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In Search of the Original Harley Davidson Shed

Posted by Randy Wilson

Jul 20, 2014 8:44:00 AM

In Search of the Original Harley Davidson Shed 

by Randy Wilson  |  Originally written: October 2008 

CHAPTER 1

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It just seems like yesterday I was at the 100th Anniversary Harley Davidson wingding in Milwaukee and now five years have past. I rode with a group of seven Harleys from Central Indiana. We got lodging in Janesville, WI, and motored back and forth for the various activities. I rode one of my present Harley’s which is a 2003 Road King, (FLHRI). At the time of the 100th Anniversary Celebration I had my bike for one year already. Although it was my third Road King, I was proud of it and thought it was appropriate that I rode an Anniversary model to the centennial H-D Anniversary. As this sport goes, I got rained on before I got out of town! 

1903 Original Harley-Davidson Shed1903 Original Harley-Davidson Shed

Weeks before heading to Milwaukee for all of this I had already established an agenda in my mind for when I got there. I wanted to see the old H D factories on Juneau Street first. Then I wanted to find out where the original 1903 H-D 10 by 14 foot shed was located, place my Road King in that exact spot, and snap a photo. Legend has it that the father of the three founding Davidson brothers was a carpenter and made this shed for the young enthusiast to tinker in and develop their motorcycle. 

From what I had read, the Juneau Plant was not too far from where the Davidson family had resided. In fact, I have seen photos of the original shed after it had been moved closer to the factory. However, in a book pertaining to H-D history that was written in 1972 the original little shed close to the factory was “accidentally” torn down. Very near the old Juneau Factory is a nice reproduction of that original shed. You can also find an excellent full-size replica of the old Shed in the service department of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson. It houses their dyno tuner.  

full-size replica of the old Shed in the service department of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson

  Full Size Replica of Original H-D Shed at Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson

I broke off from the group I was with and went directly to the old factory. After I got to the factory, I asked some of the folks working in and around the factory just exactly where the original shed was? Four different people gave me four different answers. Hence, I figured I better research this and find it out for myself. I got out my Milwaukee map and made my way downtown to the city’s main public library. Upon arriving at the library, I noticed a nice collection of old Harley Davidson photos of the factories and motorcycles. In addition, many books on Harley Davidson were on a special display intended to harmonize with the 100th anniversary festivities. 

After glancing over this display, I retired to the library reference department. I wanted to study old federal census records, old city directories, and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. I told the librarian about my agenda for finding the original location of the old shed, and they pointed me to all the resource material available, invited me to help myself, and if I needed any further assistance, to let them know (they were very professional). 

From doing research in a different city in the past, I figured I could come up with the answer I desired. Some of the details from the neighborhood history where the Davidson family had lived indicated that it had been developed a total of three times... twice as a residential area and most recently as commercial properties. 

I was able to determine that the Davidson home was on the corner of 37th and Highland. There had been two homes built on this lot in the past. One of the houses had faced 37th, and one of the houses had faced Highland, but nonetheless two different homes. 

Now all of this research took several hours even though I had done this sort of thing before. I did not want to leave any rock unturned. As I departed, the librarians advised me that I had taught them something about Harley Davidson history because they hadn’t a clue where the original shed had been. They thanked me for patronizing their library. The staff at that library are indeed an asset to the Milwaukee City Library System. 

OK, finally I could return from whence I came to see what was on the corner of 37th and Highland, then place my Road King in the spot where the shed had been in 1903, and snap my photo. From my current map it was obvious that the streets in that portion of the city were laid out the same as they had been for over 100 years. So that was a good thing. 

Miller Brewery Parking Lot former home of the Davidson'sWhen I arrived at the corner of 37th and Highland where the Davidson’s had lived, I found that the lot their home formerly sat on is now the location of … THE MILLER BREWERY PARKING LOT! The parking lot takes up nearly a half a city block or more. It has a contemporary wrought iron fence around it, adorned with landscaping, and of course, completely covered with black asphalt. 

I could have ridden my bike into the Miller parking lot and taken the photo that I wanted, but I decided not to. Night had fallen, and I didn’t think the photo would turn out too well. Still this was the highlight of my trip in 2003. A trip to Milwaukee is a great experience. There is a treasure trove of motorcycle history in that city, and I’m going back someday! 

                 

 CHAPTER 2

                                     Going Back to Milwaukee June 2011 

In June of 2011 three pals of mine and myself rode our Harley’s to Milwaukee. Our agenda was to visit the official Harley-Davidson Museum. Also see the old factory and I wanted to show my pals where the original 1903 Harley-Davidson shop was. A friend of mine who lives in the Milwaukee area also joined us on his Road Glide.

Here are a few images of this return trip to Milwaukee. I am featuring the site of where the original H-D shop was.

 Backyard of the Davidson home at 37th  St.  and Highland Blvd.   This image is in the Harley-Davidson Museum proper.

This is the back yard of the Davidson home at 37th  St.  and Highland Blvd.
This image is in the Harley-Davidson Museum proper.

 We made our way to the intersection of 37th and Highland. Presently the whole city block is the parking lot for the miller brewery. We went on Saturday so the lot was empty and that made it easy for taking photos. Also we rode by and took some photos of the old HD factory on Juneau. 

 Present Corner of 37th Street and Highland Blvd. Milwaukee WI.

Present Corner of 37th Street and Highland Blvd. Milwaukee WI.

                        The original 1903 H-D Shed was located just inside that fenced area inside the Miller Brewery Parking Lot.

The original 1903 H-D Shed was located just inside that fenced area inside the Miller Brewery Parking Lot. 

       My Roadking and I located exactly where the original H-D Shed from 1903 was located.

My Road King and I located exactly where the original 1903 H-D Shed was located.

 

                    At the old Harley-Davidson Factory entrance on Juneau Ave.

At the old Harley-Davidson Factory entrance on Juneau Ave.

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The Harley Old-Timer from Texas!

Posted by Randy Wilson

Jun 19, 2014 1:26:00 PM

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My mind wandered back to 2003, embracing memories of a dedicated biker from Texas: the Lone Star State.

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I was with a group of about eight Harleys that went to the 100th Anniversary Wing Ding in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (2003). While motoring back to Central Indiana, we stopped near Rockford, Illinois for some gas. It had been sprinkling on and off, but the rain had let up when we stopped.

On the other side of my gas pump was a fairly new Harley-Davidson Electraglide Ultra Classic, truly the flagship of the motor company. I noticed it had a Texas license plate. The owner/rider had gone into the gas station. I filled my machine with gas, and as I was putting back the pump nozzle, I noticed a stranger walking toward me. He was a short man of slight build, walking very slowly in a pretty upright posture, and without a limp. He walked straight to the Ultra Classic with the Texas plate.

His Ultra looked just like this one:

Ultra

My first thought was, “MY GOODNESS THIS OLD-TIMER RODE ALL THE WAY FROM TEXAS TO MILWAUKEE!” YIKES!

I couldn't help but approach this sojourning, biker enthusiast from Texas. In a nutshell he told me that most of the folks he had ridden with had gone on to that great "poker ride in the sky." However, he was not going to miss the 100th anniversary gala, so he just came on his own. This he lamented with a smile and a little twinkle in his eye.

After I noticed his age and how slowly he walked from the gas station back to his machine, I could not help but be concerned about his welfare. Hence, I inquired, "Sir, are you going to be OK on your trip back to Texas?"

He smiled and replied with much confidence and a Texas drawl, "Oh sure, I'll do just fine ... I've been riding Harleys for 70 years."

I dare say that this determined man had to be in his late 80s or early 90s and was all of 5'6" if that, and 130 lbs. or less. I bade him farewell as he rode off the lot with steady precision. Then I prayed that the Good Lord would keep His hand of safety on the old-timer as he motored home to Texas.

After I got home I did the math, and if this old Texan had been riding 70 years and started out on a new Harley, it may have looked something like this 1933?

harley davidson


Golly, I wonder if that old-timer rode up to Milwaukee for the 105th Harley-Davidson Anniversary in 2008? I hope I am blessed with good health and can enjoy riding my Harley for many more years.

 

Randall Wilson 

Randall K. (Randy) Wilson

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One of many Harley Davidson moments

Posted by Randy Wilson

Jul 14, 2013 7:07:00 PM

guest postYou've probably had a few Harley Davidson moments.
You know the ones; they stay with you forever.
Here's one of mine.

 

harley davidson dealers     Growing up in the inner city of eastside Indianapolis, my folks would daily dispatch me to run errands for them. In 1961 when I was nine, Dad sent me to the drug store very late one afternoon. Near dusk as I was cutting through an adjacent neighborhood heading to the drug store, I notice a small crowd had gathered at the intersection of N. Dorman St. and E. Vermont St. (very near the former Pepsi-Cola Bottling Plant). Bear in mind this was not a large intersection. It was located in a working class neighborhood of small homes.

harley

Randy circa 1961                                 Corner of N. Dorman & Vermont St. circa 2013 (currently a commercial setting)
 

     A young African American gent wearing the traditional Marlon Brando, “Wild One “ style harley davidsonmotorcycle riding cap of that era, was riding solo on a beautiful blue FLH. From his motorcycle a personal trick riding show was being put on for the neighbors. His Harley would have had a Panhead engine for sure, perhaps a Duo-Glide model, since this was before the Electra-glide (1965) came out. This cycle was loaded to the max with chrome. It also had one of those big spring mounted white leather "Buddy" seats adorned with white fringe. In addition, the cycle was fitted with highly embellished black leather saddlebags of which the lids had white fringe as well. The rear of this machine was nicely loaded up with bullet lights...awesome bullet lights.


harley dealersIndianapolis Motorcycle DealersThese two images taken at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee remind me of the motorcycle I saw that night.

 

     Neighborhood folks on the sidewalk were mesmerized with the tricks and stunts this rider was doing on his cycle. He would zip back and forth standing on the seat. However, what really caught my attention was... now picture this... while the cycle was moving, this gent would dismount from his seat and place his left foot on the RIGHT footboard. Then he would be riding in a squatting position hanging onto the right side of the cycle like a sidecar with his head about the same height as his arms. At that point he would extend his right leg straight out in the direction of the front wheel. He would balance the cycle while moving and meander around the intersection with graceful agility and confidence, to a perfect level of poise. Honestly, it was a show!

After this exhibition, he would jump back onto the seat while the cycle was still moving. Then he dismounted again putting his right foot on the LEFT footboard and repeating the same maneuvers. Have any of you ever seen this type of stunt/trick riding done on a big, full-size HOG? Some people must surely possess a God-given uncanny sense of balance. 

For the life of me I can't fathom someone being able to perform such stupendous feats of balance on a large moving motorcycle. I saw this with my own eyes and remember it just like it was yesterday. That display of masterful, motorcycle riding magic has never dimmed from my memory. 

A few days later I went back to that intersection and inquired of the neighbors if that gent lived in the area. I was anxious to see this trick riding show again. However, I was told that the “trick rider” lived on the west side of town. I would return several more times in the future, but never saw him perform his trick riding skills again, to my deepest disappointment.

This experience was another one of those Harley Davidson moments I will never forgot. 

indianapolis harleyFor me it was experiences like this that served as a catalyst allowing me to dream of someday owning my own Harley-Davidson Motorcycle. My dream came true, when I picked up my first brand new motorcycle at Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson Sales & Service (1997). What a blessing it has been.

indianapolis Southside HD

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