In 1903, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson sold their first motorcycle to an old schoolmate - a single-cylinder engine mounted onto a bicycle frame.
Six years later, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company introduced its first V-twin powered motorcycle and the 49.5 cubic inch, 45-degree engine whose performance and distinctive rumble became the company’s signature for the next 104 years. Harley and Davidson’s passion for two-wheeled motoring got a movement rolling that shaped a lifestyle for a large segment of the American population.
Visitors to Santa Maria Harley-Davidson can see a good amount of that history and feel that passion thanks to a collection of bikes that traces the company’s storied timeline.
The shop’s timeline of motorcycles pretty closely traces Harley-Davidson’s history, which can be found on line through links at www.harley-davidson.com.
A replica of the 1903 model, the original Harley and Davidson sold to childhood friend Henry Meyer of Milwaukee, is both the oldest and the newest bike to the collection. The model, which the founders built to be a racer, got the company rolling. The replica was built in 2003 to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary.
Another notable bike in the collection is a 1914 Harley-Davidson “Silent Grey Fellow” owned by former Santa Maria mayor Leonard Peterson. The bike isn’t always on display because its owner likes to take it for an occasional spin, said Jackie Milner, events coordinator at the dealership.
“It’s amazing. It still runs well,” said Milner, who researched and compiled the biographies on each of the bikes on display. “I learned so much. There are things I can tell my boss about the (vehicle identification numbers) that even he doesn’t know.”
“Boss” is General Manager Martin Buchanan, who was bitten by the motorcycling bug as a sixth-grader in the San Joaquin Valley. His first new motorcycle, earned through a summer of working in cotton field irrigation ditches outside of Arvin, was a Hodaka Wombat. Since then, he hasn’t been content unless he is within earshot of a motorcycle.
Buchanan’s passion runs deep for his industry and he said the museum not only tells the story of Harley-Davidson, it also sprinkles in the company’s history in Santa Maria.
“This Harley shop has a unique history. It was opened in 1966 by Tom and Barbara Scott,” he explained, pointing to a large sign above the row of historic bikes that features the Scotts’ names in signature Harley black and orange paint. “They were friends of one of the Davidsons that was son of the original founders in 1903.”
The Scotts had an opportunity to open dealerships in various places, but only decided to kick-start the venture when Santa Maria was offered, Buchanan said. They opened the dealership on Main Street.
“When they opened the store and they would sell somebody a motorcycle on payments, sometimes that payment would be a box of strawberries, or a box of broccoli, or a box of brussel sprouts,” he said, explaining the Scotts visited the shop this summer when the museum opened. “They talked about eating really well the first few years, but they didn’t always have a lot of money. It was a different time, a different dynamic, and Santa Maria being the ag community it is that’s how things worked.”
Kevin Jones, whose family now owns Santa Maria Harley-Davidson, recently purchased Los Angeles Harley-Davidson of Anaheim from Tom and Barbara Scott, who over the years had collected a number of historic motorcycles.
Among the bikes is a WLA model the company produced during the 1940s. During World War II, the company very nearly suspended production of civilian motorcycles in favor of those used in the military. Harley-Davidson produced nearly 60,000 WLA models for military use, one of which is part of the Santa Maria Harley-Davidson collection.
Other notable models are 1966 and 1975 models of Harley-Davidson’s Aermacchi Sprint, a pair of dirt bikes produced when the company purchased Aeronautica Macchi’s motorcycle division; a 1969 Sportster, the model was born in 1957 and still in production today; and a 1979 XLCR 1000, the cafe racer produced from 1977 to 1979.
Fewer than 2,000 of the sleek, all-black bike with cast wheels and bikini fairing were produced. The bike at Santa Maria Harley-Davidson has less than two miles registered on its original odometer.
Once Jones and the Scotts pieced together the historical puzzle of their relationship, Jones thought the collection would be a nice centerpiece for his Santa Maria dealership.
In addition the museum features classic motorcycles from Honda — an original 1976 CB 750 owned by SM HD employee Tony Holland — a 2000 Excelsior-Hendershop Super X Deadwood Special — only 77 models were produced — an original Honda CR 250 Elsinore, and a Bultaco Pursang. Classic shop tools and vintage photographs of local racers add to the museum’s ambiance.
“It was Kevin’s idea as a way to bring in travelers and give them something to come in and check out,” Milner said.
It’s working. On Friday, the museum and shop had a steady rumble of bikes and flow of visitors, some of whom just stopped by for a cup of coffee and to admire the hardware.
Dave Pollard often rides down to the dealership from Atascadero to get his bike serviced and commune with fellow bikers. His favorite museum piece was the XLCR because he owned one back when they were new.
Patrick Gaffney, of Ventura, also owned one of the rare XLCRs — the 84th model ever produced, he said. It was one of “30 to 40 bikes” he’s owned through the years.
“I just stopped by the shop. I hadn’t been in here in a while and wanted to see what was new,” said the 66-year-old who spent 36 years working in the motorcycle industry.
The bikes, both old and brand new, will be highlighted Thursday when Santa Maria Harley-Davidson unveils its 2014 model line up at its final Bike Night of the summer.
The event runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Milner said around 300 people and about 100 bikes normally flow through the events. She said they are expecting twice that many this week with the new models on display.