Where can a motorcyclist go to experience our sport’s rich and storied past? Anamosa, Iowa, for starters. The National Motorcycle Museum is located in this small Midwestern city three hours due west of Chicago. Why here? As is often the case with museums, there is a passionate person with a vision in charge. John Parham is the founder of J&P Cycles, one of the largest suppliers of aftermarket motorcycle parts and supplies. Every year the museum holds a Vintage Rally, and the June 1-3, 2012, event was the biggest yet.
To explore the origins of the National Motorcycle Museum, first look back to 1938. That was the year motorcyclists started flocking to the annual Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally and races founded by Clarence “Pappy” Hoel. In time, a small museum opened on Main Street. Parham is a long-time Sturgis attendee and was a big supporter of the Sturgis museum. Everyone knows how busy Sturgis is the first week of August, but for the rest of the year it’s a sleepy little town and the museum had a rough time staying open. That’s why, in the late ’80s, Parham took control and brought the museum home to Anamosa. The original building was on the main street in town until 2010 when the opportunity arose to move to its present location, a 35,000-square-foot former Walmart—the perfect spot for this historic collection.
In addition to vendors, bike judging, nitro and top-fuel dragster startups, and a great ride on Sunday, several notable racers and tuners were on hand to answer questions about the machines in the exhibits. Among them were Bobby Hill and Bill Tuman, both in their early 90s. They were America’s top flat track racers in the late ’40s and early ’50s and members of the famed Indian Wrecking Crew. Another youngster in attendance, 85-year-old Dick Klamfoth, was thrice victorious on the famous Daytona Beach course riding a Norton. These guys were friends and competitors back in the day and are still the best of friends now. To have them sign a free poster and talk to you about their life experiences was a priceless experience for many, myself included.
More than 400 motorcycles are on display at the museum and the diversity of the collection is outstanding. And so is everything else! The memorabilia starts pre-motorcycle with bicycles that date back to 1880. There’s a toy collection like none other, posters and advertisements, television monitors running all types of great programming, displays about women in motorcycling, Evel Knievel and Steve McQueen, an early gas station and a replica of a boardtrack from the 1910s. The entire structure is absolutely filled to the brim with nothing but first-rate motorcycle “stuff.”
It probably sounds like this setting would be cluttered, but the museum is comprehensively organized and kept white-glove clean, even though they are constantly changing bikes and displays. Fifteen hundred square feet of the building is dedicated to a specific theme that changes every year. If you are interested in the ’60s and ’70s drag racing scene, for example, you would love the new Quarter Milestones exhibit. It includes many of that era’s nitro-burning Harleys, Nortons, Vincents and Triumphs, the single- and twin-engine machines that changed it all for the ¼-mile world.
If all of this sounds interesting to you, visit nationalmcmuseum.org to get all the info, or take a ride through America’s heartland to Anamosa, Iowa. It will be worthwhile.
CLICK HERE to read a sidebar about the Motor Maids and founder Gloria Struck.
(This article The Vintage Rally 2012: History Unfolds at the National Motorcycle Museum was published in the March 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)