Show of shows: Rare motorcycle collection smooth riding at California Oil Museum

April 19, 2000
Santa Paula News
No one is really sure what killed George Wayman, the first person to travel across the United States by motorcycle, but it is believed to be death by kidney failure, brought on by bumping along the thousands of miles of railroad track he traveled upon. Wayman's motorcycle, a 1902 California, a rarity indeed, is featured at the California Oil Museum where “Rare Motorcycles from the Otis Chandler Collection” is drawing in motorcycle and history buffs alike.The March opening reception for the exhibit, sponsored by Santa Clara Valley Bank, made downtown Santa Paula's streets look like a convention of bikers were in town with the array of motorcycles parked curb to curb.The show is spectacular; aside from Wayman's motorcycle - displayed below a vintage railroad mural created by noted set designer Jeff G. Rack - is a photograph of the pioneering biker and a description of his adventures.“Nobody knows what really happened to Wayman, but rumor is he died of kidney failure,” brought on by his shaky cross-country ride over railroad trestles, said curator John Nichols of the Sespe Group.It took Wayman 50 days before he limped into New York from San Francisco; his journal of the journey was published during the trip, reprinted in the The Antique Motorcycle in the late 1990s.Another standout in an exhibit of standouts is the 1909 Indian motorcycle. “The owner rode it a few years and then had a heart attack and the bike was rolled into a barn where it sat for 70 years,” Nichols noted, pointing out the hornet's nest still lodged in the headlight.
To round out the stories of notable motorcycles - as well as the notable riders of motorcycle lore - are bikes owned by the late legendary actor Steve McQueen, who spent his last years living in Santa Paula. His favorite motorcycle, a gorgeous, carmine red, 1942 Indian Scout is displayed.This unique look at the world of the rare motorcycles has proven highly popular: a 1919 Harley-Davidson proved its metal by mapping Death Valley for rail routes and hotel sites before Death Valley had roads was the first vehicle to climb My. Baldy.Fans of customizing have a show-stopping Orient motorcycle to see: Von Dutch, father of pinstriping and flames, customized this bike, his signature on the forks. Numerous items by the late artist, also a Santa Paula resident, are displayed paying homage to his eclectic works, including his famous Flying Eyeball as well as padlocks he did for McQueen.Whether a hot-shoe or history buff, there's plenty for everyone in this exhibit supplemented by memorabilia and plenty of photographs from the Brucker and other private collections. A 1929 Harley and 1929 Indian motorcycle, similar to the two bikes ridden to warn Santa Paula residents of the St. Francis Dam collapse, are shown, as well as artist Eric Richards' rendering of “The Warning” the small scale version of the bronze sculptor that will be the first of the larger than life size works to memorialize the disaster and those who were involved.“Rare Motorcycles from the Otis Chandler Collection” continues through May 21. For information, call the museum at 933-0076.

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