WTT Partners with Biltmore for Exhibit at America’s Largest Home

This spring and summer, the Wheels Through Time Museum is partnering with Biltmore Estate for a new exhibit telling the story of what life was like at America’s largest home during the early 20th century.  Titled "The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad", the new exhibit is located in the Biltmore Legacy Exhibit Hall in the estates Antler Hill Village, and is slated to open April 7th, with a special preview for season passholders on Thursday, March 29th.

"The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad" explores the lives of George, Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt at home and in their travels throughout Europe and the Far East.  The exhibit offers a close-up look at many of the exotic and rare treasures they collected throughout their lives, including a priceless chess set once owned by Napolean Bonaparte, a collection of Samurai amor acquired during their visit to Japan, clothing and costume worn by the family during some the estate’s most important events, among many other priceless relics. 

Also on display within the new exhibit, is a 1920 Harley-Davidson Model 20-J motorcycle, on loan from Wheels Through Time Museum.  Featured in 100% original condition, the machine has been called one of the highlights of the exhibit, as it helps to illustrate the Vanderbilts enthrallment with early motorized transportation. 

George Vanderbilt first fell in love with motorized travel after borrowing a friends Wynton Car during trip across Europe.  Shortly after, he purchased his own "updated" version and within a few years, he had developed a system of roads throughout the estate that gained a reputation as being some of the best in the country.  Friends and acquaintances from around the United States regularly wrote the family asking permission to come drive the roads of Biltmore.

With thousands of acres of land, motorized travel became a staple at Biltmore from a very early point.  Through the mid-1920s the Vanderbilts owned several automobiles, and to the surprise of many, a total of 5 motorcycles — two 1913 Harley-Davidsons, a 1915 Harley-Davidson, as well as 1917 and 1923 Harleys.  These machines played a vital role in transporation at the estate, becoming known for their good service and manuverability, and their ability to reach places where autmobiles could not. 

The 1920 Harley-Davidson Model 20-J on loan from Wheels Through Time is nearly identical to the last Harley-Davidson motorcycle purchased by Biltmore, and is displayed with several period photographs showing some of the estate’s earliest "two-wheeled visitors".

"We’re extremely excited to partner with Biltmore Estate for their new exhibit," says museum curator Dale Walksler.  "Their love affair with transporation played an important role in the development of the estate, and we’re proud to play a part in sharing that story."

For more information on Biltmore Estates new exhibit "The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad", visit www.biltmore.com

The Belly Tanker

Watch the Full "Belly Dance" Episode on American Pickers on History.com, here!

Here at Wheels Through Time, we’re always keeping an eye out for rare and unique machines that help tell the story of America’s love affair with two and four wheels. Every once in a while, something comes along that absolutely blows our minds. 

A few months back, we got an interesting call about such a machine from none other than Mike Wolfe of American Pickers and Antique Archeology. Mike and Frank were picking up in South Dakota, and after following a few dead end leads, they happened to unexpectedly run across a little place in Rapid City called the Murdough Museum, which had been around since the early 1950s. While they were there, they managed to make a deal with the owner for a one-of-a-kind piece of motorcycle/automobile history, and as soon the deal was done, they gave us a call.

After hearing about it over the phone and getting a few picture messages, there was no question that this thing was rare. And after agreeing to get it running for them, I jumped in the truck with my young lady Ms. Hailey, and headed to Iowa to pick it up.

{gallery}bellytank{/gallery}Now when I’m on the road, I don’t like to waste time. A mere 13 hours and 800 miles after leaving Maggie Valley, we showed up at Mike’s door in Iowa…..anxious to see this thing, get it loaded, and head home to get right to work on it. After keeping us in suspense with a nice sit-down lunch with his mother (who is an amazingly sweet lady), we headed over to his warehouse to check out the Belly Tanker.

At first glance, I didn’t know whether to wipe the drool off my chin, or go try to start it up. As we like to say here at the museum — it had "the look". Yes, "the look" that made you want to sell off everything you own, just so you can park it in your garage and call it yours. "The look" that makes you want to punch the pedal to the floor to see how fast she’ll really go. "The look" that inspires even the most ordinary of men to do something sensational, so to be remembered by generations to come as an innovator, a leader, a breaker of molds. You know "the look".

So after hanging with the guys for a few hours, we loaded her up and got back on the road, with another 800 miles and a full night of driving ahead of us. 

We pulled into the museum at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, and wouldn’t you know it, Dale was already there waiting to get to work on the car. We must have stared at it for a half an hour, admiring its features and acknowledging its advanced engineering. Part motorcycle, part car, part airplane! For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term "belly tanker", this type of vehicle originated after WWII when speed gurus began using Airplane belly gas tanks as bodies for their vehicles. These "belly tanks" were lighter and more aerodynamic than what had been previously used, and right away, belly tankers began to make it into the record books.

This particular vehicle was built in 1949 in Southern California and features a 1940 Indian 4-cylinder engine, as well as several other bits and pieces used by Indian on various models including two-front wheels from an Indian Scout and a 3-wheel "Dispatch Tow" rear end. The builders even managed to squeeze in a cooling fan on the rear mounted engine, and fabricated scoops in the nose that direct air through the side-panels toward the engine for even more cooling. Aircraft gauges were used, automotive break, clutch and gas pedals were tucked neatly inside the "cockpit", and the chassis was entirely of tubular construction. In the early 1950s, the car was sold to the folks at the Murdough Museum, where it sat idle until being picked by Mike and Frank just a few months ago.

After unloading, we jumped right in on trying to get it running and riding. A new throttle cable, new choke cable, a fuel pump rebuild, and a new battery. I could see that we weren’t far off, and the fact that I hadn’t slept in over 40 hours didn’t even enter my mind. Within about 10 hours, we’d fixed many of the issues, and were ready to give it a go. With a commitment from Mike and Frank to be there the next day, we decided to hold off until they arrived. 

The suspense almost killed me, but the next morning, they showed up and we got right to it. With only a few cranks, she fired right up, and after checking the tire pressure and brake adjustment, we took it for its first ride in over a half-century. It was at this point that one thing became apparent — we were not going to let this thing leave. 

Lucky for us, Mike and Frank treated us pretty well, and after a bit of negotiating, it found its new home at Wheels Through Time. It’ll be on display here indefinitely, and we’ll be firing it up on a regular basis for visitors. All you’ve got to do is ask!

Watch the Full "Belly Dance" Episode on American Pickers on History.com, here!