The “MotorCops” Grand Opening

Well, the weekend finally came.  After months of preparation and anticipation, Wheels Through Time’s newest exhibit, "MotorCops: A 100 Year Love Affair Between Police and Motorcycles" opened last weekend to the delight of hundreds of visitors from over 30 states and 9 countries.  

In mid-2006, we opened our feature exhibit "The Girls" in the main gallery of the museum.  The exhibit highlighted the impact of Women in Motorcycling from the earliest days of American motorcycling to the mid-20th century, and gained acclaim throughout the motorcycle industry.  But after a 2 year run, we decided it was time for a bit a of a change — one last feature exhibit before the museum closes its operations in North Carolina and begins its relocation process. 

Back in June, my son Matt had just gotten back from a trip to Illinois to visit his brother, and on his way back ran into a Illinois Highway Patrol motorcycle officer at a gas station.  They got to talking about Illinois motorcycle officers, and how the State Highway Patrol had just reintroduced motorcycles as patrol vehicles this year after a 59 year absence.  Matt came back bustling with ideas for a new exhibit at Wheels Through Time.  He even had a name for the exhibit — "MotorCops".  

So after several months of planning, countless hours looking through old scrapbooks and photo albums, and hundreds of phone calls spreading the word, the museum held its Grand Opening for the exhibit this past weekend…and quite a weekend it turned out to be. 

We spent most of the early days of last week setting up the exhibit, which would house hundreds of photographs, stories, memorabilia, and motorcycles from our countries two- and three-wheeled motor patrolling past.   Pictures had been gathered from early motorcycle publications, scrapbooks, and friends.  My friend, Steven Wright, author of two of the world’s greatest motorcycle publications, "The American Motorcycle" and "American Racer", was kind enough to donate several photos that would serve as great historical centerpieces for the exhibit.  Matt also found several great shots of early MotorCops in a family scrapbook from Hap Jameson, who worked for Harley-Davidson in their service school and military training programs in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  Photos, patches, uniforms and other memorabilia were also donated by museum visitors that wanted their family artifact on display for the world to see.

Here at the museum, we had several machines perfect for the exhibit.  Motorcycles representing the earliest days of Motorcycle patrol were gathered, including such machines as a 1909 Pierce and a 1910 Harley, which were chosen by officers for their ruggedness, reliability and overall presence.  Mid-century machines such as a police model 1936 Harley-Davidson VLD, a 1954 H-D police servicar, and a 1957 Harley-Davidson Panhead police bike fit right in, and with a little gas and oil, all fired right up after a few years of hibernation.  Matt also thought it would be a good idea to include a couple of non-patrol machines that were used by officers during their "off-time".  Rhode Island Patrolman, Babe Tancrede’s1939 Daytona winning Harley-Davidson WLDR and a recreation of West Covina, CA motor officer, Fred Ham’s 24-hour endurance record-breaking 1937 Knucklehead provided a glimpse into the personal lives of motorcycle officers and the passion that drove them to fall in love with motorcycles.   

The exhibit came together wonderfully, and the opening weekend, even better.  We sent out invitations to officers, museum visitors, and long-time friends from around the country and had a great response.  Overall, about 250 motorcycle officers made the trip to Maggie Valley to see a glimpse of their fellow officers patrolling past.  Throughout the weekend, the museum entertained over 1800 visitors, most of which had caught wind of "MotorCops" through invitations, the website, and past visits. 

The exhibit, which will run for sixty days, is getting better each day.  Just yesterday, we several great pictures of the Georgia state highway motorcycle patrol setting up a roadblock in the early fifties.  Fantastic stuff.

So if you get a chance, come on up to the museum to see the newest exhibit at Wheels Through Time:  "MotorCops: A 100 Year Love Affair Between Police and the Motorcycle".

Hope to see you soon!


Building a Basket Case in One Day (Part 3)

The Build

We rolled into Davenport about 6 o’clock on Wednesday.   The parking lot was already filling up.  We found our usual camping spot on the back-side of the racetrack and started to unload.  After taking a few laps around the fairgrounds to catch up with old buddies, we headed back to the truck and trailer to prep a bit more for the build. 

Since we had the frame finished by the time we left the Lipsky’s house, we jumped in on a few other tasks that would help us prepare for Friday’s build.  Within a thirty minutes, we had the parts laid out — things were looking pretty organized.  Matt, Myron, and I sifted through parts again, making sure that everything was usable and correct.  This bike was the real deal…it was all there and in darn good shape for sitting in a moist garage for 40-plus years. 

When Matt pulled over the motor…we hit our first hiccup.  It was seized up and didn’t appear to be moving any time soon.  But a little kroil in the cylinders and a breaker bar would provide a quick fix for this situation, and within 10 minutes we had it spinning over freely.  The transmission was working well — a three speed with reverse — and after a quick dinner on the grill, we got inspired and started to mock the bike up just to make sure. We fit the motor and transmission into the frame, put on the rust red gas tanks, and all of the sudden, we had the beginnings of a genuine 1946 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead on our hands — and everything fit perfectly.

Thursday morning we got up and hit the swapmeet.  Matt and I rumbled around looking for a few missing pieces and met up with a few friends that would be helping with the build.  Buddies Matt Olsen, Dave Monehan, Brian Haenline and Steve Brewsky were ready to get started.  The plan was simple — meet at 10 a.m. ready to get your hands dirty. 

Friday morning the build was on.  We loaded up all the parts in the Gouldcar and headed to the Tech Seminar Building.  As we unloaded piece by piece, the crowd began to gather, anxious to see how this beauty turned out.  

With a great team assembled, we were able to divide up tasks to make things go a bit quicker.  Brian and Steve jumped in on assembling the fork, and my son Matt and Matt Olsen installed the motor and transmission, and Dave and I quickly had the clutch, primary chain and motor sprocket.  This thing was shaping up fast.  By the time Brian had the fork on, the crowd was eagerly cheering us on.  A few folks even lended a quick hand, throwing us parts as fast we could bolt them on. 

We bolted on the fenders and gas tanks — all in all a great set of sheet metal — no rust in the gas tanks…the fenders were a bit rusty, but straight as an arrow.  The brakes, which were still assembled went on next, and then the wheels.  We all got a good laugh when we found out that they actually held air.   This was quite a relief to my son Matt, since he’s the designated "tire-changer" around the shop.  Its funny how it works….but when your good at changing tires, you end up changing a lot of them. 

The ’46 was nearing completion and the crowd was getting bigger by the minute. After a quick wiring job by Myron and Matt hooking up the fuel lines and exhaust, we had ignition and fuel and were ready to crank here up.  

I hopped on the bike, and gave it a few kicks to prime.  I turned on the ignition and gave it a couple of kicks.   It popped once and then didn’t make a sound.  Matt gave it a try, but to no avail.  It was beginning to look pretty bleek.  The bike looked great…but only seemed to be getting tougher to kick.  Within 10 minutes and about 100 kicks, it finally froze up.  We were all pretty dissappointed.  Matt didn’t want to give up, but after another half an hour, he threw in the towel too.  

I guess it doesn’t always work out.  Depsite our best efforts, barring a major engine overhaul, this one was never going to run. 

So when you have a lemon….what do you do?  That’s right, you make lemonade.  Saturday morning, we rolled the bike out to the swapmeet and put a "For Sale" sign on her and within 20 minutes, it was gone.  Not a terribly bad ending to a hard days work.  

Next time, I guess I’ll have to bring a spare engine.



Assembling a Basket Case in One Day “Part 2”

Chuck Lipsky and My Old Stompin’ Ground

We hopped in the truck with another predestination destination on the map — Galesburg, Illinois. 

When I was in high school and college, I became quite familiar with the Northern Illinois area.  I’d get on my old chopper three-wheeler and cruise from town to town, in search of old parts.  Back in the late 60s and early 70s, you could stop in to visit Harley dealerships in search of parts for these old bikes.  Back then, they were anxious to get rid of them, and I was happy to take them.  Over the years, I found many great treasures in that area, roaming from dealership to dealership, and meeting countless interesting folks along the way. 

One day back in 1972, I stopped in Galesburg, Illinois to check out the local Harley-Davidson Dealer, and ran into a guy on an old Harley JD.  His name was Chuck Lipsky.  Chuck was a local — born and raised in Galesburg — and was in his 50s when I met him.  Immediately noticing his old bike, I struck up a conversation, and we quickly became friends.  

Over the next several years, Chuck and I became good buddies, and I’d stop at his place from time to time when I was in the area.  Chuck had been collecting bike and parts for decades, and had developed quite a knack for making his own as well.  From early Indian parts to 30s, 40s, and 50s Harley parts, Chuck was into it all, and was happy to share his passion with a young guy like myself.  He knew what kind of stuff I was into, and each time I’d come, he’d have a pile of parts laid out for me to pick from.  I became somewhat of a regular, and through the years, we remained great friends.  

Then about four years ago, Chuck passed away.  It was a great loss for the antique motorcycle community.  Chuck was very active in the Antique Motorcycle Club, and was popular amongst new and old members alike.  He was a regular at all the meets and road runs, and when he passed, his presence was immediately missed. 

We arrived at Chuck’s old house where his son, Don, now lives.  Don and I have known each other since Chuck and I became friends, and since his father’s passing, we speak on the phone often.  He makes sure to tell me to stop by on my way through the area each time I come, and this time was no different.  As we arrived at Don’s house, he greeted us to a cup of coffee and we made our way to his workshop. 

In the shop, Don had all of the parts that Chuck had collected over his years in the antique motorcycle world.  As Don and I had talked about the 46 Knucklehead build on Friday at Davenport, Don had set asided a several parts that might be of use.  We rooted through box after box, finding several integral pieces for the build, and countless other parts needed for projects at the museum. 

After about an hour and a half, we’d got what we needed for the build and started a bit of prep-work on the ’46 Harley.  The frame was in rough shape, and over the next hour, we would take all of the steps to get it ready for the build.  It was one heck of a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.  We tapped out all of the bolt holes, put in the neck bearing cups, reemed the brake crossover shaft, and even cleaned up the threads on the fork stem to make Friday’s assembly a little quicker and easier.  By the time we were done, the frame was ready to go. 

We loaded everything back into the truck, said our good-byes, and headed out for the last leg of our trip.  We had everything we needed to make this build a good one.  Davenport here we come.

Assembling a “basket-case” in one day “Part 1”

Getting There

About a month ago, I met a museum visitor named Pat.  Pat and I had talked about his dads old 1946 Harley, and discussed the possiblities of him selling it.  I expressed interest, and a few weeks after his visit, he gave me a call.   After agreeing on a deal, I realized that Pat lived in Bloomington, IL, which was right on the way to the Davenport Swapmeet.  That got me thinking — what a great project for a friday at the meet.

Without seeing the bike at all, we headed to Bloomington.  We even left a couple hours early to make sure we’d get to the meet on time.  We pulled up to Pats at about 7:30 a.m. after driving right through and Pat was out walking his dog, ready for visitors.   After a hot cup of coffee, Pat showed us to the garage and began to tell us the story of the bike.

His dad bought the bike in 1963.  His dad wanted a Knucklehead for some years, and when this one came along, he took advantage of the opportunity.  But there was only one catch, he bought the bike taken apart.  Plenty confident in his abilities, his dad knew that rebuilding the bike would be no problem.  Well, one thing led to another, and he would post-pone his plans to restore it.  Since he never got to the project, the bike had been laying in pieces in the garage for 45 years.

When we opened up the garage door, I knew we had something special.  The bike was a ’46 Knucklehead, a seventy-four incher, in original red paint with red saddle bags.  A beauty, but in parts.  I began to take a closer look — the frame looked great…a little rusty, but pretty darn straight.  The forks looked good as well.  And the fenders and tanks weren’t dented up a bit — and you know how hard it is to find good sheet metal for these old bikes.  This was turning out to be a pretty nice bike. 

I dug in further and found that almost each and every piece, was laid out and sorted just as it had been taken apart more than 40 years ago.  The motorsprocket, nut, and primary chain were still sitting in the primary cover still soaked in grease.  The transmission and clutch were sorted, clutch plates cleaned and all.  The fenders even had most of the hardware still in place.  It looked like almost every part was there.

I made my way over to the motor and transmission and it seemed like everything was in pretty good shape.  The motor wouldn’t turn, but looking at the overall condition of the bike, I figured we could free it up with a little elbow grease at the meet.  The transmission was a bit tight too, but we quickly took the top off and found that everything looked pretty good.  A little Kroil and the problem would go away. 

We loaded the bike up, box by box, into the already too full trailer.  I was becoming more and more confident this build was going to go well.  We said our goodbyes and we were back on our mission. 

Next stop — Galesburg, IL to see my old friend Don Lipsky.


Back From Davenport

Wow…..what a week.   We just got back from the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s national meet in Davenport, Iowa and I’m here to tell you it was one heck of a time.  Davenport is a must for us every year, and we’d all been looking forward to this one for quite some time. 

We left Maggie Valley last Tuesdaynight, August 26th and headed north.  Leaving at night has its advantages…no traffic and an early Wednesday arrival time.  All in all, the ride up was great.  We made a couple of stops along the way — one in Bloomington, IL to pick up an old ’46 Knucklehead basket-case (which I’ll tell you about in my next blog) and one in Galesburg, IL.  Galesburg was home to my long-time friend Chuck Lipsky, who passed away just over four years ago.  Chuck was a big antique motorcycle nut, and collected bikes of all kinds.  He collected new old stock parts by the dozens, and even tooled up to make a few reproductions of hard to find parts over the years.  Chuck’s son invited me up to look over some of his dads parts, and of-course, I obliged.  We spent several hours at his place, and eventually made a deal on a small pile of parts that I was needing for projects around the museum.   A pretty good start to a swap meet weekend.

We left Chuck’s son’s house and only had about another hour to go.  When we arrived, the parking lot was already filling up.  We made our way to our usual camp spot, and immediately started catching up with old friends. 

Thursday morning, the fun began.  It was a bit rainy, which usually isn’t good for swap meet business.  This time, it didn’t matter — Davenport doesn’t come around every weekend.  Matt and I ran around in search of parts we need (and ones we don’t need), and found countless goodies for the museum.  There were all types of great bits and pieces this year.  One of my favorite finds was the early teens motorcycle lift I got from an old buddy.  I also picked up my 1921 Harley-Davidson 8-valve motor, which my friend Mike Lange had been working on for quite some time.  

Friday was a blast as well.  We woke up with a big project on our hands — assembling the 1946 Knucklehead basket-case for the Friday afternoon tech seminar.  With about 10 buddies jumping in on the project, and a pile of extra and replacement parts gathered the day before, we knocked it out in about 3 and a half hours.   I’ll be sure to fill you in on all the details in my next post.

Friday night we hit the races.  I brought up the old 1924 H-D FH boardtracker to compete.  Matt and I got the bike dialed in, and before I knew it, I was out on the track.  This time, it fired right up and ran great.  I was pretty darn happy with sixth out of nine places.   I’m just out there to have fun.

We woke up Saturday with motorcycles on our mind, and before 8:00 we were knee deep in parts again.  Matt found several pieces for projects at hand, and turned me on to a few deals around the meet.  He found a perfect large-port Knuckle-head I’ve been needing for months, and an awesome bobbed rear fender for the next WTT bobber.  By one o’clock, we were at the field games.  I gave it a heck of a shot, but Matt ran away with the trophy for the 3rd year in a row.  Sometimes I wonder how he got so good……then I remember.  😉

On Sunday morning, we packed back up and said goodbye to a few friends before hitting the road.  Stopped by my friend Tom Faber’s booth, which is a Sunday ritual at every meet.  I also ran into my old buddy Barry, and ended up making my final purchase of the weekend — a 1945 Harley 45" enduro bike.  What a machine. 

The ride back was pretty smooth.  I slept for 10 hours straight….and made sure to thank Myron for driving when we got back.  Weekends like those really wear you out.  But there some of the best times an old motorcycle buff can have.

Talk to you next time,