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Wednesday, 21 August 2013 13:28

Bringing history back to the open road

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art frA loud roar echoed from the back of the building. The deafening sound is terrifying, yet captivating, heightened by the smell of oil and gasoline. A cloud of smoke wafted through the air, evoking the power and intrigue of a mechanical performance about to unfold.

“It’s more than the sound,” Dale Walksler said, straddling a 1928 Harley-Davidson Hillclimber. “It’s also the sight, smell and taste. Starting this motorcycle up achieves all of your sensitivities.”

 

Walksler, the mastermind behind the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, suddenly became a magnet, a role he is not only accustomed to, but thrives in. Fans strolling the floor of his famous showroom flocked to Walksler as soon as he fired up the machine. He then regaled them with the motorcycle’s mechanics and origins. Like many of his pieces, this one was rescued and restored to mint condition, namely from an old general store in Central City, Colo. 

“We rebuilt this here and had it running in one day,” he said. “This museum is a very earthy place, where things are brought back to life everyday.”

The Hillclimber became one of the subjects of Walksler’s new reality show, “What’s In The Barn?”

Produced by Velocity TV, a division of the Discovery Channel, the show travels around the country in search of forgotten and highly prized motorcycles to bring back to Maggie Valley to resurrect and once again hit the open road.

Filmed from Labor Day last year through Easter, the eight-episode first season has been airing throughout the summer. With much worldwide interest, plans are already in the works for the next season.

“It’s a very simple premise where we take a cross-section of American history, where it’s about finding something and doing something with it,” he said. “We aren’t like the other mainstream reality shows where they find something and make a buck or take advantage of somebody to make a buck.”

Founded by Walksler in 1992 in Illinois, Walksler relocated his museum to Maggie Valley in 2002 and almost instantly claimed a title as one of the region’s top tourist attractions.

Featuring over 320 of the most highly sought-after American motorcycles in the world, the collection is a living, breathing history of this county on two, three and four wheels, with hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years. 

At the center of this showcase is Walksler, who has spent over 45 years scouring the world, from musty barns to urban storage units, in an effort to preserve the mechanical history of the United States.

“I have the best connections and reputation for vintage motorcycles in the world,” he said. “My phone rings everyday with opportunity.”

Wheels Through Time is no stranger to television. Since its inception, Walksler has been producing hundreds of his own videos online of bike rebuilds and treasure hunts. The History Channel and Discovery Channel have both featured Walksler and the museum numerous times, with popular show “American Pickers” tapping his shoulders over a half-dozen times. Eventually, Velocity TV and the museum decided to do their own project.

“This show is the reflection of what we do here at the museum, which is to inspire Americans to love their country while we’re bringing things back to life,” he said. “This is not a ‘chase-a-dollar’ show. Education is at the top of our ladder. We want to provide education and discovery through entertainment. It’s about history and preservation.”

Thus far, the program has Walksler and his son, Matt, traveling to Fresno, Pittsburgh, Denver and Philadelphia, among other locations.

The Hillclimber discovery came through a cold call, where the owner of the motorcycle sent along some blurry photos of what he thought was something unique and worth checking out. Walksler jumped on the chance and headed for Central City. 

“Hillclimber motorcycles are what I’m familiar with intimately,” he said. “I’ve been collecting them for over 40 years and know every inch of every one made between 1926 and 1932.”

The trip resulted in three bikes: the 1928 Hillclimber, 1928 Harley-Davidson JD and a 1929 Hillclimber, all of which had remained dormant in an old general store for the better part of the last 80 years. Walksler figures they were originally custom built for Harley-Davidson legendary rider Floyd Clymer. 

The bikes found their way into the hands of a man named “Wild Bill,” who used them to smuggle moonshine during Prohibition. From that point, the exquisitely preserved bikes were left in the store to gather dust and stay forgotten.

“I have to be one of the luckiest guys in the world finding these motorcycles,” he said. “There are other people in the industry with as much passion as me who know what I’m looking at is a one-of-a-kind built machine.”

And that passion for motorcycles seeps into the deepest parts of Walksler’s soul. He’s a bundle of energy, a lightning in a bottle personality who bounces around his 38,000 square foot showroom like a pinball. He shakes hands and takes photos with anyone he crosses paths with. They are visitors from all over the world, all wanting to experience the vision Walksler had those many years ago, a shrine not just to the transportation machines of the past but the American history and culture that they embody and reflect.

They follow him around, hanging on his every word and action. One moment he’s cranking up a bike, the next he’s pointing out where an antique sign or machine part came from. Each piece in the museum has a story, and Walksler knows them all.

“This isn’t just a museum of motorcycles, it’s a museum of people’s lives,” he said. “Passion for what you do is something that’s contagious. Whether you’re three years old or 80, everything in here appeals to everybody, and this show is really the proof in the pudding.”

 

 

Want to watch?

Season One of the reality show “What’s In The Barn?” will air on Velocity TV on the following dates and times: 

Wednesday, Aug. 21 (2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.)

Sunday Aug. 25 (10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.)

Tuesday, Aug. 27 (7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.)

Wednesday, Aug. 28 (2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.)

Velocity TV is distributed through Charter (Channel 778), DirectTV (Channel 281) and Dish Network (Channel 364), among other service providers. 

www.velocity.discovery.com or www.wheelsthroughtime.com

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