There she stood — all crimson and velvet of her — an 1847 Victorian sofa trimmed in 3-D mahogany carvings of savage wolves and other random forest creatures.
Accompanying this beauty were supplementary pieces — chairs and a chaise lounge. While admiring the furniture, Andy popped out of nowhere stating in his thick English accent, “The furniture is so nice here, we can’t get some guests to leave,” pointing to the curled-up mannequin on the love seat across the room, dressed in vintage riding gear, complete with a helmet and boots.
Andy is one of the tour guides at Wheels through Time Museum, located five miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway on Vintage Lane in Maggie Valley. Home to more then 300 rare machines — mostly motorcycles — the 38,000 square feet space displays a trip to a faster past, complete with beautiful portraits of pin-up girls advertising the latest.
One exhibit, “Board Track America,” showcases an era when from 1908 to 1929 tracks were offered across the U.S. with high banks up to two-and-one-half miles around. It was a time when, spectators looked down from grandstands constructed above the boards as riders raced the tracks at speeds of nearly 100 mph.
“1936 Style & Function” is an exhibit that Willie G. Davidson and his wife, Nancy, claim to be their favorite after visiting the museum three times, according to the museum information.
“It is difficult to determine how many of these machines survived, however six examples of the 1936 OHV, 2 examples of the 1937 Side Valves and 3 1936 Prototype Side Valves grace this exhibit,” one quote reads.
And a favorite — “Home Made America,” showcases the work and ingenuity going into more practical purposes than riding. Some of these works of art invented within garages and backyard shops using motorcycle and car engines include a snowmobile, using an Indian engine pushing snow at 40 mph; and a huge power saw with gnarly, metal teeth mounted to a motorcycle, cutting along as someone rides.
Adding to the atmosphere are smoke and the smells of gas and oil as the museum’s guides start up the old machines, sharing the history with explicit details and research.
In “America’s Rarest” one of Andy’s fascinating history lessons tells of a bike once belonging to Steve McQueen’s stunt rider Bud Ekins — a 1916 Traub — one of the rarest motorcycles in the world and the only one of its kind. Discovered during a Chicago apartment building renovation in 1967, it was enclosed in a brick wall under a tarp.
With only five purchased parts, the bike is mostly homemade including an attached box to hold treasures. Several of the bike’s unique parts include a single-cam/twin brake system never used since on any other American motorcycle, according to the experts. Researchers even went so far as to find out who lived in the building, passing around a map with the numbered apartments.
The Traub’s origins and how it came to live in the wall remain a mystery. To hear some of the interesting theories, visit Andy at the museum.
And always appreciating old scrawled out notes, several can be found pinned to the clothing of riders, adhered to machines or under glass, such as a note from Sumpter Motors, reading:
“Caution points on installing Stroker Kit
1. Remove Crankcase baffles as in O.H.V’s.
2. Hacksaw crankcase for increased cam-rod clearance fore and after at each end of old baffle location.
3. Recess the cylinder portion extending into the crank case for increased stroke travel, as the W R is done.
4. Do not fit rods, pins and side clearances too closely.
5. Grind a groove approximately 1/16” around pinion shaft, cam case end, including oil hole (as in W R pinion shaft) to give more oil.”
The information must have come from some trial and error and having survived after at least one hundred years in a dusty old shop, it was once vital to someone.
Canadian teacher and author Eckhart Tolle said, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the now the primary focus of your life.”
We are only here for a little.
Enjoy a day at the museum; and that is all.
News Editor Carolyn Harmon can be reached at email@example.com or 252-410-7058.
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