Upon entering the 45,000 square foot Bill’s Old Bike Barn in Columbia County, it is clear that owner Bill Morris is in love with anything that has to do with motorcycles. There are over 175 vintage motorcycles alone in Bill’s Old Bike Barn culled from fifty years of collecting, as well as motorcycle memorabilia and just neat old stuff- enough entertainment to fill an entire day of looking.
Bill began his motorcycle occupation in the 60s when he worked for Harley Davidson. In 1970 he quit and opened his own custom shop, specializing in building custom choppers, which he still operates in conjunction with the museum. Overtime, Bill bought out Harley Davidson dealers (approx. 28), custom shops (approx. 50), and people’s own personal collections. It wasn’t long before the realization hit him, “What am I going to do with all this stuff?” So Bill’s Old Bike Barn was born in-between Berwick and Bloomsburg on Rt. 11.
Every single item relating to motorcycles is a thing of beauty to him, including Harley Davidson cardboard boxes from the old days. He designed a way to artistically display the huge variety of orange and black parts boxes as well as the covers of Enthusiast Harley Davidson’s magazines on pointed ceiling displays so viewers can see them coming and going.
“Look at this gorgeous box,” he shows me. “How can you throw it away? I have never thrown a single Harley Davidson parts box away,” he admits, and in his warehouses of parts has 100’s of 1,000’s of collapsible boxes. But a pack-rat is not what you would even remotely view Bill as for this spacious museum is incredibly orderly, neat and artistic- a real pleasure to view, regardless if you are a motorcycle aficionado or not. Beautiful graphically designed signs (bike shop and motorcycle related) are also artfully displayed inside the skylights and on the ceilings to maximize space in the “barn.” A graphic artist would find also themselves in heaven here.
Car lovers and car clubs frequent Bills Old Bike Barn even more so than motorcycle lovers. He has over 10,000 license plates displayed, as well as triangular felt banners from the American Motor Association.
Some of the items I find personally interesting is a 1952 Zundapp motorcycle with 2700 miles on it and its original paint; a 1962 little construction dump truck which is built on top of a motorcycle; a Triumph motorcycle with a side car made for a dog; a German BMW Army bike with machine gun racks, ammo tracks, and a latch to pull cannons. There is also a 1956 Sears & Roebuck golf cart and a 1926 red Harley fire-fighting motorcycle that is just gorgeous.
There are rare Indian motorcycles present as well as a Moto Guzzi Italian Army motorcycle which has steel tracks that are on it like a tank (on top of the wheels). These enabled it to climb over the Alps with the help of three independent drive shafts.
“It could literally walk up buildings (and mountains!), Bill exclaims. “It’s all in the gearing. This motorcycle is an engineering marvel, but with twelve different speeds it is a nightmare to drive!” Although it can, we couldn’t convince Bill to crank it up and prove it.
A 1991 Desert Storm motorcycle is hugely popular, because it is somewhat current.
“Just because something is really old,” Bill comments, “doesn’t make it really interesting.”
One of the real highlights, however, is an pristine 1913 Silent Grey Fellow (Harley Davidson)- one of the very first motorcycle Harley made. There are also old bicycles manufactured by Harley Davidson and Triumph.
People bring Bill stuff all the time which he continually adds to his museum. Even groups like the Red Hat Society come for a tour.
“Those women have some of the best stuff in their garages left from their deceased husbands!” The Camera Shop was started with one sweet old woman’s husband’s collection. She stuffed her old Ford station wagon to the gills with cameras two weeks after her visit and drove it to Bill’s unannounced. At the time that my friend Bob Shaud and I tour the Barn, there is Serious construction is going on, as Bill adds new displays to Main Street. (Bob and I come in style, no less, on his Harley Dresser.)
“If I don’t have it,” he says smiling, “It’s time to start collecting it. You never have enough stuff.”
As you may guess, with all this collecting, designing and building, Bill doesn’t have much time to take all his motorcycles out for a ride anymore, although they all run, amazingly. He takes some of the more interesting bikes out for a spin in Memorial Day parades.
He is also kept busy with rebuilding motorcycle engines, carbs, transmissions, etc. with his vast array of parts, specializing in vintage Harley motors, of course.
Inside the massive museum is a Main Street display. A wide walkway leads you through time with two- story shops lining both sides- a hair salon, an Avon store, a toy store, a camera shop (2,000 cameras inside), etc.
“It’s so much fun to watch visitors as they peruse the museum and exclaim, ‘I used to have one of these years ago!’ and all these sweet memories flood back to them.’” This happy moment of connection is what makes it all worthwhile for Bill.
There are 300 wooden antique carnival rides collected from Europe and one of the largest displays anywhere of the 1939 New York World’s Fair souvenirs. This is a personal favorite of Bill, who was born in 1939. Parlor stoves also decorate the monstrous barn.
I find places like Bill’s Old Bike Barn personally fascinating just to see hear and what makes some individuals flood with passion and become moved to share their love with the public.
A two story home with 31 tons of ornate Belgian wrought iron work is a highlight on Main Street. It is Bill’s actual residence, his own personal apartment. “What better place to live than right in the middle of all my stuff which I love- here in Bill-ville. What better person to guard my museum than me. I don’t ever want to leave.”
THURSDAY-FRIDAY 10AM-6PM, SATURDAY 9:30AM-3PM AND SUNDAY 1PM-5PM
A version of this appeared in the September/October issue of Pennsylvania Magazine http://www.pa-mag.com