We made it! My dad and I arrived to the Harley Davidson Museum just a few minutes before 9:00 a.m., when they opened. I wore my light jacket for the ride of nine miles, in case I needed it later. My dad originally thought I was funny, but we needed our jackets and more by the time we left! Upon arrival, we parked in the motorcycle parking area, which is monitored by security cameras. We took a few photos from the outside, and we met some Canadians from Toronto. Alvin, from Canada, is also a collector of the H-D poker chips, and he was nice enough to give me one from Toronto! We exchanged information, and I promised to send him some from San Antonio when I get back home.
Today is officially the first day of their summer season, so there was a special Garage exhibit for the summer. Because we are official H.O.G. members, we had free admission to the museum, but we chose to pay $8 each for a guided tour. We walked around the main hall on our own, where we saw bikes dating back to 1911. Some had sidecars, some had attachments for making deliveries, and one was for the police. We were able to see the first Harley Davidson, with serial number 1. It is enclosed in a glass case for protection.
Our tour started at 10:30 a.m. and was led by an English a professor at Marquette University who gives tours during the summer. (Could I have a cool future like this guy? Fingers crossed.) He was very informative and we learned a lot, but unfortunately, the size of the group was a little too large. I realize he is not in charge of that, so I don’t blame him. About 2/3 of the way through the tour, some freeloaders tagged along, and the young girl who was hired to be the caboose of our tour didn’t have the guts to tell them to take a hike. So, our group got larger and we had children who were running around with minimal parental guidance (that’s my diplomatic voice). What can you do?
I loved seeing the military motorcycles. There was one that had a side car, and it had the star painted on the gas tank. During WW II, H-D did not make many changes to their civilian bikes because they were contracted to make the bikes for our military. They did make some adjustments so that the bikes would be sturdy in different types of terrain and climates. We learned that the bikes were shipped overseas as parts in wooden boxes, and the military guys would assemble them there. This is actually part of the reason Harley Davidson became so popular with veterans. When they came back from WW II and were adjusting to life back home, they got the bikes, often still assembling the bikes themselves, and forming their own clubs for leisure and brotherhood. Hence, the beginning of motorcycle clubs!
We also saw an old police H-D. Milwaukee was the first city to buy them for their traffic patrol police officers. As time went on, they became popular with other cities as well. We also saw an old Harley that was used by mail carriers. They had a 100th anniversary edition bike with a sidecar on display, and it was signed by all the employees that year! Pretty cool.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love color. Everything I own depends on the color. The H-D museum had a nice display of gas tank designs over the years. They were labeled with paint colors and years, and I love the turquoise shades the best.
H-D was originally very interested in self promotion, and they would ride their motorcycles all around the country, taking photos and sharing their stories. The marketing was targeted for middle class families, trying to sell a lifestyle of leisure entertainment. I tried to snap a few photos of ads and some photos showing how they marketed the lifestyle.
In a room downstairs, they had some H-D motorcycles that have appeared in movies, including Captain America. They also had one of Elvis Presley’s motorcycles, but I have to say, it’s not as nice as his ones on display at Graceland. Finally, they had some bikes on display that you could sit on and take photos. Most of them were 2019 edition bikes, but a few were oldies.
After seeing the whole museum, my dad and I had lunch at the Motor Restaurant (which they own on the property). My dad had a nice Cuban sandwich, and I had a nice avocado club sandwich. We did not consume any alcohol since we were on our bikes, but the bar looked pretty cool, and it had a vintage bike up on the wall.
When we went into the gift shop, I found a few things for my dad for father’s day. As I was looking around, he came up to chat. So I told him to to let me know when he is done looking around. He made his purchases, and I asked him to wait outside while I made mine. It turns out, I got him a H-D Museum challenge coin that he also bought himself! (This was discovered later when we returned to the hotel.) I got a few other items, but because we can’t carry much, I paid to have them shipped.
One of the fun things about being in the museum is that there are people from around the world. In our tour, we had some men from Spain, a man from France, and people from all over the United States. Everyone wears a H-D shirt from their hometown, so you can see the great diversity of H.O.G. members. In one display case, they had a collection of chapter patches (referred to as rocker bars) from all around the world! Clubs are welcomed to bring one to donate to the museum. While we were in the store, one of the employees noticed my shirt, which is from Caliente H-D in San Antonio, and he asked if that’s where I am from. I told him I currently live in San Antonio, and it turns out he used to work in the motor clothes section of Caliente H-D! Such a small world.
On Saturdays, you can take demo rides of any of the 2019 models, but because it was so windy and freezing cold by the time we got back outside, we did not do that. It was down to the 50s, and because we were only 2 blocks away from the lake, the winds made it so cold! We never anticipated we would be freezing in June. We rode back to the hotel, and we actually turned the heat on in our room. Crazy, right? Our tour guide did have a few jokes about he never-ending winter of Milwaukee.
Overall, it was pretty cool to see all the different bikes and to learn the history of the company. I’m glad we got to do this for Father’s Day.