With more than 350 rare and vintage motorcycles on display, this western North Carolina facility is widely believed to house the broadest collection of American motorcycles and associated memorabilia anywhere on earth. There are bikes that race, bikes that jump, those that ride walls, and those that climb mountains. And while it is technically called a “museum,” the artifacts here don’t just gather dust. As per its slogan, the “Museum That Runs,” nearly every bike on display—even those a century-old or more—are kept in running condition.
The collection is the life’s work of the late Dale Walksler, a man for whom the word “enthusiast” fails to suffice. He built his first motorcycle at age 15 in 1967, opened his first Harley Davidson franchise at 22, and began compulsively acquiring historic motorcycles and restoring them to running quality. His fleet of rare (and running) makes and models grew exponentially until 2002, when Wheels Through Time opened in North Carolina’s Maggie Valley.
Even with 38,000 square feet of display space, the museum is packed with decades of automotive history. While Harleys, Indians, and Excelsiors (“The Big Three”) make up a bulk of the fleet, Dale’s collection includes a number of rarer makes like Hendersons, Popes, Flying Merkels, and Crockers, as well as a handful of obscure vehicles (including Steve McQueen’s 1949 Cadillac Series-62).
Exhibits include (but are not limited to) the “Swim Shop,” a replica 1940s-era Harley repair shop complete with dirty rags and neon signs; “Military Might,” exploring Harley and Indian’s role in multiple U.S. war efforts; and “Homemade in America,” which highlights the unique American legacy of transforming motorcycle parts and engines into altogether new machines like gold-mining carts, jet skis, and airplanes.
Standout individual bikes include a 1903 Indian, the oldest machine on display and likely the oldest running original Indian in existence; a 1911 Wagner owned by Clara Wagner (daughter of the company’s founder), an accomplished and pioneering woman motorcyclist; and a 1916 Traub, the “rarest motorcycle on earth,” exhumed from within the walls of a Chicago apartment building whose origins the museum’s staff went through painstaking efforts to uncover.
Even if you’re an experienced biker with a deep knowledge of motorcycles, there’s certainly something here to surprise you. And if you’re not a biker, Dale’s may leave you considering a life on two wheels.