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50 States Day 96

Day 96, DeForest to Mequon, 128 miles
"It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
~J.K. Rowling

We completed one out of three goals today. Not bad. It got me through High School. No oil change or brewery tour, but a wonderful, informative Harley Davidson Museum tour. Note I didn't say factory tour.

The Internet is wonderful. But it contains problems. One challenge is when a person looks for a factory tour, finds the building and it is for sale. The factory tour-in fact, the factory-is history. We rode behind the building and there stood a new building with 'Harley Davidson' in large plastic letters on it. Below it read, 'Research and Development.'
"There's no way we're touring that building," QG said. Of course, she nailed that prediction. Research and Development is cloaked with high security. The friendly security man gave us directions to the museum, past the Miller Stadium, and no baseball game today. Way cool. But way late. We entered the building around 1:30. So what? We have all year. Although we have to get to Maine by September and beat winter down the East Coast.

The HD people laid out the museum well; you can follow the history of the
company by a line of bikes from 1903 to the present. I'll present Special
Feature blogs for the next few days for you motorcycle fanatics.
Harley's history bounces up and down through two World Wars, a Depression, a bad merger, and brilliant management.  Harley survived the Depression by selling pedestrian bikes like police bikes and delivery vehicles. During World War II they provided 88,000 bikes to the military. But their biggest challenge came in the eighties. AMF bought HD in the mid seventies and screwed it up, redesigning the bikes to boring and staid, (well, of course, they sell bowling balls, for crying out loud!) and mismanaging the company. Thirteen men in management got together, raised a million dollars, borrowed ninety million, and tried to repurchase the company. A video showed execs telling the story. They worked at the buyback and ended up on New Years' Eve, 1981, with two large piles of paperwork, one for bankruptcy and one for a buyback. Could go either way. At eleven P.M., the funding worked, papers signed, and they regained control of the company. The next year they lost $15 million. The banks wanted to pull the plug. The management got together with the union and worked out concessions so they all had jobs and HD could operate and make a profit. They turned it, all right. Amazing.
 Two guys started in a fifteen by twenty foot block building, making bicycles with engines. They grew rapidly and the bikes transformed from crude bikes with engines to a tremendous juggernaut of motorcycles.

Harley Davidson has the reputation for having the most loyal customers, not of the motorcycle industry, not in America, but of every product in the world. How so? You never see a woman with 'Bed, Bath and Beyond' tattooed on her back. You never see a bunch of men getting together for a Nike day to raise money for a good cause. You don't see Toyota shops, where no cars are sold, but tons of Toyota merchandise flies out the door. In Las Vegas, at the MGM Grand Hotel, you can find a Harley store and they don't sell bikes. Amazing.
QG and I got the dubious distinction of riding the only non Harley in the parking lot. In a wonderful twist of irony, our Japanese bike looked more American than the rest of them. And the Gold Wing was built in America. An aside: Honda moved it to Japan in 2011.

The Garage, across the street, contained short term museum themes, and presently features leather jackets. Contrary to our expectations, the Leather Jacket exhibit provided some history, culture and information about leather jackets that made the exhibit valuable. The venue featured leather jackets worn by Michael Jackson, Madonna, Fonzie, Motley Crue, Bruce Springsteen, and others. Poster and pictures featured Joan Jet, Elvis, rock bands, actors, and bikers. A video ran of Marlon Brando sauntering into a bar wearing a leather jacket. Another video featured clothing designers touting the merits of leather jackets while anorexic models walked across the runway looking like they wanted to slap you. Jeez, the leather really works. I know when I wear my leather jacket, I don't care about the spine protector or the Kevlar; I just want to stab someone or eat at a diner and tell the proprietor I ain't paying. Maybe beat him up or something.
Hats off to Harley for putting together a really fine museum, and a good value for eighteen bucks. And if Mr. Cheap says it's a good deal, you know it's true. Tomorrow we head to Green Bay and (ahem) an oil change, and a tour of Lambeau Field. Think I'll find a plastic wedge of cheese to put on my head. See the previous blog for the Special Feature.

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