Going Hog Wild in Milwaukee

Four wheels move the body, Two wheels move the soul


State 10: Wisconsin - August 2, 2017

We woke up in a Walmart in Sheboygan, WI, and we were very excited about the day’s events. Today we would visit our “Made in America Factory Tour” for Wisconsin. When one says made in America and Wisconsin in the same sentence, there is one name that stands out above all others, and that name is Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson is more that an iconic company. Harley Davidson is woven into the very fabric our culture, and the only American motorcycle manufactured in the US. The company traces their roots back to the dawn of the 19th century when gas engines were in their infancy. In a 10x14 wood shed behind a home in Milwaukee, William S. Harley, Arthur Davidson, William A. Davidson, and Walter Davidson built the first Harley Davidson motor cycle in 1903. From the company’s humble beginnings, Harley Davidson has grown into the largest motorcycle company in the entire world. Most importantly their bikes are still made in America, by American union workers.

For the Harley Davidson factory tour, we were visiting their plant in Menomonee, WI, located 30 minutes outside the city of Milwaukee. The power train, or motor and transmission, for their motorcycles are machined and assembled in the Menomonee, WI plant, and then shipped other factories where final assembly occurs. When we entered the parking lot of the plant, we immediately noticed something very interesting. In the midst of the massive parking lots which lay before us, there was a reserved parking section located closest to the front doors. These spots were not reserved for the plants management or other VIP’s. These preferred parking spots were reserved for employees who drove their Harley to work. Even though we visited during their lunch break the employee Harley lot was very full. This was a poignant realization for us! The very bikes that they are tasked with building, are the very same bikes they personally drive to work every day. There is an unconfirmed rumor they get a nice employee discount.

When we entered the plant we signed a waiver, were given hearing and eye protection, and read the rules. One of the rules was there was no photography allowed! Major disappointment! We were also provided with an ear bud, so we could hear the tour guide. The tour guide led us through the secured doors, and into the manufacturing plant. Usually when touring manufacturing plants, we are only able to view the operations from the perimeter and behind glass. We were both pleasantly surprised to actually be on the floor of the plant right next to the machines that were making the individual parts of the Harley’s power train. The facility was over 500,000 square feet, and majority of the parts were machined in house. To machine a single component required a machine as large as a standard living room, and some were even larger.

The tour guide was perky, engaging and very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, neither Lori nor I are machinists or mechanics, so a lot of what we saw was a bit over our heads. What we ended up walking away with was an appreciation for Harley Davidson's ongoing commitment to continue being a leader in the motorcycle industry. In addition, over 1000 employees work in Harley Davidson plant in Menomonee, and we immediately noticed the employees take great pride in their work. They are tasked with the crucial job of creating the motor, which is the very heart of the motorcycle. There are not merely mechanics assembling a machine, they are each an integral part of the Harley Davidson legacy. On the way out, Lori and I posed for selfies on a Harley. Neither one of us ride, but when our year long trip is over we just may have to learn.

From there we drove 30 minutes south to Milwaukee, WI, which is the largest city in Wisconsin. Since we had just visited the Harley Davidson Factory, we found it appropriate to visit the Harley Davidson Museum next. Admission to the museum was reasonable at $14 each. The museum featured over 400 motorcycles from the companies 114-year history. The most prominent bike in the collection was the 1903 Harley Davidson with serial number 1, the oldest known Harley in existence. Another interesting exhibit was a Harley that was stored inside of a trailer which was washed into the ocean after a Tsunami hit Japan in 2002. Since the trailer had Styrofoam insulation, the bike and trailer were able to stay somewhat afloat. For the next 10 years, the trailer floated over 4000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, and was discovered after it washed ashore in Canada in 2012. When the trailer was opened, it was evident the bike had been heavily damaged from the corrosive effects of a decade of seawater exposure. The original owner of the bike was found in Japan, and he donated the bike to Harley Davidson. When the bike was examined, it was discovered both the engine and the transmission of the bike remained intact and undamaged even after spending 10 years afloat in Pacific Ocean. Today the exact bike pictured below sits on display inside of the museum as a testament to the durability and engineering of Harley Davidson Motorcycles!

They also had 3 interesting Harley’s on display that were used and or owned by celebrities. On display was the Harley Arnold Schwarzenegger rode in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the Harley ridden by Peter Fonda in the classic biker movie “Easy Rider”. Apparently the King once rode a hog! Elvis Presley’s personal Harley was on display complete with registration, insurance, and bill of sale signed by the King himself! All of the aforementioned are pictured below.

Admission included access to a special exhibit entitled TROG an acronym for “The Race of Gentlemen”. TROG is an annual race occurring on the beaches of Wildwood, New Jersey every June. The race is unique in the fact that only antique motorcycles and antique cars are allowed to participate. They had many of the vehicles on display which had taken part in TROG in previous years which was very interesting to see. New Jersey is one of the states on the tail end of the trip, and we may end up being in town for the TROG 2018. We may just have to check it out!

I need to get this off my chest and say that Wisconsin has been an absolutely awful state to drive through. Of all of the states we have visited, the roads in Wisconsin are the most deplorable. This appears to not merely be a town or county problem. Their decaying roadways is clearly a systemic state wide cancer! For decades, they have just put Band-Aids on roads that have long needed to be replaced. In Wisconsin’s defense, there does appear to be a massive state wide public works program underway to begin repairing the road system, but this will likely take decades to complete. In the meantime, while they are repairing the roads, motorists are being sent on extremely long unsigned detours down streets that appear to be worse than the ones they are in the process of repairing! Rosie is sick and tired of going down road after road, and mile after mile of bumps and potholes throughout Wisconsin over the past week! Connecticut, the state we used to live in, had a totally inept DOT, and a largely neglected road system. Repairing the shock, struts, dozens of wheel alignments and not to mention vehicle wear and tear was infuriating and expensive when we lived in Connecticut. We can guarantee the awful conditions of the Wisconsin roads will be taken into consideration when the time comes to vote on the state. In addition, tomorrow we will be touring the state capitol, in Madison, WI. I hope I get to meet the Wisconsin Governor, so I can personally hand him a bill for Rosie’s wheel alignment! After leaving the Harley museum, we found a Walmart in Milwaukee, WI to spend the night.

  • Facebook Vintage Stamp
  • Twitter Vintage Stamp
  • Instagram Vintage Stamp