I just returned from a family vacation.
I spent a week under canvas in the Pisgah National Forest in the mountains of Western North Carolina. My wife, youngest son and I took our simple folding tent trailer to a lovely wooded federal campground with zero bars of service on anyone’s cel phone.
We used the camp as a base of operations to art tour, see music, eat and drink our way around Asheville, which was very civilized and lots of fun.
We also resolved to spend some time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as we Shamiehs have been touring each and every one of these National Treasures, and as one of The Great Parks east of the Mississippi, we were honor bound.
But as we motored in our white work pickup towards Cherokee, something unpredictably and inappropriately bikey spontaneously occurred.
We were rolling through Maggie Valley, North Carolina, when I saw a small roadside sign.
“The Wheels Through Time Museum.3 Miles Ahead on Right.”
“Oh,” I said, “This Place is Legendary. Can we stop and walk around?”
My wife and son looked at each other with the face of recognition that they were about to bear witness to me in the abject depths of Moto-depravity. But it was vacation, and everyone is just supposed to roll with it and have fun whenever and wherever it occurs.
It was agreed without hesitation that we should.
We rolled across the bridge into the place, and tried to find room for our Ram Truck amongst the Myriad Harleys.
I walked briskly up the ramp and into the facility.
A nice gentleman who was sitting on the porch greeted us, welcoming us to the place. I was a little wild eyed, breathing hard, and walking kind of fast, so I didn’t pay much attention to Dale Walksler, whose marvelous motorcycle collection this is.
So Dale, I’m genuinely sorry and embarrassed that I was less than social, but I was a little overexcited.
I’m sure you know how that goes.
The Wheels Through Time advertises itself as ‘The Museum That Runs”. The nice lady that sold me my ticket said “Everything in Here is Made in America, and everything runs.” When you have a HD service area that looks like this:
which appears to have at least two cylinder barrels, two cylinder heads, and two pistons of every engine Harley Davidson has ever produced, and your spare parts supply has so many original OEM pistons of 1930’s vintage in Original factory boxes that you sell them for Museum Swag, keeping them running doesn’t appear to be as big a problem as it might be for the rest of us.
This is in no way to minimize what an extraordinary accomplishment and amount of work that represents.
And is in no way to even imply that Harley Davidsons are the only motorcycles Dale treasures.
There is simply too much in The Wheels — motorcycles, memorabilia, artwork, automobilia, and just plain weird shit — to even think of covering it all in anything short of a full length book.
But I will share a few things that caught my eye, or in some cases tugged at my heartstrings. Other things might catch yours.
One of my fellow Internet BMW Riders has strongly urged me to go to Dale’s if the chance ever presented itself. I don’t remember who you are, but thank you anyway.
And if you ever get the chance, and you love motorcycles and motorcycling, you should too.
Oh, and Dale, if you can forgive my bad manners, and would like me to write that book to catalog the museum, please let me know. It would be a labor of love.
This 1903 Indian, which is all original, may well be the oldest running Indian Motorcycle in existence. Using a dry cell battery for ignition, it has won a race for 100 plus year old motorcycles at the Barber Motorcycle Museum Vintage Festival multiple times. Try and imagine what it was like to have to go — likely to your drugstore — to obtain a new dry cell and a can of ‘petroleum spirits’ to get ready for a ride.
The 1903’s Younger Brother — this one, I believe is a 1909 — is also something to be stared at for quite some time.
This Indian, which is believe is a boardtrack racing sidecar outfit, is also exquisite.
Dale has a series of early 1900s American Fours — Hendersons, a Pierce Arrow, a pair of Aces — any one of which are pretty enough to take your breath away. Taken together, its enough to have you calling for medical assistance. The Pierce, especially, is a wonder of unique design and engineering.
I make no bones about being a BMW guy. Accordingly, anything with a boxer engine will get my attention. During the Second World War, the US War Department — the precursor to our Department of Defense — placed orders with both Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles to produce shaft driven bikes that would be able to function on the same desert battlefields as the BMW M75s and Zundapps that had been outperforming the US’s chain driven military motorcycles. Harley’s response to the challenge was the XA, a boxer-engined shaft drive motorcycle. The Wheels Through Time has several XAs as well a few things that were made out of XAs.
This one is bone Army Stock.
This one is full civilian custom, right down to the chromed springer front end.
And this one has been transformed into a race car, where it appear to be entirely comfortable and like that was it’s intended engineering purpose.
Indian’s answer to the same challenge was their Model 841. The 841’s configuration was a transversely mounted, 90 degree V-twin with shaft drive. This configuration would be made famous by MotoGuzzi about 25 years later, but all of the Guzzi’s ingredients were present and accounted for in the 841. Harley Davidson’s XAs are rare — they were built in limited numbers and deployed into combat theaters in even more limited numbers. In contrast, the Indian 841 is barely more than a rumor — there was a short run of machines that were built and purchased, but none were ever deployed by the military. Seeing one is rare — a complete, unrestored one that runs….
In between the hundred of bikes are — heresy! — a few cars. My first car was a 1971 Cadillac Sedan with an 8.0 liter V8, so I have a soft spot for this 1930 Cadillac V-16 Coupe. The motor is nothing short of awesome, the style of the body is elegance defined, and anything with a rumble seat and this kind of potential for velocity had to be all kinds of fun.
I said there would be weird shit, and there is weird shit in spades.
There is a Harley Engine in this spaceship. I’m completely bereft of any ideas as to what I would tell the motor officer if he pulled me over driving this thing.
This is the most unusual tandem bicycle I’ve ever seen. When one considers that fact that both sets of handlebars are linked together and steer the bike, so that both riders need to agree and coordinate where they want to go, all of a sudden it becomes a bit more obvious why you and I haven’t seen more of these.
Weirder still is this Harley Davidson XSIS — Xtremely Stationary Ice Saw. Necessity and an HD are the mother of invention.
On a related note, and only marginally less weird is this Indian-powered ‘MotorToboggan’, which may well have been the world’s first snowmobile.
And holding down the perpetually weird, not-sure-if-it-wants-to-be-a-car-or-a-bike category, A Ner-a-Car feet forward, step through motorcycle.
The second floor of the museum is devoted largely to motorcycle competition.
This pair of racing leathers that belonged to Cal Rayborn stopped me in my tracks. Cal was one of the American racing greats who we lost too soon. Standing before Cal’s skins, I’ll admit I may have become a little verklempt.
One of Scotty Parker’s AMA Championship winning Harley Davidson XR 750 dirtrackers.
And finally, one of the few Harley’s that I’ll admit being attracted to — the XLCR Café Racer. This bike is kind of like a distant cousin to my R90S — the same DelOrto accelerator pump carburetors, bikini fairing, and aero tailsection, Milwaukee style, as opposed to Berliner Style. An all-for-speed pose with solid, heavy motorcycles. Great fun.
By the end of the too short hours we spent there, I had to search out my family, who were enjoying themselves far more than they thought they would. My artist wife Doris was in love with several antique photographs and advertising art, and my son Finn, who is just dipping his toe in the motorhead water was finding all sorts of obscure gadgets and iron to ogle.
The pictures I’ve provided here barely scratch the surface of the Wheels Through Time’s extensive collection. The more you know about bikes, especially bikes made before 1930, the more amazing the collection and its correct period staging will become. I heartily encourage a motorcycle trip down to the Great Smokies, and plan for a day with my bike-addled friends in Maggie Valley.