By William Perry
“Dear Editor: Motorcycle Diary: We Do Love Weird...
“We are all a little weird and life’ s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” ― Dr. Seuss
What attracts us to unusual, weird, odd - people, places and things, is likely as individual as we are or completely up to the standards we set for ourselves. But, there are some things that people find interesting that are just plain weird.
Everywhere I have travelled I have always been able to find ‘odd’. Heck, most times I need only look in the mirror.
I’m slowly exposing Kayle to being back on the motorcycle with little mini-road trips. I am combining our shared love of ‘weird’ with building up her stamina for the long ride home to Montreal.
North Carolina has it’s share of odd, and many of these attractions are within a short distance of our cottage.
Maggie Valley Unless you love motorcycles, a museum about motorcycles can be boring. We’ve seen some that would put anyone but gearheads to sleep.
Wheels Through Time, however, is a motorcycle
museum that’s anything but dull. It’s unmatched collection of one-of-a-kind vehicles, basket case barn finds, and hand-crafted motorized inventions is the personal vision of Dale Walksler, a former Harley-Davidson dealer.
Artifacts displayed at Wheels Through Time include an airplane built by a 17-year-old, and a supersonic-looking car-of-the-future designed by a retired GM engineer -- both powered by motorcycle engines. There’s a similarly-soupedup ice sled that ran hooch during Prohibition, and a motorized mine car found sixty years after the mine collapsed in the 1930s. “The guy that was on it was still on it,” said Matt Walksler, Dale’s son, a temptingly ghoulish image that made us want to study the machine’s seat for horror stains. Matt co-runs the museum with his dad, and shares his enthusiasm.
Lighting sets the right dramatic mood. A decor of vintage items -- tires, fenders, gas tanks, shocks, springs, wheel rims, exhaust pipes -- creates the illusion that the museum is inside a giant barn-of-bounty or circa-1920 garage, filled with treasures. Many of the machines have been purposely left as scuffed and rusty as the day they were found. Showroom dummies, dressed as everything from motorcycle cops to biker chicks, provide human faces for the displays.
“When it comes to American motorcycles, there’s no collection like this anywhere,” said Matt. “These machines all have attitude and great stories.” We asked what story was behind the prosthetic human leg attached to a 1928 Altoona Hillclimber. Matt said that the leg belonged to the owner of a 1908 Indian, which was found in an attic and is displayed elsewhere in the museum. “The leg moves around,” said Matt. “That’s my sock.”
This casual, hands-on approach is another plus for Wheels Through Time. All of its hundreds of machines have been restored by Dale to running condition, and Dale and Matt often throttle up their valuable exhibits for visitors. A waft of spent fuel and motor oil fills the 38,000-square-foot museum. Concrete floors provide a road-like riding surface.
To novices, the museum’s earliest machines -- elongated bicycles with bolted-on engines and fuel tanks -- look incredibly dangerous and very uncomfortable. Yet Dale and Matt ride them all the time; the Walkslers have been known to take visitors for spins around the museum in a vintage sidecar. Dale rode a 1918 Harley in the 2008 presidential inaugural parade. He rode a 1917 Henderson, cross-country, California to New York, in only six days. His only advice afterward: wear corduroy pants.
The world’s most mysterious motorcycle -- the 1916 Traub -- is the star of the museum’s oneof- a-kind exhibit, high praise when you consider that Wheels Through Time has dozens of oneof- a-kind machines. Leapin’ Leena, parked in a back corner, was built in 1950 with an off-center front wheel that turned it into a bucking bronco. “The last time I rode that bike it caught fire,” said Matt. A second floor gallery displays The Coke Machine, a Harley chopper customized into a visual tribute to its owner’s favorite beverage. Its display includes a letter from Coke’s legal division asking its well-meaning owner to please park it somewhere out of sight.
Part of the museum’s allure is its location in Maggie Valley, the heart of a motorcycle-riding region of winding roads and mountain vistas. “The riding here is second to none,” said Matt, adding that bikers who visit include a sizeable number of doctors and lawyers and retirees.
When the museum does get an occasional motorcycle-nervous visitor, Matt plops them in the sidecar and takes them for a ride. “By the time we’ve done a half-mile,” he said, “they’ve got a smile on their face and they’re not thinking about anything except the next time they get to do it.”
Further along the road, with no movement in 2003’s ambitious plan to turn the closed Ghost Town in the Sky into a Christian Theme Park, a non-profit group in Maggie Valley, North Carolina has some new ideas. They hope to raise money to fund a business plan and attract a new owner. If no buyer turns up, the group wants to convert the Wild West theme park into something about the Cherokee Indians, or the Appalachians, or both.
Ghost Town in the Sky, operating along US Hwy. 19 since 1960, was created by still living owner R. B. Coburn, and was a popular tourist attraction for many decades. It closed after its 2002 season following a decade of declining revenue.
Winston-Salem Radiant symbol of a bygone era, when fossil fuel seemed happily inexhaustible, Winston- Salem’s shell shaped service station is the last of its kind.
Eight were originally built in the late 1930s by the Quality Oil Company, a Winston-based marketer of Shell Oil. The station, modeled on the brand logo of Royal Dutch- Shell Oil, was constructed of concrete stucco over a bent wood and wire framework. The clamshell stations serviced gas guzzlers for decades, but were gradually pumped into oblivion by the twin engines of Development and Progress.
The station on Sprague Street survived through the 1970s and ‘80s as a lawn mower repair place. It slid into disrepair towards the end of the 20th century. A state historic society, Preservation North Carolina, stepped in and restored the faded highway icon in the late 1990s. Today it’s used by the organization as a regional office and info center about the station and other preservation projects.
The Shell station is a worthy photo detour, just a little north of Interstate 40.
The bright orange-yellow structure sits on a corner among small businesses and residences, with two tall globe gasoline pumps. A white wooden structure to one side was the station’s car wash.
The “Home Furnishings Capital of the World” is crowded with furniture manufacturing operations, pier wall bargain hunters, even a Furniture Discovery Center. So it should be no surprise that High Point has taken the lead in the big furniture battle with not one, but two giant chests of drawers.
The original chest of drawers was built in the 1920s by the High Point Chamber of Commerce. The twenty foot tall building-with-knobs served as the local “bureau of information.” In 1996, the building was completely renovated and converted into a 38-foot tall Goddard-Townsend block front chest. A real chest was used as a prototype -- it can be viewed in the Lobby of the local visitor information centre.
Two gigantic socks dangle from a drawer, officially symbolizing “the city’s hosiery industry.”
It’s an impressive leap from the old chest of drawers, clearly shoving the big chair brouhaha into a dusty corner. So we have to wonder how High Point officials felt when Furnitureland South, way out near the interstate, threw up their own chest of drawers -- over 80-feet tall. It’s not freestanding, and is an attachment to a big furniture store, but c’mon... it’s twice as big!
Since the fabrication technology exists, the next step is obvious. Turn every building in downtown High Point into a piece of American Colonial furniture.
It’s not that God doesn’t care -- he’ s just really busy. He certainly can’t spare time to examine and approve every religious tribute, grotto, and sacred tourist attraction erected by humanity to honor His glory.
The Church of God of Prophecy knew this full well when they built Fields of the Wood in 1945. Its centerpiece is the World’s Largest Ten Commandments, a 300-ft wide tableaux occupying a mountainside. Though it is tucked into the extreme and obscure western corner of North Carolina, the immense tablets are visible from orbit ... and heaven.*
This surprising spectacle borders a TVAprotected lake resort area, twenty miles or so from the mountainous region in Tennessee where the 1996 Atlanta Olympics hosted whitewater races. Heading east from TN, with four miles to go, a hand-painted billboard promises we will “See Gigangic Ten Commandments.”
After passing through a white archway emblazoned “Fields of the Wood,” we are greeted by an array of religious landmarks spread down a little valley, with ample parking designed for church service gluts. A welcome center booth displays a map, helpfully charting everything on the property, from Golgotha to an Airplane Warning Beacon. The brochure racks are filled with religious tracts and leaflets.
Ten Commandment Mountain Mountain faces Prayer Mountain, where more fit members of the congregation can ascend a long curving stairway to the altar at the top. Along the way, there are 29 important teachings of the Bible explained on headstone-like monuments. Photographers climb here to get any a decent photo of the adjacent Ten Commandments.
Over on Ten Commandment Mountain, you can clamber up the 350 steps between the tablets (or just drive up the little service road around back). The five-foot tall letters set in the grassy hillside spell out all ten Laws of God. Pose your parents next to No. IV , your kids next to No. VI, your spouse and/or mistress next to No. VII.
At the top, a giant open Bible, called “The World’s Largest Testament” supports an observation deck. You can gaze down upon the Baptismal Pool, the Star of Bethlehem, and hedges cut to read: “Jesus Died for Our Sins.”
The All Nations Cross is also optimized for an angelic vantage point -- a prone display that’s 115 feet wide and a 150 feet long. Sprouting on poles from the giant cruciform are flags from every nation where the Church of God is established (or at least has a beachhead).
Back at ground level, you can ponder the Golgotha memorial, or discourage children from rolling the circular stone over the entrance to the replica Tomb of Jesus. Fields of the Wood has a decent gift shop selling T-shirts, trinkets, videos, even World’s Largest Ten Commandments backscratchers.
Let’s be honest -- God may still need glasses to see this thing. A proposal: turn the states of Utah and Nevada into cosmic-scaled Commandment tablets, and write the Words in atomic waste. It’ll glow at night! Only an idea....