Mike and Margaret Wilson Memorial Established

We mourn the loss of Mike and Margaret Wilson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa as both have died in the past year, but want to remember this fine couple. Both nonagenarians at their deaths, Mike and Margaret were extraordinary Museum volunteers and supporters, especially when helping people understand the history of motorcycling. Memorial donations in their names have been arriving at the Museum, so we have established a special memorial. If you would like to help the Museum as well as continue our remembrance of our dear friends Mike and Margaret, send your remembrance donation to:
Mike & Margaret Memorial
National Motorcycle Museum
102 Chamber Drive
Anamosa, IA 52205

The Passing of Great Motorcycling Friends, Margaret and Mike Wilson

As we have grown, matured as motorcyclists, most of us have had older best friends, mentors, people we always see at events or stay in touch with. These are people who can help us with technical problems, or simply share their stories regarding how motorcycling was “back in the old days.” We respect their opinions, want to listen when they speak. They just seem to always be there for us as symbols of how to “do it right,” how best to live as motorcyclists. Until one day they are gone. Never to be talked with again.

Margaret and Mike Wilson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa have been those people for many of us, actually, all across America. Mike, the dirt track racer, pilot and airplane restorer, Bonneville Land Speed Record Sportster tuner, Margaret, Golden Life Member of the Motor Maids, named America’s Most Popular and Typical Girl Rider for 1958 by the AMA. Mike and Margaret, Harley-Davidson dealers, then Honda dealers, ambassadors, always motorcycling pals that put down motorcycle miles in 48 states. Active with any organization that seems to respect motorcycling history, they poured in hundreds of hours serving on boards, volunteering, sharing their spirit, and likely hundreds of thousands of their hard earned dollars to support the preservation and telling of motorcycling’s great history.

Mike Wilson died yesterday, February 2. We lost Margaret Wilson last summer. If you ask anyone who knows them, they’ll agree they were a really fine couple, lived life to the fullest. Pure and honest, always helpful, and hopeful for their friends and fellow motorcyclists. For many of us who knew them well, or just crossed paths with them at some event, they will be missed a great deal. Luckily, we have material evidence of their enthusiasm, motorcycles they raced and rode, photos of them with friends, their smiling faces preserved.


Jill & John Parham
All the staff at the National Motorcycle Museum,
One of Mike and Margaret’s favorite places to meet people, share stories.

Motor Maids Exhibit Expansion; Helen Kiss Main Remembered

The Motor Maids organization was founded in 1940. Early members set its mission to be promotion of safe riding habits, motorcycle travel, encouraging members to be good ambassadors to motorcycling. And as time went on, to have a presence at large motorcycling events. Neat attire has always been part of the program as well, and a succession of approved apparel, down to boots, gloves and head gear have a history. When the National Motorcycle Museum reopened in its new home in 2010, a special exhibit area was established to honor women riders, and the Motor Maids are featured there. Recently the family and friends of the late Helen Kiss, who died in April, 2014, added to the Museum’s exhibitions Helen’s personal Motor Maids uniforms and other memorabilia. Helen was 94 and spent her life helping people, animals, nature and of course the image of motorcycling. The Pink Lady, as she was known, is missed, but the Museum display will help conjure her experiences in motorcycling.

1909 Vintage Harley Police Motorcycle, The earliest police model in existence.

At the dawn of the last century, Harley-Davidson recognized that its rugged and reliable motorcycles were perfectly positioned to service law enforcement. Back then, good mobility was vital, and a single-cylinder Harley-Davidson provided that at a time when our country was just beginning to make the transition from the horse and carriage to motorized transportation. Easy to operate, economical to use, and a form of transportation that allowed widespread access to remote areas that needed policing, the earliest Harleys fit the bill. The archives state that the first sale of a Harley to a municipality for police work occurred in 1908, and Detroit was the first customer. From that humble beginning, Harley has expanded its efforts and focused on the law enforcement market to great success. Today, in the United States, over 3,400 police departments ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Worldwide, Harleys are used in over 45 countries, to keep the peace.

Our featured bike is an amazing, all-original 1909 Harley-Davidson police motorcycle owned by our good friend and amazing motorcycle enthusiast John Parham. It’s part of his vast collection of rare antique machines and one of my favorites for many reasons. It’s all original, and it’s also the earliest known Harley-Davidson police motorcycle in existence. That says it all.

The bike was sold to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Police Department where it spent many years in service to the community. It passed through a few additional owners until it had outlived its usefulness and was then disassembled, put in boxes, and stored indoors for decades. It was then rediscovered,
reassembled, and donated to the La Crosse Historical Society. With no place to display it, the bike was then loaned to the local Harley-Davidson dealer who displayed it in a showcase for many years. Many people wanted to buy it, including John, but it was not for sale, and it remained on display for all the world to see. The La Crosse Historical Society was in need of cash to restore a local landmark building, so it decided to sell the machine to finance that restoration. A few collectors were aware it was on the market, but the price was steep due to its rarity and desirability. However, John was able to step up and become its next caretaker.

If you look the bike over carefully, you can see how well-preserved the machine really is. Complete down to its core, this motorcycle wears all its factory parts; its tall stance and proud heritage speak volumes about its journey through time. The paint, although worn, is all original and the La Crosse Wis PD designation resides in a small rectangular area outlined by factory pinstripes. The lettering was probably done by a local sign painter employed by the city. Wis of course stands for Wisconsin; this was long before the advent of the two-letter state designations we’ve all come to know and recognize.

The year 1909 was the first for the redesigned frame that incorporates a second top bar for added strength. The gas tank was also redesigned as a three-sided affair, a marked improvement over the 1908 frame and strap tank design. A metal toolbox first appeared that year, and beefier components like the front forks make the ride smoother and the chassis sturdier. The 28″ wheels put the rider up on a perch; and the 3.00″ clincher tires, though shaky by today’s standards, were state of the art back then. The handlebars have the cables running through them with the left grip used to retard and advance the spark and the right grip to control the throttle. This setup would last for decades. The single-cylinder motor has a bore of 3-15/16″, displaces 30″, and pumps out a claimed 4 hp! Power is transmitted to the rear wheel by a leather belt drive, and the clutch is activated and deactivated by the belt tightening handle on the left side of the bike. The rear brake is a coaster brake design, similar to what you probably had on your first bicycle. The bike retailed for $210, expensive by standards of the day, but well under what a car cost in the same period.

Harley also introduced its first V-twin in 1909, but that would disappear from the lineup the following year and return a few years later, remaining the heart and soul of a Harley-Davidson to this day.

Two colors were offered in 1909: Renault Gray with carmine striping and Piano Black. Together with their nickel-plated cylinders and assorted hardware, they were striking machines at the dawn of motor transportation.
There was great optimism during this period, and motorcycling in general was gaining favor. Production numbers continued to climb for all brands, and it was anyone’s guess as to who would dominate the two-wheeled trade in 1909. Indian was becoming a powerhouse back East, and other brands were entering the field on a regular basis. It was an exciting time in the business, punctuated by innovation and advancement.
In 2010, John was invited to display the 1909 police bike at the world-famous Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. The bike is on loan to the National Motorcycle Museum, John being the museum’s founder. So, anytime you’re in Anamosa, Iowa, stop by and view this amazing time capsule from the dawn of cycling. Thank you, John, for your continued stewardship of this great machine and for putting it on display for all to enjoy and appreciate. AIM
Words by Jim Babchak, photos by Pam Proctor
Story as printed in American Iron Magazine.

Featured Rider: Vaughn Beals

Photo Compliments AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum

Photo Compliments AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum


There are many “what-ifs” that apply to the motorcycle industry. What if the crash of 1929 had never happened? What if more motorcycle manufacturers survived the recessions, Great Depression, World Wars? After Indian closed its doors in 1953, Harley-Davidson was the only remaining American motorcycle manufacturer. What if a guy like Vaughn Beals, hired in 1975 by AMF, had never come along? What if he had not been so bold as to rally about a dozen people, including Willie G. Davidson in 1981 to risk a lot and buy the company from AMF for about $75,000,000? What if Beals had not been successful in getting government approved five year’s tariff relief from expanding import of touring sized motorcycles starting in 1983? And what if Beals had been happy with status quo on sinking quality, inefficient production systems, before and after the buyout? Would Harley-Davidson even exist today, or become another victim of big business practices; buyouts, selloffs, and other practices uncomfortable to their brand loyal customers?
Beals and his team also “invented” the wonderful Harley Owners Group, a masterful way to bring customers and dealers together through dealer based events, building loyalty and sales. In this era Harley also worked hard to protect its brand from unauthorized use and began to formulate dealership designs. Apparel and licensed goods efforts ramped up tremendously, and thoughts of a serious Harley-Davidson Museum were certainly in the works.
Did Vaughn Beals do it all himself? No. But he was the person at the top, Chief Executive Officer of Harley-Davidson between 1981 and 1989, and chairman from 1981 to 1996. He selected and managed his staff, made tough decisions and started the path toward amazing international success. Some would say he laid the ground work for the CEOs that followed him. From annual sales of around 25,000 units in the 1960’s, now over 250,000 Harleys come off the production lines each year, and total revenues, according to the New York Times are $6.3 Billion dollars. Vaughn Beals earned the Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2008.

Classic Yamaha 650 Donated to the National Motorcycle Museum


In the past twelve months nine motorcycles have been donated to the National Motorcycle Museum’s permanent collection. One that many of us know and grew up with is a dark red and white 1971 Yamaha XS650 donated by the Tom Watters family, natives of Anamosa, Iowa. Purchased new and kept for over 40 years, in Tom’s words, the machine still means a lot to him:

“This 1972 Yamaha was donated by Tim, Tom and Mary Ann Watters to the National Motorcycle Museum in memory of their parents George and Mary Watters of Anamosa, Iowa. Tom bought the bike in 1972 while in college at the University of Iowa and chose the 650 because he wanted a bigger, faster and more durable ride. Tom kept and rode the bike for 41 years because it reminded him of his college days and youth–some of the happiest days in his life. His motorcycle career ended in September 2013 in a near fatal motorcycle crash riding his Harley Soft Tail Classic. Based on the urging from his brother Tim for Tom to stop riding and donate the Yamaha 650 to the National Motorcycle Museum, he did so and now other people can enjoy this wonderful piece of motorcycle history.”

Tom’s Yamaha will get a good cleaning and wax job and be put on display in the Museum. It’s a classic, most would agree is based on the very successful designs of Edward Turner and his Triumph parallel twins of the late 1930’s and beyond but with disk brake and overhead cam upgrades.

*Do you have a motorcycle, or motorcycle memorabilia that that you would like to donate for display at the National Motorcycle Museum? We can tell you how motorcycle donation can benefit you.  Please let us know what you may want to donate by calling 319 462 3925, or email us at museum@nationalmcmuseum.org

Featured Motorcyclist: Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Extreme Motorcycle Customizer and Builder



The impact that Ed Roth had on people with any gear head tendencies back in the 1960’s is probably immeasurable, but it must be huge. Impressionable, we picked up car and motorcycle magazines at the newsstand, or saw Roth’s work on the shelves of hobby shops in our home towns, Revell plastic model kits to build. Maybe we were lucky enough that our dads or big brothers took us to a car show where we saw Beatnik Bandit or any of his made-from-scratch two, three and four wheel creations. If you got to watch him air-brushing t-shirts you probably met Rat Fink, his scary but lovable green beast.
You might call his impression on us mind expanding; Ed Roth knew no limits to what fun transportation could look like, or how long a motorcycle fork or sissy bar could be. People were already removing fenders from bikes and old Ford roadsters and coupes, but Roth showed us far wilder machines. He mastered the torch, hammer and dollies as well as molding fiberglass into shapes there were no prototypes for. Cardboard, styrofoam and wood helped him form his sculptures, refinement of the shapes led to final molds. A trip to the junkyard inspired as well, and offered the powerplant and axles, maybe a steering wheel. Metalflake paint and outrageous combinations of transparent paint and wild pin-striping and upholstery, finished off his work. But there were also extreme wheel and tire setups.
Everywhere Big Daddy went he attracted attention because he was so “out there,” taught us by example there are no rules when you are building custom bikes and cars. In fact, the overall message was that being different or weird was okay, and being a Fink or a Weirdo was cool. It was a lesson some of us never forgot, probably benefitted from. When you visit the National Motorcycle Museum you can see Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s creativity in his Buick powered three-wheeler, Asphalt Angel and numerous pieces of original artwork and even a period film being screened. He was gone in 2001, but will never be forgotten.

Featured Entrepreneur – Wayne Baughman, Creator of the Century Chief

If you were reading motorcycle magazines back in the 1990’s, before the internet was widespread, you may have read of a couple of efforts to “revive” the Indian motorcycle. In that timeframe, Triumph and Henderson came back as well, though like the Indian revival efforts, there was no relationship to the original owners of the Henderson or Triumph brands. These entrepreneurs felt it better to start a motorcycle company using a known brand name and styling cues, rather than starting from scratch as did Hesketh, Britten, Buell and others.

Wayne Baughman was an industrious guy who, about 1994 decided he should make the next great American motorcycle. He wanted it to look like an Indian, but employ current technology. And he skirted getting rights to the Indian trademark, just made his bikes look like classic Chiefs. As his story developed, Baughman also claimed he would be strong competition for Harley-Davidson, the sole surviving American motorcycle brand, promising to manufacture as many as 100,000 Century Chiefs a year. And this was in a time when even the well established Harley-Davidson was selling only a little over 100,000 units, making $1.1 Billion dollars in motorcycle sales alone, and another $1M in licensed apparel, etc. Baughman was making a very optimistic promise to investors, dealers, and motorcycle enthusiasts.

The industrious Baughman gathered the press, showed his running prototype, and got plenty of ink in magazines world-wide. And his timing was pretty good as baby boomers were nearing 50, had disposable income and were maybe jonesing for something more interesting than a Gold Wing or BMW, and looking for an alternative to Harley-Davidsons. But after about 10 years ownership by Vaughn Beals and Willie G along with other “real” motorcycle guys, Harley-Davidsons were back to being very good motorcycles and would be tough competition for Wayne Baughman’s plan to steal or build market share.
Baughman promised a lot to journalists, readers and motorcycle dealers. But in the end he did not get beyond a couple of prototypes and many would say a lot of smoke and mirrors. While borrowing a lot from the classic 1950’s Chief, the new Century Chiefs had a bright and seriously edgy billet look where smoother classic castings would have been more pleasing. And the bikes lacked the Indian moniker on the fuel tank; Baughman avoided the hassle of getting Indian trademark rights. 
In the end Baughman failed to deliver. He was very under-capitalized and had not established a dealer network, also failings of the Hanlon brothers and their new and short lived “Henderson” just a few years later. In the end, one Baughman Century Chief prototype disappeared with the dissolving of the California Motorcycle Company and their liquidation around 2003. The other is in perfect condition and is on display in the National Motorcycle Museum. Rarely has one motorcycle had so much to say!

 The next chapter in the Indian story began about 1998 in Gilroy California with the newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company of America. This group was awarded the Indian trademark rights by a Colorado court in 1998. Though several thousand motorcycles were manufactured and sold, technical problems, distribution, the use of a typical S&S engine and the lack of true Indian uniqueness conspired to cause production to end in 2003.

 But the power of the Indian trademark, its heritage, the motorcycle styling image it brings up in tens of thousands of people world wide, caused the British firm, Stellican to again work for its revival. Of all the attempts since 1953, Stellican’s was the most impressive and first offered motorcycles in 2006. The designers played the classic Chief styling very well, used their own engine, dressed the machines with plenty of tasteful chrome. Though expensive, they sold fairly well, and were technically very good motorcycles.
Someday we may learn just how long Polaris Industries was interested in the Indian trademark. They began selling Victories in 1998 so must have been watching Baughman, the Gilroy Indian concern and Stellican’s efforts, perhaps waiting for the right moment. Clear ownership of the trademark was a concern. It’s also been noted that each successive owner of the Indian trademark might be subject to liability lawsuits and warranty claims related to motorcycles they had no part in manufacturing! There is no doubt Polaris has worked hard for trademark rights and continues to. Much like Harley-Davidson has been judiciously following mandates of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to protect their marque, we now see Polaris doing the same with Indian. Small concerns that have made a wide range of parts, accessories and apparel over the years are now subject to scrutiny. Some will sign up with Polaris as official licensees, some will stop making product displaying the Indian trademark. 
Most agree the Indian trademark is finally in the hands of a company that will continue to make new Indians that pay tribute to the original legendary machines. Some suspect they will also show us what Indians would have looked like had there not been a 50+ year design hiatus; Indian sport bikes, adventure touring machines, a new Scout, three-wheelers, sidecars. What does the future hold for Indian and all of us who revere the brand?

Featured Rider, Top Fuel Drag Racing Champion, Elmer Trett

Elmer Trett (3)
Among a dozen or so drag bikes at the National Motorcycle Museum, from various eras, is Elmer Trett’s finest work in gleaming candy purple, Mountain Magic. It’s the culmination of all he learned while drag racing from the late 1960’s in Kentucky, to campaigning Mountain Magic on the national Top Fuel circuit the year he lost his life in 1996 at the age of 53.
Trett did not limit his work, his passion for drag racing to building fast bikes and riding them. He was also a tireless promoter of drag racing, especially Top Fuel. He built bikes for other racers and encouraged people to move up to Top Fuel as he felt that’s what would keep motorcycle drag racing strong as a spectator sport.
Trett’s personal entry into Top Fuel was a double engine Sportster he first campaigned in 1976. Successful with the machine, Trett won his first championship with the then popular DRAGBIKE racing organization. Trends were shifting to lighter single engine bikes and Trett received support from Harley-Davidson Motor Company to build a new Sportster based machine, supercharged and running on nitromethane fuel. With Harley’s rough times in this era, and cutbacks, Trett was soon forced to look elsewhere and moved to Kawasaki for his engines, and Mountain Magic came together.
Trett’s performances, the thresholds of speed he was first to attain are remarkable and will be what stay in enthusiasts’ minds, along with his knocking on the door of a five second quarter mile. Elmer Trett was first to exceed 200mph, 210 mph, 230 mph; he was always at the cutting edge of engine performance, chassis design and traction engineering, to say nothing of having fantastic reflexes and riding skills. Another thing that Trett will be remembered for is that his family didn’t just participate in the sport, they were his team. Wife Jackie, daughters Gina and Kelly maintained the bikes and were his pit crew.
When you next visit the National Motorcycle Museum, spend a few minutes in front of Mountain Magic, Elmer Trett’s finest work. Think about what it’s like to move through a quarter mile in just over five seconds, from a standing start.