By Dawn Hertzog
The most direct route from the coast of North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park system in western Carolina is Interstate 40, past Maggie Valley, where any self-respecting biker — or classic automobile enthusiast, for that matter — must take time to stop and explore Dale Walksler’s Wheels Through Time Museum, a shrine to rare American vintage motorcycles. You walk in the door of what appears to be a huge barn-like structure full of all the old fascinating stuff your grandpa used to collect. You know — the place where your mom always said, “Be careful. Don’t touch.”
People have a tendency to stop in their tracks just inside the front door simply because it’s hard to figure out where to look first. You start with eye-level, at the extended geometric tangle of old and painted metal circles and horizontal and vertical rectangles. Every vantage point looks like the beginning of a Norman Rockwell painting — which is fitting, since everywhere you look, a classic piece of vintage history catches your eye. It’s not just antique American bikes, either; classic autos creep into the mix, as well. And that’s only floor level. Your eyes move up and you realize that every wall is contributing to the ambiance, and your eyes keep going up even to the ceiling. It’s no wonder traffic stalls out of the gates here at the world-famous iron horse museum.
Once you’re moving, the tangle it appears to be at first opens up to well-displayed vintage pieces, each one a work of art. It reminded me of drawing class in art school, when we practiced our craft by sitting in front of this sculpture or that, committing the lines to paper. This space makes you want to find a place just out of the traffic lane to sit and study the architecture of one of the greatest motor vehicles in the world, committing its lines to the artistic, classic ride, bike-crazy soul in each of us.
A new show called “What’s in the Barn?” documents the classic collection and new vintage finds. It debuted on cable June 18 and according to their website, is distributed on Charter (Channel 778), DirecTV (Channel 281), and Dish Network (Channel 364) and runs at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesdays for the eight-episode season.
Just in case a well-deserved vacation or Sunday drive coincides with an exciting new opening or exhibit, and with special events scheduled throughout the year, you’ll want to keep checking their website. The museum is open Thursday-Monday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., from March 28 through November 26 this year, and closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65 and up), and $6 for children.
P.S. Enjoy living on the edge? Finish off your Maggie Valley tour with a mile-high climb to the Cataloochee Valley on half dirt roads, many with steep drop-offs and no side rails. Elk and turkey abound, as well as oft-sighted black bear. Fish for wild trout in the Cataloochee Creek, or hike the Boogerman Trail, a seven-mile loop through ancient forest (http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cataloochee.htm).
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