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Spare Parts: Heaven on earth

By Ernie Copper

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Ten years ago, we rode Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile stretch of legendary road tucked into the southeast corner of Tennessee reaching to the western corner of North Carolina. At that time, we’d intended to make the Wheels Through Time Museum part of our trip but horrible weather had put us behind in our travel plans and it never happened.

I finally got the chance to return to the area this fall and Wheels Through Time was on the must-do list. The museum, if you’ve been living under a rock, is located in beautiful Maggie Valley and is brought to us by Dale Walksler, former H-D dealer and full-time gearhead.

When we arrived, the outbuildings, grounds and vehicles were so interesting that I had to force myself inside. Once there, we tagged onto an impromptu tour begin given by WTT host Andy and he told us about fully-restored jewels like 1909 Reading Standard board track racer in front of us. He was interrupted by Dale himself, who had asked for a few strong backs to help move some bikes. Now, before I sound like too much of a fan boy, I’ll explain that I was a Walksler fan before his What’s in the Barn TV show days and I don’t consider that show to be his greatest contribution to humanity. I appreciate Dale for his vision and dedication to preserving the history of motorcycling and for making his life’s work available to the public to enjoy as though it’s theirs as well. I tossed my camera to my wife, or to the ground—I can’t be sure I was so excited! Then I followed Dale and Andy out front where we would help push the ultra-rare one-of-36-made 1941 H-D WR Daytona into its waiting display on the second floor of the museum. This involved helping push the bike around the driveway leading to the second floor, up the ramp and onto the platform where Dale was waiting to help guide it into place.

The bike was previously owned by the late Harry Molenaar, an H-D dealer in Hammond, Indiana, and while I tried to take this all in, I would later realize these opportunities are created several times a day at WTT and are truly part of the experience. Now, that’s not to say that you’re guaranteed to meet Dale Walksler every time you go there, or that you will get to go hands-on with a rare bike, but you might.

As for Andy, he graciously resumed his tour guide duties and we rejoined him several times during our visit as he shared several stories of the bikes and of his own world travels with us. He volunteered to take pictures of us with our favorite bikes and while you might think this was because of my connection to THUNDER PRESS, you would be wrong. I hadn’t even told him about that, but it eventually came up and don’t you know that Dale recalled Editor Robert Filla’s coverage of his 2007 record attempt run at Talladega, and was highly complimentary of same. Dale, rider Wayne Stanfield, and their team attempted to break Fred “Ironman” Ham’s 70-year-old record of 1,825 miles in 24 hours on a ’37 Knucklehead, but came up a bit short, logging 1,325 miles. Their effort was no less spectacular, but allows for sincere appreciation of Ham’s accomplishments in 1937.

Wheels Through Time is a national treasure. You can hear, touch and even smell the history in the cavernous building and it is amazing. Walksler started many bikes throughout the day and even several cars. It was a dream-like experience for me, seeing these people doing what they, and I, love and making it feel like it was all there just for me, even though I know it is all of ours to share. It was like your dad tossing you the keys to his prized 5-speed sports car on prom night. Dale really wants people to enjoy what he values in these treasured bikes in a friendly, clean, but non-sterile environment. It would be impossible to describe the bikes here—a Flying Merkel, two Crockers and the belle of the ball, a one-of-one Traub.

If you can’t get there right away, you can enjoy the prolific Wheels Through Time Facebook page including regular live streams. What you’ll see there are great old bikes being started, some of them being cantankerous and difficult and Walksler enjoying every minute of it. He hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be just like us, because in many ways he still is. Walksler makes the wheels spin forward while the hands on the clock seem to go counterclockwise at least while you’re in his world.

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