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Wheels Through Time Museum - Maggie Valley, NC

Updated on April 16, 2016
The entrance to a very cool motorcycle museum.
The entrance to a very cool motorcycle museum. | Source

It was a Friday afternoon. The family decided to go to the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC. I had never been there; I had no idea what to expect. Normally I like to know something about a place I’m going to, but there was no time to find out.

I mean, why would I know anything about motorcycles? I have only ever ridden them twice: two different times when I was little and my wild sister had a couple different boyfriends who owned motorcycles. My high school physics teacher forwardly chastised us for even thinking that motorcycles were cool.

Little did I know, I was about to embark on a historical adventure, rolling through time looking at pieces of American history: vintage and historical motorcycles, along with a few iconic American classic cars.

A great paint job on this motorcycle.
A great paint job on this motorcycle. | Source

American Classic Motorcycles

Upon arriving, I was greeted by a few vintage motorbikes, sitting on the portico. I found out that the bikes at this museum run – all of them. If they aren’t running right when you want to ride one, they could be.

It’s a matter of keeping gas in them, starting them up to keep the engines lubricated and oiled, from the 1909 models to the present.

It’s known as the Museum That Runs.

As I began my tour, various exhibits caught my attention. From the military motorcycles to uniquely painted beauties, I marveled at the ingenuity of the human mind to create such a rich history of machines.

Of course, I was also pleased to find out that motorcycles can get upwards of 70 mpg (some can get more and some a lot less). Given that women are the fastest growing segment of today’s motorcycle consumers, I have to relish in the idea when you ride a motorcycle, you're in the open air, with the wind lapping at your face. The highway is laid out before you, beckoning you on some epic adventure. They’re also kinder to the planet than are cars. Granted, two wheels aren’t quite as secure as four, but we’ll ignore that little fact for now.

My historical voyage took on a new twist when I met Bob White, a volunteer guide at the museum. We shared a love of history and culture which ignited a rich conversation about some of the more fascinating aspects of the museum’s history.

Swim's Shop.
Swim's Shop. | Source
Inside Swim's Shop - a lot of the things inside were in the original Swim's Store in Energy, Illinois.
Inside Swim's Shop - a lot of the things inside were in the original Swim's Store in Energy, Illinois. | Source

Swim's Shop

Bob led me over to Swim's Shop. With its neon signs and motorcycles laid out, I wondered at how it all came to be.

It started out in a little place called Energy, Illinois. George Swim owned this shop from the 1940s to sometime between the 1970s and 1980s. He had Harley motorcycles there.

Then Dale came along - the founder of Wheels Through Time.

He bought Swim's Shop. This was after he went up to his father and convinced him to let him borrow $15,000 to get the remnants of the defunct business.

In the Wheels Through Time Museum, Dale and his crew recreated Swim's Shop. A lot of original parts and items from the original store are housed there, including lots of vintage parts.

When I walked in, I was reminded of when I worked at a marina right after college. You smell the oil, the work, the hopes and dreams of people looking for a bit of fun. The historical significance of it all began to register...Harley, service, Americana, engine parts, the American Dream, the open road - these are all words that bubbled to the surface of my mind as I took the sight of it all in.

I'm thinking about getting a motorcycle - road trip anyone?

The carburetor between these two heads is not built by hand.
The carburetor between these two heads is not built by hand. | Source
The Traub Motorcycle - one of the toolboxes.
The Traub Motorcycle - one of the toolboxes. | Source

The Rarest Motorcycle

I happened upon another curiosity: the 1917 Traub Motorcycle. It’s the rarest motorcycle in the world, according to the museum. No one knows its exact history – there is no other bike like it. It was found in 1967 inside a fake brick wall in Chicago, Illinois when workers were renovating an old apartment building.

It still runs, but no one knows exactly who manufactured it. All the parts on it are completely original and built by hand, save for three: the carburetor, seat and ignition. It has three toolboxes on it that contain tools designed to fit and fix parts on this motorcycle, but not on any other.

There is some speculation that a Richard Traut may have engineered it; that name might be a misspelling. He may have sent the specs of his motorcycle to The Motorcycle Illustrated along with money for a subscription, dated 1907. This particular note hailed from Chicago. I saw a copy of this letter in the museum.

However, this may or may not be the same person who designed the bike.

Why it was barricaded behind a brick wall only to be found 50 years later remains an unsolved mystery.

My favorite part about this bike is the gas cap. Why? Well, when you unscrew it, the end of it is a syringe. This allows you to prime the carburetor with exactly three drops of gas, so that you don't end up having to dump gas all over the place or on yourself - I would - when you're trying to fire the motorcycle up when it's cold.

Staff at the Wheels Through Time Museum still ride it. This motorcycle still gets up to speeds around 80 mph. For a bike from 1916, that’s not bad at all. It really was ahead of its time.

The Traub Motorcycle - ahead of its time.  I made this photo "vintage" to add an element of timelessness to it.
The Traub Motorcycle - ahead of its time. I made this photo "vintage" to add an element of timelessness to it. | Source

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Steve McQueen’s Cadillac

As my journey continued, I wandered over to the classic cars. One caught my eye; I have no idea why. Was it the creamy color beckoning billowy thoughts from yesteryear? I’m not sure, but I’m not that old. However, like a vanilla latte, I had to find out why it suited my taste.

This was a nice ride! For a Cadillac built in 1949, I would drive this car today. The windows rolled up and down better than they do in my 2005 hatchback. The interior was flawless, and the sheer size made me feel safe – safer than in that teeny, tiny little tinbox I own now.

I found out it was Steve McQueen’s day driver. You know, the actor and racecar driver starring in movies like The Great Escape and Papillion. Back in 1949, it was Motortrend’s Car of the Year and it’s still a beauty in 2012. I’m not that much of a classic car person, but I can tell you after sitting in that, I would buy it.

Those are just a few of the exhibits that piqued my interest. I learned more about motorcycles in two hours than I ever had in my life. From smaller gas tanks in all the hill climbing bikes to the Indian motorcycle company failing partly because they were eclipsed by Harley Davidson, if I wasn't a fan before, I am now.

A motorcycle could very well be my next vehicle. To my high school physics teacher, I promise to wear leather pants and a helmet to avoid road rash and a jostled brain. To my mother: I love you even if I ride motorcycles and smoke a cigar or two.

That's me sitting and winking in Steve McQueen's Cadillac.
That's me sitting and winking in Steve McQueen's Cadillac. | Source

American Pickers

It’s notable that this museum has such a rich and varied history. So ingenious is its owner, Dale Walksler, he’s reputed to be able to fix anything.

It is with this polished ability, Mike and Frank from American Pickers called upon Walksler to see if he could fix a bike they found.

The History Channel has the full episode. Skip ahead to 37:10 to see Mike and Frank visit the museum and have a nice chit-chat with Dale.

If that wasn’t cool enough, Jay Leno and other television shows have graced the grounds where the museum stands. It’s because it has a vision: to bring an element of education, history and awe to the public.

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    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Teaches, hehe, you made me laugh! I told my hubby he took me to his "dream museum" - hehe. I promise, though, even if you're not a cars/motorcycles type, you'll enjoy it - if you get to talking with the volunteers, they'll tell you stories that make the place come alive! :) Thanks so much for coming by! :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      This is truly a man's dream museum! My hubby would enjoy visiting this place. I would love to see it as well, what can I say -- I'm a lover of vehicles too! Thanks for the sharing on this post.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Aviannovice - Fun! :D I'm so glad you stopped by! "Hoot" - haha, I think you were reading my mind: I just published a hub on owls. Hehe. I was thinking of you and your awesome pictures, too. Thanks again!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sounds like a place right up my alley. There is a WW II Museum in Maine that I visited, as well. It even had a room for an old railways station/telegraph office. What a hoot. There were also WW II planes on the grounds.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Om - hey there! Thanks for coming by! One of my favorite places to travel for the sheer interest and variety of transportation vehicles was Manila, Philippines. I loved the jeepneys and the motorcycle contraptions that people came up with. Hehe. I definitely think they have their place. Thanks so much for stopping by - I appreciate it. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Jools - hehe, I admit, I wasn't a total bike fan before visiting this place. The history and sheer ingenuity of human accomplishments captured my heart. I loved that you could "touch" this stuff and even sit in the cars - with permission. :) Thanks so much for coming by!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Mary - hehe, this WHOLE area is so beautiful! I absolutely love it. :) The museum was awesome, too. I haven't done motorcycles, but I was so inspired by this, I'd actually consider owning one. :) Thanks so much for coming by. I appreciate you.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

      How interesting! In Bangkok where I used to live, they have motorcycle taxis and they were my favorite means of transportation around the traffic-paralyzed city. So yeah, I like motorcycles and would love to visit this meseum. Thanks for sharing this fascinating hub!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Cyndi - this place looks so interesting. It's weird, I'm looking at the photos and thinking about how they've gone for a mood with the décor in the museum - I love that kind of thing; Disney triy to replicate it with the waiting space for some of their ride as and I find myself reading stuff on the walls and wanting to handle all of the little icons and nick-nacks.

      Very interesting article, great photos - though not a bike fan, I would still love to visit.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      Even though I would never get on a motorcycle, I enjoyed your Hub. When I saw "Maggie Valley" in the title , I knew I had to read it. As I've told you I was born in Asheville, and I know Maggie Valley very well.

      Very interesting Hub. I voted it UP, etc.etc.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      rfmoran - haha, I think you're right - there IS a museum for everything. :) Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Lyricwriter - I would LOVE to know more about the mystery motorcycle, LOL. It's awesome the American pickers went there, too. Hehe. Thanks so much for coming by!! Cheers!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Fun hub! There is a museum for everything. Voted up/interesting

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia

      CC, loved this article. Can't believe they found that special bike! Awesome find. I have heard of this place and I planned on visiting the next time I went to my wife's parents home, but never was able too. I didn't know the American pickers went there, that is awesome. Great place and great story Cyndi, voting this up, useful, and awesome.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks, Alissa. :) This would be a great place to take the family - including the little one. Hehe. Thanks so much for stopping by. Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      GC - ha! This is really fun, and I'm glad you felt like you were on a "virtual" tour with me. :D Thanks so much for stopping by. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Daisy - FUN! You were on a motorcycle on the freeways of SoCal, eh? Awesome!! I might end up owning one before this is all over. ;D

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Julie - thanks so much. :) It was definitely a fun adventure. Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      I would totally be with you about why would I want to visit a musuem about old motorcycles and cars but this place sounds so interesting and full of history that I would now definitely want to stop and check it out if I am ever in that area. Love the picture of you in the car - so cool that they let you sit inside! Fantastic hub Cyndi - voted up!

    • Global-Chica profile image

      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      What a fabulous article! I felt like you took us on a journey to the Wheels Through Time Museum with you. It's so cool that the Traub Motorcycle was found inside a fake wall 0 I really want to know why! Great pictures, layout and an excellent read.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Cyndi,

      What a great adventure! I loved the pace of your article, the way the excitement built. I couldn't wait to read what happened next.

      It's been a number of years since I've ridden on a motorcycle. The last time was on the freeways in Southern California....OMG! I was actually a passenger on a motorcycle on a California highway!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

      How cool. Really liked this hub...and you know what else? Those web dividers with the shadows are awesome!! :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks so much, Teresa. :) I felt slightly sarcastic as I was writing, hehe. I'm glad you caught that. It's well worth the visit - I was enthralled - so much so, I had to write about it. :) Hubhugs!

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love your treatment of this museum. You've provided lots of details with enough humour and description to make us want to visit this place. My boys including hubby would love to visit this museum. Great job, Cyndi!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Alocsin - DEFINITELY!! You gotta see this place. I don't think I saw one guy at the museum who wasn't wide-eyed and awed by all the motorcycles and cars. Haha. Thanks for coming by! :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      K9 - oh yes, that's me, winking at the world. Hehehe.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Clevercat - hehe, I definitely got excited about it AFTER I started learning about the really cool history. Before I went to this museum, I was thinking, um...why do I want to go see a bunch of bike relics that have no meaning for me? But then, I got in there and I realized that I had been incorrect in my thinking - they had so much meaning for me and the stories came to life. :) Thanks for stopping by.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      K9 - aw, you are SO sweet. :) I'm fascinated with that Traub Motorcycle, too. I would love go to on an official investigation or something and try to find out the history of it once and for all. Hehe. Thank you also for the compliments on the photography. :) I am DEFINITELY loving my camera. :D You're awesome to come by. Thank you and Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Cara - I was surprise, too. Hehe. When I asked, and they said yes, I got in really fast before they changed their mind, LOL. Hehe. Thanks for coming by. Hubhugs!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      What an unusual and uniquely American museum. I'll be putting this on my list of to-visit places if I'm ever in NC. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

      CC, I just realized that's YOU in Steve McQueen's Cadillac! Very cool!

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      That Traub is really, really cool! This was definitely a fun hub to read and your excitement is catching. Voted up and awesome!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

      Fantastic! What an exciting read! This one is right in my "wheel" house! (he-he) I wanted to all but date that 1917 Traub Motorcycle, Cyndi! You gave us such a perfect look, what with all of its curious history and functioning custom parts. Your photography is outstanding here, and that sepia-tone touch...pure genius! My favorite read today! Thanks for another cool hub.

      HubHugs~

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      Great tour! I'm surprised that you were allowed to get into the car. Most museums only let you look at the cars or motorcycles and not touch let alone get in them. Nicely done.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      You know, Bill, you saying that you've had motorcycles SHOULD surprise me, but it does not - I wouldn't put anything by you, Big Bro. Hehe. You've done it all!! That's actually really cool - lots of life experience has made you the wonderful person you are. :) Thanks for stopping by.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      RHW - yeah, my sister (the one with the boyfriends, LOL) was in a pretty bad accident awhile back. Then I watched some guy get in a wreck on his bike a few years ago - I definitely have a healthy fear going on there. But I keep wondering if there are ways you can make it really safe - like some sort of defensive driving technique - but I don't know enough to even say much about that.

      But thanks for stopping by!! Always great to see you. :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pretty cool adventure. I actually have owned two motorcycles so I would probably enjoy that place. Great pictures Cyndi and nice job on the article.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      That is so cool! Now I want to know who owned and built that bike! Why would someone hide it in a wall? Maybe it was stolen? Interesting!

      I do like motorcycles and have ridden on them many times BUT after a friend had a wreck I've devoloped a phobia! Now I'm scared of them and it is a weird thing...kinda saddens me.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Haha, Mark, so does my husband. Ohmigosh, he's in the garage working on his '71 Bronco as I write this. Thanks for coming by!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Hey, Josh. I'm glad you liked it. I definitely had a lot of fun at this museum and it really came to life as I learned some of the history. Indeed, it's amazing that they ALL run! Thanks for coming by! Great to see you. :)

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      This is great Cyndi, I love motorcycles and old cars!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Thanks, Patty. :) I had a lot of fun here...and I can't believe I want a motorcycle. :D Hubhugs!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Cyndi,

      I find this article very fascinating! I do not know much about bikes either, but the information you provided me is very interesting. That Traut bike looks epic and awesome! And from 1916, it is crazy that it still runs! Awesome hub Cyndi! Thanks for sharing this one!

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Interesting Hub with Great Pictures!!! Thanks for sharing!!