I had just finished up a weekend at Milledgeville Thunder Rally and I wanted to take a couple of days off. I decided to head to Maggie Valley, North Carolina, which is a growing biker destination for weekend rides. I headed out on Highway 441 to Franklin, North Carolina through Cherokee and then on to Maggie Valley.
When I arrived I found a motel room for the night. I needed something to eat so I started looking for a restaurant. I came across a BBQ restaurant and the food was okay. Since the last time I was there the food and motel prices have gone up. I also needed to find something to do for the day.
Ghost Town in the sky is an old western town. This attraction had just reopened last month and it might be the reason the prices went up. I was trying to decide whether to go to Ghost Town and see the western gunfights or have a root beer in their saloon. It even crossed my mind to go see Elvis, a show at one of the entertainment places. When I came across a sign that said Wheels Through Time, I remembered that Thunder Press Magazine had an article about this museum setting an endurance record at the Talladega Raceway. At that point I knew what I was going to do that day.
When I crossed the creek on a single lane bridge to get to the Wheels Through Time Museum the first thing I saw was a giant motorcycle called “BIG.' The bike is almost 23-feet long and stands over eight and a half feet high. It is powered by a 1500cc S&S Motor. The motorcycle was the idea of the bike builder Arlen Ness and was built on the Discovery Channel. When the bike was obtained from the owner in California, the bike made a long trip across the country. Whereever it stopped, people came to see this big bike. I discovered later that Dale’s dog, Shiloh, loved to ride this big bike.
Dale Walksler has owned Dale’s Harley-Davidson in Mt. Vernon, Illinois since 1976. He also owned a museum near his Harley shop called the Wheels Trough Time. In the spring of 2001 Dale wanted to follow his love of old motorcycles so he sold his motorcycle shop. At that time he was looking for a new home for his museum. While visiting the Smoky Mountains on vacation, Dale traveled through Maggie Valley and found the perfect spot. Dale opened Wheels Through Time in a 38,000-square foot building in Maggie Valley in June of 2002.
To me, this is no ordinary museum. You can watch Dale pull a bike right out of a display and ride it. There are only a very few bikes in the museum that don’t run. What amazed me is watching him come racing down the aisle at thirty miles an hour or more after doing a burnout at the other end of the building. Dale and his son love riding these old bikes.
When you walk in you think you are going to just see motorcycles and few old cars. I found a couple of outboard motors, chain saws, and a small plane; and all had Harley engines. I found motorcycle pins, patches, oil cans, and just about anything having to do with motorcycling. They had an exhibit of motorbikes and women who rode motorcycles. This was a photographic history of women in motorcycling from 1905 to 1955. It showed examples of motorcycles that women would have rode at that time. This is the first exhibit I have ever seen that honored women in motorcycling.
When I went into the museum I was thinking this was going to take a couple of hours. Before I left Maggie Valley I had spent more than a day and a half looking at and photographing bikes. As I was taking photos of Max giving a tour to some bikers from up north, Dale kick-started an old Crocker motorcycle and rode it around inside the building. Max told me to go to the other end of the building as Dale was going to do a burnout inside the building. I was amazed at what I was seeing- an old bike doing a burnout and Dale racing down the aisle of the museum.
One of the motorcycles that caught my attention was the Pigeon Carrier that was used during WWI. When Dale first got the motorcycle three parts were missing, plus the pigeon carrier. The bike sat around in the shop for twenty years with very little repair done to it. Then one day Dale was at a swap meet somewhere in Pennsylvania. He came across a pigeon carrier that might fit his bike. So, as the story goes, he carried the pigeon carrier home and the carrier fit perfectly on the bike. The carrier had three motorcycle parts inside; all three were the same parts that were missing from Dale’s bike.
Upstairs I found a 1948 Harley Panhead that was customized around 1970 with a Coca-Cola theme. This Harley was called “The Coke Machine” and it was designed by David Cargill of Des Moines. A glass bottle was cut and used as a gas cap for the gas tank. The bike was painted red with vintage Coke Slogans and images.
I was standing near a bike thinking about taking a photo of it when Dale walked by and said to follow him. While we were walking through the building he wanted to know if I would like to see his shop. Dale told me this is where he works on his bikes and spends most of his day. I found many bikes that had rust all over them and others that looked like new. There were motorcycle parts from the floor to the ceiling and there was just enough room to walk. The way it looked, he was working on three or four bikes at any giving time.
By the end of the day I had learned that Dale and his son Max are two of the friendliest bikers in the world. You can tell they like being around motorcycles and bikers. Dale loves to ride these old motorcycles and his son has the same passion for riding. When you cross that bridge going to the Wheels Through Time Museum, is just like going to Harley Heaven. Then when you can’t get your hands on one of those old bikes and you watch other bikers ride them it seems like you went some place else instead of Heaven.
I guess Dale can’t let everyone ride his bikes. Why did I say that? Because Dale was letting other bikers ride some of the old bikes. I was wanting to start jumping up and down, telling him to let me ride that old Harley. I just had to sit back and watch and take photos of other bikers having all the fun. Now I wish I had asked him to let me sit on one of the antique bikes. It would be nice to know how it felt sitting on an old Harley, or even better, to know how it felt to ride a piece of history.
If you have the chance to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina and if you love motorcycles, especially American made, the admission fee of twelve dollars is well worth it. Dale might be there to tell the ticket lady to give you a discount on getting in. You will get to see some awesome old bikes and meet some great bikers. They treat every visitor just like they were old friends. If you ever get by there ask them about the motorcycle Traub that was found in a brick wall.
By Tommy Pittard