Sunday, March 2, 2014

Day 294 - Visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum

I have never been to the Harley-Davidson Museum. As someone that grew up around dirt bikes and mini bikes, I have always had an affinity for motorcycles. However, that draw has never translated into me making any effort to connect with motorcycles as an adult. This shift is peculiar given the lack of reason for its occurrence, which made me think a part of my “I have never...” year would be well spent getting back in touch with this element of my youth. Although I have not acted on any such events to date in my year of new experiences, my trip to Milwaukee this weekend provided me a great opening to start that effort with a visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum. As a result, I convinced Ray and his girlfriend, Ala, to accompany me downtown this afternoon to make good on my daily “I have never...” objective.

The museum

After kicking to life this morning, Ray, Ala, and I were slow to get the day moving. After last night’s festivities, such a metered approach to the day was welcomed by all of us, which more or less set the tone for today’s experience. By the time we arrived at the Harley-Davidson Museum, the three of us were ready to take a slow pace through the displays we knew we would meet inside the chrome-laden industrial building branded with all things Harley. As we passed through the towering, heavy metal doors leading into the museum, we were immediately impressed by the modern, sleek interior that surrounded us. Faint sounds of Harley engines could be heard rolling from corners of the massive open space around us and Harley memorabilia occupied nearly every square inch of free space on the walls. From those first moments it was apparent today’s experience was going to be a full one.

The lobby

Ray, Ala, and I paused briefly before the sights and sounds of the museum before moving to purchase tickets and enter the main exhibition hall. Following a set of stairs to a raised platform, we were immediately greeted by rows of Harley-Davidson motorcycles stretching through decades of manufacturing. Each beautiful in their own light, the breadth and scope of the collection garnered our attention for some time as we looked over the finer details of the pristine antique vehicles. The display set an impressive precedent for the rest of the tour, which made me eager to explore further.

The first Harley
Revolution: The '36

A visitor taking in history

Eventually, that decision guided me to a series of rooms laden with relics chronicling the rise of the Harley-Davidson brand from its foundation forward. The presence of diverse and historic items laid a story that was deep and rich, with each item tying back to a revolution in the design and building of what became the most iconic brand in motorcycles. From copies of original bike designs to perfectly preserved examples of motorcycles that have long since left the roads, I was astonished at the breadth of the exhibits around us. The museum wasn’t just a house for items from the past, it was a living storybook telling an amazing tale of American ingenuity that reflected the ebbs and flows of history in the United States.

The wall of fame... for engines

One of the displays

Ray and I being living embarrassments

Astonished at the quality of the museum around me, I took my time working through exhibits until my path crossed Ray and Ala once more. Deciding it would be best to continue to the other areas of the museum, we found our way down to the first floor of the space, pausing only to don some undersized Harley gear and make idiots of ourselves posing on a fake motorcycle. Once Ray and I were satisfied our efforts had embarrassed Ala enough with our antics, we continued through the final legs of the museum. There we found bundles of modern Harley history wrapped up in monumental displays of motorcycles. As before, each of the displays offered something unique and different in the Harley story, which helped solidify my understanding of the deep sense of devotion many enthusiasts feel for the brand.

The Evel Knievel cutout

Simulating stunts

The home stretch

Eventually, our slow progress through the remaining portions of the museum where we found a set of two Evel Knievel video games that permitted players to simulate jumps over pools of sharks or semi cabs in an effort to set record distances. The games provided us some humorous entertainment for some time, which culminated with Ray setting the all-time distance record twice before we decided to continue toward the museum exit. After taking a few minutes to pose on some Harley display bikes at the end of the tour, we wrapped up our experience quietly and headed back out into the late winter cold.


The three of us made a few passing remarks about the experience as we climbed back into the car and began the trip back to Ray and Ala’s apartment. Although it was obvious each of us took something away from the experience, I could tell the impression left by the history at the Harley-Davidson Museum varied between us. While there is little doubt each of us thought the experience was well worth our time, the history in design and American culture that ran through Harley’s lineage left a significant impact on me. Through perseverance and commitment, two men took a concept and made it come to life. They took an idea, made it a reality, and changed the world. That’s powerful, and while I’m not out to have that kind of impact, I can easily say that the core of this “I have never...” year has been to take an idea, make it a reality, and change my world. Thanks to today’s trip, I might have just found the inspiration I need to push through to the end of this wild ride.

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