It’s not something any shop or dealership can do, constructing a two-story addition to house a vast collection of artifacts related to the world’s most iconic daredevil. But Historic Harley-Davidson (HH-D) in Topeka, Kansas has pulled off precisely that and in splendid fashion.
Visitors access the new Evel Knievel Museum by a dedicated entrance, then, after two floors of authentic motorcycles, leathers, rare video footage and interactive features, they exit into the dealership showroom. Great planning, certainly, but the overall concept was far more serendipitous.
Third-generation HH-D owner Mike Patterson met collector, producer and entrepreneur Lathan McKay in 2015 after McKay had acquired Knievel’s “Big Red” Mack truck rig. Patterson boldly agreed to restore it, though he’d never worked on one, and as he learned about McKay’s growing collection he got an idea: Why not amass the artifacts in one place and create a destination?
Evel Knievel made headlines and history from the mid ’60s to the early ’80s for his daring motorcycle jumping and risk-taking attitude, deriving as much fame from the jumps he failed to make – and the resulting injuries – as those he completed. For Patterson, the subject matter was a major factor.
See, a four-year-old Patterson saw Knievel jump at the Kansas State Fair and he never forgot it. Shortly thereafter he was a national-number dirttrack racer, much like today’s athletes who still honor Knievel as the godfather of extreme sports.
Once the decision was made, city and state tourism officials opted in and Topeka businessman Jim Caplinger, who was also enamored with the subject matter, jumped in enthusiastically to bolster the collection with several pivotal additions. Construction was completed by last fall so HH-D staff could work inside through the winter; they handled 95% of the graphics, copy, video and installations in house. Museum Director Bruce Zimmerman said, “It’s really showcased what our people are capable of.”
Yes, they developed in-kind partnerships with local businesses and hired pros for the sophisticated Bad To The Bones touch screen wall and Virtual Reality Jump, a fully immersive 4-D experience. The Plan-A-Jump interactive wall and Snake River Experience address STEM educational directives such as the SkyCycle’s steam-power and the physics of a successful jump. What a way to teach science and engineering on school field trips!
With authenticity and passion, HH-D’s Evel Knievel Museum extends American pop culture’s fascination with the world’s ultimate risk-taker and bone-breaker, engaging riders and non-riders alike.
The Evel Knievel Museum
At Historic Harley-Davidson
2047 SW Topeka Blvd, Topeka, KS 66612; Ph: 785-215-6205
Hours: Tuesday through Friday,
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.