A Treasury of Vintage and Classic Wheels

Wheels Through Time

Image courtesy of Wheels Through Time

A Treasury of Vintage and Classic Wheels
| published July 1, 2015 |

By Earl Perkins Thursday Review features editor

You might want to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum during an upcoming vacation. More than a half million fans from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Western North Carolina's Maggie Valley over the last 15 years, viewing one-of-a-kind motorcycles while visiting with the knowledgeable and friendly staff.

On a recent trip to the area, a friend suggested that we check it out, because someone told him it was a worthwhile stop and a real gem. Well, it was everything I'd hoped for, and so much more: a vast collection of machinery that spans back to the roots of motorized transportation, and a the museum houses one of the world's premier collection of rare and historic American vintage motorcycles and automobiles.

You will also be afforded the opportunity to peruse memorabilia and numerous artifacts, along with hundreds of historical photographs. I certainly appreciated more than 320 of the rarest machines in existence, including Harley-Davidson and Indian. But how many bike aficionados remember Thor, Excelsior, Crocker, Henderson or Flying Merkel? One of my most astounding discoveries was that almost all the machines are in running condition. You must consider that the U.S. melted down most available metals for two world wars during the past century, so the pool of cycles was constantly shrinking for generations.

Many days find curator Dale Walksler walking among his treasures in the 48,000 square-foot museum, cranking certain motorcycles while telling fascinating stories concerning their history or restoration.

Wheels Through Time received national recognition when Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of the History Channel's hit show, American Pickers, insisted on hauling their rare two-wheeled finds to the Great Smoky Mountains for expert analysis.

Dale, along with his son, Matt, began blogging about their discoveries, and the massive interest eventually spawned their What's in the Barn? television show. Former TV show host Jay Leno recently visited the facility, and you may view photographs of his visit on the WTT website. For those who don't know, Leno is a huge fan and an avid collector of vintage motorcycles and cars.

For a small fee, you can access thousands of hours of behind-the-scenes videos from The Museum That Runs. Included are more than 300 shows narrated by enthusiastic and knowledgeable WTT staff, as they ride, restore and rebuild some of the rarest machines in existence.

If you appreciate vintage motorcycles and history, then a visit to Wheels Through Time is almost a must for you in this lifetime. There are dozens of motorcycle-related exhibits, including board-track racers, hill climbing, original paint machines, American dirt-track racing, choppers and bobbers.

Many tourist attractions are expensive, hokey or downright boring, but the All-American Transportation Museum was a spectacular experience for me. And Dale is an incredible ambassador for old motorcycles, and just racing in general. He also encourages you to take a pamphlet listing wonderful rides within a day's ride of the museum.

The adventures were highlighted by a Hot Springs tour, Nantahala Gorge/Deal's Gap, Cataloochee Valley and Mount Mitchell. These are breathtaking rides through some of Western North Carolina's most scenic vistas, either on or near the world-famous Blue Ridge Parkway.

Walksler formerly owned Dale's Harley-Davidson in Illinois, but later opened Wheels Through Time as a 501(c)3 corporation museum to house his extensive collection of vintage cycles.  Even he moved the entire operation to North Carolina.

"I started my dealership in Mount Vernon in 1977, and before that I had a motorcycle shop, and I already had some old motorcycles," he said. "It was a great talking point, and once people realized I was passionate about it, it was very easy to sell motorcycles to them.”

Walksler’s passion soon helped him morph into something of an historical expert on the subject.

"People would say, “Hey, this guy knows his stuff, I’m going to buy a motorcycle from him. The more bikes I sold, the more I could afford to buy parts to keep restoring these old bikes."

And Dale certainly gets around. One day he'll be riding over to swap out a vintage motorcycle for display at the Biltmore Estate at Asheville, and then you'll see him mugging for cameras with racing legend Sterling Moss at the Concourse d' Elegance at Amelia Island, Florida.

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Mustang: 50 Years of the Original Pony; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; June 14, 2014.