When you visit Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, you won’t be met with your average automobile museum experience. As you start to peruse the collection, the first thing you’ll notice is that the museum doesn’t feel sterile. You won’t find any velvet ropes surrounding the 375+ motorcycles and 20 some odd cars in the museum’s exhibits.
“It feels like walking into your grandad’s garage,” says museum docent Kris Ested.
Part of that homey feel comes from the fact that every machine in the museum – even the 1903 Indian, the oldest in the collection – can still be fired up and run. No small feat for one of the greatest collections of rare and vintage motorcycles out there.
When museum founder Dale Walksler was a teen, he found a broken-down Harley Servi-Car behind a service station when walking home from school. He purchased it, restored it and drove the old three-wheeled motorcycle to high school. His love for the history of motorcycles was born. At 22, he became the youngest Harley Davidson dealer in history and began to amass his collection of vintage and rare bikes.
The museum is a journey through time, walking visitors through the history of transportation and the motorcycle and how it has influenced our modern way of life. Even those who aren’t motorcycle-heads will enjoy the museum. Ested often finds himself coaxing begrudging wives in from the front stoop to view the collection while their husbands peruse like a kid in a candy store.
“‘Just come in,’ I tell them,” says Ested. “I haven’t had a complaint yet.”
While the focus of the museum is on motorcycles and the history of transportation, visitors will find so much more interspersed amongst the displays. Period clothing, antiques, memorabilia – it’s an enjoyable walk back in time for anyone.
While there are many exhibits in the museum, Ested’s favorite is “America’s Rarest.” While today most motorcycles are made by Harley Davidson or Indian, early in the 1900s when motorcycles were brand new, everyone wanted to get in on the action and outdo the next guy – there were more than 150 companies making motorcycles in that era. Wheels Through Time has many one-offs; the only known existing examples of their brand, such as a Sears motorcycle. One of the most interesting is called the Traub. Made in 1916 by a machinist, nearly every element of the vehicle is custom fabricated, and it was the only one ever made. It’s one of the oldest examples of an 80-cubic-inch engine – 20 years ahead of Harley Davidson and Indian. Perhaps the most intriguing part? No one knew the bike existed until 1967 when a wall was knocked down in a building in Chicago and the hidden Traub was found behind it.
Visit the museum Thursdays through Mondays in the summer months from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adults are $15, seniors are $12, kids are $7 and little ones under six are free. Be sure to check the museum’s website for the most up to date information on seasonal hours.
Wheels Through Time
62 Vintage Ln., Maggie Valley, N.C. 28751