Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brace yourself: the “What I’m Thankful For” posts are coming (and we’re no exception)

The day to give friends & family ‘the bird’ is happening tomorrow: Thanksgiving Day! And now you’re about to see everyone & their mother post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter what they’re thankful for. Doing what everybody else is doing is not the ‘norm’ for most bikers. Don’t get me wrong- we are very thankful bunch for what we have and the experiences we’ve encountered. We're just not all that big on broadcasting it to the world. But this year I’m breaking with Biker tradition and actually following the crowd.

Me & Cali
So of course I’m thankful for the usual stuff: the fact that I raised two kids (20 & 18 years old) who are becoming decent adults, my ‘dog’ (who is just as much part of our family as my kids are) to greet me at the door and cuddle with, my husband for putting up with me always having to be right, my horse who is just as much a goof-ball as I am, my job which is more fun than work, the co-workers and customers who have become close friends, my car – especially since I have to drive it for about six months out of the year, and yes, my 2004 Harley-Davidson® Dyna® Super Glide®.

But this year my one “Big Ticket Item” to be thankful for is the Founding Fathers of Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Because without them and their insight to build a motorcycle that became ingrained in American Culture, I don’t think I would have as much to be thankful for.

L to R: Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson, Bill Harley, William Davidson

Rumor has it that Arthur Davidson and William Harley wanted an easier way to get up to their favorite fishing hole. Bicycles were all the rage in that age, but the boys (in their 20’s) didn’t want the work of pedaling up hill. Bill Harley – with help from Arthur – drew up plans for an engine to go into a bicycle. But when they tested it they found peddle power was needed to get up hills. Back to the drawing board, and with brothers Walter & William Davidson, they began working on the second-generation machine. Eventually the three brothers and one friend produced ‘Serial Number One’ from their ‘factory’ – a 10x15 shed in the backyard with “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” painted on the door.

Serial Number One
Now, nearly 115 years later, HDMC has their main headquarters in Milwaukee – not far from where they first started out. The engines that are the heart of the motorcycle are also built in Wisconsin, and two factories – in Kansas City, MO and York, PA – put together the motorcycles from scratch. If you haven’t yet taken a tour, you should. You’ll see the fenders & tanks stamped out of steel, frames welded together and put on a cart with a build sheet for that particular bike. As the cart rolls into each station workers immediately put what they’re supposed to on that bike – the parts are already there. The logistics of it all are amazing.

And yet when these bikes roll off the assembly line, they are so much more than “just” a motorcycle. It’s the wind in your face, the feeling as the bike leans into the curve, the power as you roll on the throttle, and the exhilaration you feel as you’re flying down the road. When you get a Harley® you’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting an experience – one that isn’t easily matched.

The First Factory - a 10x15 backyard shed
I often wonder: Did Bill Harley and Arthur, Walter & William Davidson know what they were starting? Did they foresee how much Harley-Davidson® motorcycles – like baseball and apple pie – would become part of American culture? The camaraderie bikers feel as we pass each other on the road, giving the ‘Biker Wave’? How we’ll travel 50 miles on our Harley just to get good ice cream? That they’d go from just 15 workers to well over a million employees working in both their factories and dealerships all over the world? If only I could go back in time and ask!!

Sure there were others doing the same thing – putting engines into frames to make motorcycles. But it was these four guys who did it well and did it right. With them I’ve found what I feel is my passion, my true calling for this Life Behind Bars, and for that I’m truly thankful.