Pulling open the oversize steel doors and nervously walking inside, I felt a bit like Dorothy entering the castle to see the Wizard of Oz.
And then, there it was. The holy grail of Milwaukee iron sitting just a few feet from me: Harley-Davidson motorcycle serial number 1.
I was at the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee and feeling like I had just reached the Promised Land. Opening in July of 2008, the much anticipated Harley-Davidson museum covers close to twenty acres just off Canal Street in Milwaukee.
Living just down the road, I had wanted to see the museum when it opened in July but wasn’t able to because of other obligations. So, you can imagine my excitement when I got the letter explaining how I had been selected to receive museum tickets with my 105th Anniversary package. On our afternoon to visit the museum, we found a flurry of motorcycle activity much like bees hovering around their hive. With its steel girder exterior, the building looks every bit as industrial as you would expect it to.
Lining every hall was every model and year Harley-Davidson that could be imagined. Shined up and looking like they were ready to roll off the showroom floor, Knuckleheads and Panheads alike were restored to perfection. The attention to detail was astounding. U.S. Army 45’s in their olive drab splendor were complete with slung rifles and survival packs strapped to the back fender. Even a 1947 police parking enforcement bike came with the cane pole and attached chalk which was used for marking car tires. Strolling along the weathered hardwood floors, I felt like I was walking hallowed halls.
As if the bikes weren’t enough, memorabilia was tucked into every nook and cranny. Pictures of the original “factory” (which wasn’t more than a shed in the back yard) along with notes from their very first board meetings were on display. Service manuals for some of their first mechanics as well as some of the original sales receipts from their very early motorcycles were encased in glass as if they were the crown jewels. I can’t imagine where they found some of these treasures.
Specialty rooms were also in abundance in the museum. The engine room had every type of Harley engine with interactive screens where you could learn about the history and internal workings of each. Another room had nothing but colorfully painted tanks almost as far as the eye could see. Another area held the history of board track racing and hill climbing with many beautifully restored motorcycles from those sports as well as pictures of the early racers and the actual trophies that they had won. Always a part of Harley’s culture, motorcycle clubs had their room which was filled with old club pictures as well as the shirts and patches that they wore.
Stepping into what I call the “Hollywood Room”, you’re met by a large screen showing clips from motorcycle movies and chase scenes. Hung on the walls are movie posters and photos from every encounter that Hollywood ever had with a motorcycle. Standing on a pedestal in the middle of the room are the iconic stars of the silver screen, both choppers from the classic biker movie “Easy Rider”. And just around the corner is Elvis Presley’s first Harley: a 1956 KH Side-Valve complete with original sales receipt.
The Harley Davidson museum is more than I ever expected. I spent about four hours wandering through the halls in awe and will be going back soon as I’m sure that I missed something. You could easily spend a whole day there. All info can be found on their web site at www.harley-davidson.com and click on the museum tab.
DEAN “D-DAY” BARTOSH
W210 S10320 Janis Lane • Muskego, WI 53150
414-416-2940 • firstname.lastname@example.org