Showcasing the history of the open road
A loud roar echoed from the back of the building. The deafening sound is terrifying, yet exhilarating, with the smell of burning oil and gasoline permeating through the air.
It’s the sound of a 1928 Harley-Davidson Hillclimber.
“It’s more than the sound,” said Dale Walksler. “It’s also the sight, smell and taste. Starting this motorcycle up achieves all of your sensitivities.”
Owner/founder of the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, Walksler straddled the bike on his elaborate showroom. Several people strolling the museum immediately head for Walksler, not only hear and see the historic machine, but also listen as he explains where it came from and how it works. The one-of-a-kind motorcycle was rescued 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 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.”
Created in 1992, the museum has resided in Maggie Valley since 2002. Featuring more than 320 of the most highly sought after American motorcycles in the world, the collection is a living, breathing history of this country on two, three and four wheels, with hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years. At the center of it all is Walksler, who has spent more than 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 the 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 places. 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, Colo.
“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 laid 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 remain 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’re visitors from all over the world, all wanting to experience the vision Walksler had those many years ago that remains today. 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.”
Wheels Through Time is located just off Soco Road on Maggie Valley’s main strip.
828.926.6266 • www.wheelsthroughtime.com
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Monday
Closed Tuesdays & Wednesday
Admission: adults $12; seniors (65 and up) $10; children $6