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Harley-Davidson Museum Visit

By Shadow

Milwaukee, Wis., Aug. 17—What city is halfway between Sturgis, South Dakota, and my home in New Jersey? Milwaukee Wisconsin, of course! And this makes Milwaukee the perfect stopping point on my ride home from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. My main destination when I visit Brew City has always been the Harley-Davidson Museum ever since it opened in 2008, and this year, a very special exhibit drew my attention and my attendance.

Every year, from mid-June through Labor Day, the museum staff creates an exhibit that’s hosted in The Garage, one of the buildings on the museum’s campus. This year the museum featured The Race Of Gentlemen, a race that has been held at the Jersey Shore every summer for the past six years. This is not just any race; it’s limited to vintage hot rods and motorcycles and is held right on the beach, where competitors are challenged by Mother Nature as well as each other.

At the museum, I met up with Bill Rodencal, H-D Lead Museum Collections, and Tim McCormick, Project Manager of H-D Museum Communications. As one of the key personnel of the museum, Bill was a huge part of the TROG exhibit, and he and Tim gave me a personal tour, adding in some fascinating background. It was a unique exhibit for the museum in that they tried to capture the vibe of a single weekend event. And, I might add, with great success. The multimedia exhibit, encompassing actual cars and bikes that raced in the 2017 event, color and black and white photos, a variety of videos, racing gear that was worn during the competition, and other related paraphernalia, was positively immersive and it was easy to imagine that you were right there at the starting line, in the pits, or part of the huge crowd of spectators. Nicely done, folks.

After my tour was completed, I entered the museum itself and spent several hours perusing the permanent exhibits as well as a few new features. The first-floor gallery features a timeline displaying a Harley from every year of the Motor Company’s existence. Other galleries include special purpose motorcycles for military, police, deliveries and more.  The engine room shows every generation of motor Harley has produced commercially for its motorcycles (I’m still waiting for a Project RUSHMORE and now the Milwaukee-Eight models), while the tank wall takes you on a colorful journey through decades of custom styling and paint.

There are highly customized motorcycles representing various eras, motorcycle club apparel and memorabilia, all sorts of competition motorcycles, and, in a small theatre, a loop of a video showing the buyback from AMF in 1981. I’m not ashamed to admit that every time I watch that video my eyes tear up.

Taking an elevator to the archives, I did my best to seek out unusual motorcycles and components from years past, but all were hidden behind a gate. One of these days I must sign of for a tour of the archives. I can only imagine the treasures hidden behind locked doors. A variety of other behind-the-scenes and VIP tours are also available to suit your interests.

By the time I’d finished my museum tour, I’d worked up quite an appetite so I headed over to the Motor Bar & Restaurant, also on the museum campus. And there was a surprise sighting of Willie G. and his son Bill, vice president of the museum, sitting at a quite (until I arrived) table outside Motor Bar!

On the way out of Motor Bar after a delicious lunch, I noticed a newly-established bar carved out of an open space between the restaurant and the gift shop—the Can Room that was scheduled to open in four days.

Pat had invited me to stick around for Bike Night, held every Thursday from May through September. I quickly found out that Bill Rodencal is the emcee of the event, and I also learned to pay attention because he announces ticket numbers for some great giveaways throughout the evening. I really wanted that leather jacket, but no such luck. Maybe next time.

Entertainment includes a different band every week, with this Thursday’s musicians, The Gleasons, coming from the Milwaukee Irish Fest being held that weekend. The music, food and drink, giveaways, and hundreds of people despite a few bursts a rain made for a festive evening.

This weekend, the museum will be a hub of activity for the Milwaukee Rally, and it’s also the last weekend for The Race Of Gentlemen exhibit, so if you’re anywhere near Milwaukee this weekend, or any other time, it’ll be well worth your time to stop by.

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