WHEELS THROUGH TIME MOTORCYCLE MUSEUM
By Dan Schmitt
Special note: I published this story to the web on January 27, 2008
I need to add some more of the photos.
The Wheels Through Time Museum may be the greatest motorcycle
museum in the USA today. As a destination, the new location provides a great
ride from all directions. As an educational center, its arrangement of
motorcycles; by style, by purpose and by age, this museum provides a study of
American made motorcycle from 1903 through present time. And as a living museum,
a museum that runs, you can touch, smell and even hear these motorcycles, the
way they were in their era.
Dale Walksler decided to move his museum from Mt. Vernon, Illinois to
Maggie Valley, North Carolina after he sold his Harley-Davidson Dealership. He
was looking for a tourist area to locate the new museum. Maggie Valley was
suggested to him, and with one visit to this town, he fell in love with it. He
purchased an old village campground and plans were formulated to build a new
building to house this magnificent collection. Dale’s collection of
motorcycles had outgrown his building behind the Harley-Davidson Dealership in
Mt. Vernon and he sold the Dealership in order to dedicate his time to these old
Dale explains the raising of the new 38,000 square foot building, “This
was the old village campground. It
was a relatively popular campground that closed about three years ago, and I
just fell in love with the piece of property.
There are 46 acres and initially we put a new bridge in so we could get
the heavy equipment across. Probably
the biggest surprise was when we shot the elevations, we had to raise all this
ground 12 feet, so we raised about 50,000 square feet 12 feet in elevation,
which was very costly. Then the
building progressed real well. We
used all local contractors and local craftsmen to build the inside stuff, and it
really went very well from the date of the real estate closing to the grand
opening day. The opening day of the
museum was I think 10 months, so we really put it together in quick order.
We get a lot of compliments on the facility, and it’s probably exactly
what I wanted.”
With 67 trips from Mt. Vernon to Maggie Valley, most of the collection is
now in Maggie Valley. With careful planning, the motorcycles are now arranged
according to style, use and age. Veteran Bikes, those build between 1903 and
1926 are located near the entrance to the great hall. Military Bikes, both WW I
and WWII, are located next, on the right, in the great hall. Art Deco Bikes,
those built between 1926-1939, are located next, including 45’s, 74’s and
other American made motorcycles. Located on the other side of the great hall,
the One of a Kind and Post-War motorcycles provide the hint of progress in
manufacturing and engineering. Right in the center of the great hall, a man-made
hill is located to spotlight the rare collection of factory hill-climb racers.
At the far end of the great hall, America’s largest collection of board-track
racers is located. Some of these motorcycles are one-off factory racers from the
teens and twenties. Another display in the great hall contains old engines and
equipment using motorcycle engines for power.
On the ground floor of the entrance hall, Dale has placed vintage cars
representing ten decades of automotive progress. But up in the balcony, the
Class C motorcycles are located. Race bikes from the thirties through the
sixties, bikes that belonged to great champions, Roger Reiman, Brad Andres,
Carroll Resweber, etc. There are early factory racers, build for flat-track and
enduros. One of Evel Knievel’s jump bikes is there. Dale explains how he
acquired two of these famous motorcycles, “A fella named George Sedlak was the
guy who painted all of Evel Knievel’s bikes.
He was in the Quad Cities and early on he had met Evel down at Roger
Reiman’s shop and told Roger that those bikes he was building for this guy
were ugly and he could paint one. And
Evel kind of stood back and said, “By
golly just paint one for me” and from that point on, Evel would never jump
anywhere unless he had a George Sedlak paint job on the helmet and on his bike.
The first Evel Kneivel bike I bought through George Sedlak, and after Roger
died, when they had his auction in Kewanee, Illinois, I bought another one of
Evel’s bikes in pieces. That bike is currently on loan at the dealership in
Mt. Vernon. “
Located front and center in the great hall is one of the vintage
motorcycle shops. Built to represent what an average shop in the early teens
would look like, and equipped with tools from that area. In the two far corners
of the great hall, two more shops are located, one representing the sixties and
the other, the thirties. In the future, the intention is to use these shops for
a continuing educational program. Beside the motorcycles, hundreds of artifacts,
lithographs, photos, posters and programs from these early eras are on display.
Additionally, there are displays featuring era clothing, oil can collections,
toys, original oil paintings and calendars.
Dale has been involved with vintage motorcycles from the start of his
riding career. His first bike was a 1952 Harley Panhead. He grew up in Glen
Ellyn, Illinois and after attending Western Illinois University, he opened his
first shop, HOG PARTS, on North Avenue. Dale continues his story, “I started
buying old motorcycle dealership’s inventories, and in 1977 I bought the
Harley Dealership in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
I think I was 22 years old. I
got credit through my father who put a second mortgage on his house so I could
get the 50 grand to buy the dealership. I
stayed in Mt. Vernon for 24 years and ran a very non-uniform Harley Davidson
dealership. I wasn’t big in the
motor clothing and gifts and accessories, I was a motorcycle dealership with
great service. I had 7 full-time
mechanics, 3 salesmen, and during my last years in business Dale’s Harley
Davidson would sell about 100 motorcycles a month in Mt. Vernon, Illinois,
population 16,000 in the middle of nowhere.
That was kind of a means to this end, and during those years of running
the dealership I collected and restored, built and put together a lot of pieces
and parts, and ended up with 230 very rare motorcycles and a great little
collection of cars.”
The first bike Dale restored was a black ’41 Knucklehead with a
sidecar. He rode it solo for many
years. It is in the museum now with the sidecar. The first really ‘old’ bike
that he bought was a ’28 JD. Next he acquired a 1913 Harley. He says that once
you get the taste for these early bikes, the search goes on.
Dale continue the story, “Through my good friend Chuck Lipsky in Galesburg,
Illinois and a fella named Red Ryan out of Batavia, Illinois who is really quite
a legend, I was able to conjure up 3 or 4 old bikes and restore them back to
condition. They are still here in
the museum today. Over the years, I
bought large inventories of old motorcycles. There was a huge deal in Iola,
Kansas where I picked up about 40 old bikes.
Then there was a Harley dealership in Energy, Illinois and old George and
Wanda Swim sold me 50 old motorcycles for a very reasonable price.
Auctions or funny leads, and they just come out of the strangest
He built the building behind the Harley-Davidson Dealership in 1986.
At that time, he was in the antique car business also. He would buy and
sell old cars. It was called
Dale’s Classic Cars. In 1992, a
good friend and famous photographer and writer, Doug Mitchell, suggested the
name ‘Wheels Through Time’ and gave Dale a little logo idea.
Ron Ray perfected the logo idea and it became “Wheels Through Time, the
Museum that Runs.” It became
official on March 9, 1992.
Dale took a cross-country ride and made it a fundraiser. Dale explains,
“In 1997, I took a very famous bike that was raced by Maldwin Jones who
crashed it in Cincinnati in 1917. It
laid up in Detroit for 70 years and my friend Steve Huntzinger
restored that bike. It’s a 1917
Henderson factory-built 24-hour endurance bike, a very special machine.
On June 5, 1997 I took the ’17 Henderson and broke Alan Bedell’s 1917
transcontinental record. This took place 80 years later to the day on a similar
1917 Henderson.” Dale continues, “I had a lot of fun doing it, but I made it
a fundraiser for Grand National dirt track racers across the country.
It was called the Heritage Challenge and I raised about $35,000.
I think we went to 7 Grand National dirt track races and set up a $5,000
purse. The Heritage Challenge was
comprised of the 6 fastest non-qualifiers to the 5-lap dash for $5,000 just
prior to the feature race, so it was a very rewarding experience riding the bike
cross-country and seeing those guys who didn’t have a chance of winning, take
some money home.”
When asked about Maggie Valley and the reason for the re-location to this
location, Dale states, “If you just look around at the pretty mountains, and
our motels in town are very friendly people, we have great restaurants here.
We have proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s 3 miles away within
the best motorcycle roads in the country. I-40
is only 8 miles from here, Asheville is 30 miles, and from a tourism point of
view, this area will support a museum.”
Dale continue on about the funding of the museum, “Unlike most museums
that are funded by large corporations or state grants, this is really funded but
with three things. We have our
general admission, a raffle bike annually, and a membership program.
Those 3 items have funded the general operations of this museum, I am a
non-paid participant here. I have to thank my friend Jeff Ring, who certainly
should get credit for putting this museum together.
We have a staff of three, we have some marketing in place, we have some
billboards here in town and some motel advertising.
We have a brochure program, and this little area here is such a wonderful
place, it will support a museum.”
The WHEEL THROUGH TIME MUSEUM is located in western North Carolina with
the Great Smokey Mountain as a backdrop. It is only 8 miles off I-40. If you
travel from the Midwest, once you get east of Knoxville, Tennessee, you will
ride the best interstate highway section in the country. This ride containing
hundreds of turns through the Pigeon River Gorge is just fantastic. The speed
limit for trucks is only 45 mph. From the east, the BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY travels
from north-east to south-west, providing a smooth ride to Maggie Valley. Or you
can just take I-40, the Highway 19 exit is just 30 west of Asheville, North
The museum is open 7 days a week, and Dale is usually on the floor from 8
AM to 7-8 PM. The address is Wheels Through Time, P.O. Box 790, Maggie Valley,
NC 28751. Telephone number is
828-926-6266. Their website is www.wheelsthroughtime.com.
Next year, in 2004, the Antique Motorcycle Club of American (AMCA)
will be hosting a national here, a national road run. There will be 150 vintage bikes from around the country here
to rally. Additional, this museum allow photographs and video taping, so bring
Some photo descriptions:
Harley Davidson’s 80 mile per gallon advertising roadside sign.
Vintage teens era motorcycle shop
Dale running his Henderson
Hill climb motorcycles on man-made hill
One of Evel Knievel’s Jump bikes.
Some of the hundred of pieces of original artwork
Early V-twin Indian.
Sign and waterfall on Highway 19
Oldsmobile built Motorama 3-wheel vehicle
Visitors as of 02/10/2011
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