one of sixty-nine produced, and as a hand clutch, foot shift setup.  Note the rare cast aluminum oil tank. 

1970 Harley-Davidson XR750 Evil Knievel jump bike. 

1953 Harley-Davidson KRM.  This restored KRM is one of the few still in existence.  Produced for cross-country and enduro racing, it was a sporting version of the 45 cubic inch K model.  The engine is all ball bearings.  This specimen was raced in west coast enduros into the 1960s. 

This little gem has an interesting transmission. 

Look more closely.  It is a continuously-variable type using a friction wheel against a disk driven by the engine.  The further from the center of the disk the wheel is moved, the faster the bike goes.  The clutch function was incorporated by simply lifting the wheel from the disk. 

World War I carrier pigeon trailer.  This bike was ridden by Steve McQueen in Spirit of St. Louis.  That is Matt Walksler demonstrating.  He started up the bike so we could hear it run. 
[photo by Ryan]

The museum also has an area devoted to other products that are related to motorcycle manufacturers or that use motorcycle engines for power. 

An Indian outboard engine.  

And a chainsaw.  

A snowmobile!

A personal watercraft, built in the 1920's, and powered by a 1926 Harley engine driving a propeller.

A mine cart.  
This was found in an abandoned gold mine in northern California in the late 1970s.  The Davis Motor Mine Cart is a home-built creation using most of a 1926 Harley-Davidson 21 cubic inch B model motorcycle.  The cart also features a Ford Model-A transmission and electric start.  The Ford transmission coupled with the motorcycle transmission gave nine forward and three reverse speeds.  It was used to pull wagons laden with ore out of an underground mine.  

And several other devices, including an ice saw, and garden tillers. 

Harley also produced general-purpose small engines.

Here is the neon sign for Professor's Harley-Davidson.  It survived 65 years of hurricanes, including Katrina, in Metairie Louisiana.

An overall view of a part of the museum, taken from the balcony. 

While here, I spot another, non-transportation, attraction -- a player piano.  Now I have been restoring and collecting these kinds of pianos since my college days, but today I am attracted to the large space, and I have a hankering to see what the piano sounds like if I play it by hand.  I try a few notes, and it seems to be fairly well in tune, so I ask Mr. Walksler if I might try it out.  He enthusiastically tells me to go ahead -- another example of the make-you-feel-welcome attitude everyone here seems to have.  

I sit down and start in.  First "Elmer's Tune" (also here), then "Put Another Nickel In," "Give Me a Little Kiss," "Unchained Melody," "The Entertainer," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus," "America," "America the Beautiful," "God Bless America," and "Good Night Ladies." 

[How do you remember what all you played, Bucky?]   

Those songs are some I most frequently play, so I know them by memory.  Grandma would have said "by heart,"  a description that may be better, since once you know the music by memory, you can put more feeling -- your heart -- into it. 

A few people stand around listening, some sing along on the patriotic tunes and hymns, and several clap when I finish.  Aw, shucks. I have fun hamming it up a little.  Playing the piano is much easier than riding a motorcycle for me. Then again, I have been playing music almost fifty years longer than I have been riding a motorcycle. Practice helps most things, you think? 

I make a last round of the exhibits to see if I missed anything.  I decide that I haven't, so I make my way out and back to my bike. As I am getting ready to go, a fellow runs up, and grabs my hand, shaking it vigorously.  He is the gardener for the museum, Trapper, and he wants to thank me for the piano music.  Just another one of the staff making a visitor feel good about being there.  

By the way, Trapper was proud of the flowers planted in front of the museum.  I agree, they are nice.  Not in prissy little beds of perfect symmetry, though.  Some of them are large and bushy.   Masculine flowerbeds, maybe??

By the time I leave, the parking lot looks like this.  

I meet a fellow in the parking lot from Illinois, riding a Gold Wing and pulling a trailer.  He says he is on his way to see his son at camp on the east coast, and who has just returned from Afghanistan.  I ask him to give my thanks to him for his service.  He says he would be glad to. 

The temperature has climbed to the high 80s by now.  I mount up and head for the freeway.  It is boring, and the traffic is occasionally heavy, but it is fast.  Often times, when I plan a ride, I take a more difficult route to get there and an easier route back.  That way, if I am a bit tired, I am not as apt to have a mishap. 

I have ridden 212 miles today, and have seen a great collection of motorbikes. It has been a beautiful day to be out.

Come along next time. 

Wheels Through Time videos on YouTube. 
 If you go:

Wheels Through Time, 62 Vintage Lane, Maggie Valley, NC, thirty miles west of Asheville, 828-926-6266
For Internet directions, search for: 2914 Soco Road, Maggie Valley, NC 28751
Hours of operation:
Thursday through Monday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
Admission: Adults $12, Seniors (65 and up) $10, Children $6

A further-away alternative:
Deeley Motorcycle Exposition, 1875 Boundary Rd., Vancouver, BC V5M 3Y7.
Adjacent to Trev Deeley Motorcycles.

Hours of operation:
Monday through Friday: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Saturday: 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Sunday: 11:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Admission: Donation
Some explanatory text in this posting is directly quoted from Wheels Through Time displays.


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