Motorcycles in Morrilton Motoring Museum
Words & Photos: John Gunnell
In was a dark and dreary night . . . Well, actually it was very late in the afternoon, although it was as dark as midnight. We were driving up a winding mountain road in an ice storm and thinking about how it had been a good idea to order the truck with four-wheel drive. We were also thinking that the transportation museum we were heading for on top of the mountain might be closed. Fortunately, we had underestimated the downhome hospitality of the hobby-friendly staff at the Museum of Automobiles in Morrilton, Arkansas.
This mountain is the largest of the Petit Jean Mountains, a group of connected landforms south and east of where the Petit Jean River and Arkansas River meet. In 1953, wealthy New Yorker Winthrop Rockefeller drove to Arkansas in a 1951 Cadillac, settled on Petit Jean Mountain and built Winrock Farms. He later constructed the Museum of Automobiles to house his antique car and motorcycle collection and it ultimately became part of Petit Jean state park.
October 18, 1964 was the opening day of the Museum of Automobiles and in October of 2014 the collection celebrated its 50th birthday. Although exhibits are constantly changing, visitors can still see the museum founder’s 1951 Cadillac on display as well as other Rockefeller items such as his 1914 Cretor's popcorn wagon and his 1967 Cadillac. Yjere is also a collection of seven really old motorcycles that Biker Hotline fans will love.
The seven bikes span the years 1913 to 1969. They include a two-wheel-drive motorcycles manufactured by Rokom & Co. of Willington, Vermont that uses a Chrysler two-cycle outboard industrial engine, This bike could be kick started or you could use the rope-pull start system. It has 6.75 x 15 two-ply Goodyear Suregrip tires mounted on hollow wheels used to carry water and fuel. It has a hand brake on the front gear drive and cost $795 when new. Next to it is a red 1950 Model C-41 Indian Chief that was donated to the museum by George and Margaret Isbell of Memphis, Tennessee.
There are several Harley-Davidsons, including a 1946 Model 45-twin. The US military used bout 20,000 of these bikes during World War II. Larry Lucht of Marshall, Texas has the blue bike on loan to the museum. Bob Harris of Morilton donated the next motorcycle, a 1913 Harley board track racer. Such bikes had no starter or brakes. The racers pushed them to start them and jumped on. A kil switch was provided to help stop the bike. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Other two-wheelers in the museum include a Cushman Eagle and a Whizzer motorbike.
As we learned from our last minute arrival on a dark, dreary day, the Museum of Automobiles is open 10 am-5 pm (we arrived at 4 pm) every day of the year except Christmas. The Museum of Automobiles has a membership program, too. Members contribute to the maintenance and development of the museum and help make its continued operation possible. Members receive free admission for themselves and immediate family, a 10 percent discount on gift shop items, a charitable tax deduction for their contributions and the satisfaction of helping ensure the continued operation of the museum.