Wheels Through Time — The American history museum that runs circles around the rest
I spent a few hours at Wheels Through Time Museum this week, and it really opened my eyes to how fortunate our community is to have such a unique, living and breathing collection of American history right in our own backyard.
Now, I’m not normally much of a history buff, but both my wife and I enjoy watching The History Channel — where shows like ‘American Pickers,’ ‘American Restoration,’ ‘Pawnstars’ and even ‘Ancient Aliens’ keep us amused for hours at a time.
One of those shows, in particular — ‘American Restoration’ — has resulted in a spike in tourism for WNC, and I saw it first-hand at Wheels Through Time.
I knew the museum was open for the 2016 season, because I saw a marked increase in motorcycle traffic on Soco Road. So earlier this week, I unplugged my motorcycle from the wintery bonds of its battery tender, and rode on over to Wheels Through Time.
Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday and they were closed, but apparently I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t checked the WTT’s schedule — some 20-30 other motorcyclists were also gathered in the adjacent gravel lot, wondering, “Well, what do we do now?”
It was an interesting mix of motorcycles, too — a variety of sleek and quiet, sport-touring machines and only a couple traditional cruisers. As they rode away toward the Blue Ridge Parkway, I noticed that they hardly made a sound.
I had better luck at Wheels Through Time on Thursday, when I arrived to find to find the gates open and the parking lot teaming with activity. Again, I saw more sport touring motorcycles, together with many cars and trucks whose license plates spoke volumes — Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky and both North and South Carolina.
Inside the museum, I saw further proof of WTT’s broad appeal — a 2016 map of the U.S. where visitors have put pins indicating where they call home.
In just over three weeks of being open in 2016, Wheels Through Time had pins from every state, including Alaska and Hawaii. I asked myself, what other tourism venue in WNC could boast this breadth of visitation?
Dale Walksler, the ‘curator and chief’ of Wheels Through Time, can proudly point to years of heavily dotted maps, thousands of remarks in the visitors’ book and a volume of fan mail from viewers of The History Chanel.
It’s apparent the episodes showcasing WTT on ‘American Restoration’ have brought the museum incredible notoriety.
And that wasn’t Walksler’s first rodeo on the small screen. Before ‘American Restoration,’ Walksler and Wheels Through Time were often consulted by Mike and Frank on ‘American Pickers.’ Also, the Discovery Network’s Velocity TV gave him the nod in their behind-the-scenes look at the quest for hard-to-find motorcycle parts. That series — ‘What’s in the barn?’ — firmly established Walksler’s reputation as hands-on and hands down one of the most knowledgeable American motorcycle historians.
Did you know? Dale Walksler has spent years sharpening his motorcycle moxie and developing his presentation skills while compiling some 375 videos — all organic, tangential and unique to Wheels Through Time Museum. This labor of love is available at www.wheelsthroughtime.com in an area of the Web site called ‘The Time Machine.’
This is an ongoing, living and breathing archive of historical motorcycle restoration and preservation, and on the lighter side there are even a few motorcycle-motivated music videos.
I don’t know where Walksler gets the energy to give so much back to motorcycle enthusiasts, but I do know that WTT has attracted thousands of visitors to Maggie Valley, year after year.
Dale Walksler is a consummate showman. As his staff has commented, “Dale goes 100 mph all the time.” I saw that last week as I sat down with him under the new, shaded entrance to WTT to talk shop.
In under five minutes, Walksler greeted a couple from Pennsylvania who came out of their way to visit Wheels Through Time on their way back from Florida. He rewarded them by giving personal directions to Hwy. 81, the scenic way — via the twisty route to Hot Springs via Hwy. 209.
Walksler also greeted three ladies coming to the museum from Ohio. Recognizing one of them, he said, “Hello Kat, It’s good to see you again.”
Kat then introduced her sister and mother who she was bringing to the museum for the first time.
Finally, Walksler chatted up a WTT visitor, Lou Megleo from Charlotte, who was stopping in on his way to a motorcycle rally in Robbinsville called “Sidecars in the Smokies.” This was Meglio’s eighth visit to Wheels Through Time.
“I like stopping here,” said Meglio, “He (pointing to Walksler) keeps everything running. Other museums just park a bunch of motorcycles in a building and call is a museum.”
Yes, Dale Walksler goes the extra mile to make Wheels Through Time a truly special experience. One good example is part-time docent at WTT, Joe Cullen. He wanders the museum answering visitors’ questions, bringing the exhibits to life and greatly enhancing their WTT experience.
“I’ve learned more about American History at Wheels Through Time than all the years I spent in school,” said Cullen.
And lucky for all of us who live in Haywood County, that living American history is bringing families in to visit Maggie Valley in droves.
Wheels Through Time’s new ‘core visitors’ are families that have seen Wheels Through Time on television and are now coming for a closer look. That’s the extraordinary power of American history that starts up, then runs circles around ordinary museum experiences.