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One of a Kind: The American Police Motorcycle Museum

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - July 16, 2012





For many people, the word “museum” does not conjure up warm and happy images. They might think of a childhood class trip to a hulking, mausoleum-type building, full of dusty historical displays and giant oil paintings of long-dead dignitaries.

However, the word museum can also mean something entirely different. Think motorcycles – big, shiny, beautifully restored motorcycles—and all kinds of memorabilia that will surely bring a smile to those who step inside the American Police Motorcycle Museum on Rt. 3 in Meredith.

The motorcycle museum is the result of countless hours of hard work and dedication by Doug Frederick and his wife Leslie. Anyone with the least interest in this specialized field of motorcycling will find the museum a true gem. Where else can one trace the history of police motorcycles from the early 1900s up to the present day?

“We are the only police motorcycle museum in the country. No one else has tried to tell this story,” said Doug on a busy Sunday in July, when the museum was filled with a group of NH State Troopers who were touring the three-story space. Clearly they were amazed at Doug’s collection; they were there for a benefit for the NH Law Enforcement Memorial. (Doug was donated half of all proceeds of the day to the group.)

When one begins to tour the museum, it’s clear why this is a one-of-a-kind place. It is indeed a specialized field of collecting and Doug has spent years rebuilding old motorcycles and finding just the right items to add to the collection.

The result is three floors of heaven for those who love motorcycles and law enforcement. On the main floor, one immediately sets eyes upon a special exhibit this summer for NH State Police. The second year for the motorcycle museum just happens to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the NH State Police. (On July 1, 1937, the NH State Police came into being with a transition from motor vehicle inspectors to a State Police force responsible for all functions and investigations of a modern police department of the time. Most of the early troopers rode Harley Davidson motorcycles and patrolled on the machines year round.)

“In our tribute exhibit to the department, we chronicle the years before the transition and the NH State Police motorcycle history to the present. We hope to reach out to the families of those first troopers to gather more history and pictures for the display. We are currently designing a coin to commemorate the anniversary,” Doug says.

In the special exhibit, shining immaculately restored police motorcycles hold pride of place with four huge American flags flying from the railings high above the machines. All sorts of state police memorabilia is included in the exhibit, such as 1977 Knight Stick NH Police Assoc. magazines and old and fun photos of State of NH police bikes.

“We are now in our second year of operation,” Doug went on to explain. “We had a great response from the public our first year and people from all over the world stopped to see the museum. We even had a policeman from as far away as Russia visit us. People are very impressed with the collection.”

A retired police officer himself, Doug has a special insight into what law enforcement do for every community across the country. He mentioned a staggering statistic when he added that one out of 14 police officers in Los Angeles who lost their lives were riding motorcycles, for example. Doug is aware of what an aid police motorcycles are for getting law enforcement into areas where a patrol car might not be able to go, but he knows that motorcycle use can be dangerous and requires special training.

Every aspect of police motorcycles is covered in the museum, with old motorcycle police uniforms from the 1930s to the 1970s, for example. A glass case holds many police hats, a silent testament to just a few of the many who served as law enforcement on motorcycles.

Many advertising images have been blown up to large poster size, along with old black-and-white photos of law enforcement on motorcycles who served from one end of our country to the other. Some are lighthearted posters that were serious when originally created, but now take on a humorous slant with the passage of time, such as the old bike stunt posters, or the “Only Fools Drive Recklessly” poster.

Other exhibits reflect what our country was experiencing on any given year, such as the Vespa Police Scooter from the 1960s. The sporty little scooters look rather cute until one reads the sign near them explaining that, due to their compact size, the Vespas were used to maneuver into crowds during racial riots and Vietnam War protests.

A timeline that snakes down one wall and then another starts with the year 1900s and tells, in old photos and memorabilia, where police motorcycles were in each year, until our current time frame. Indian Bikes, beloved to many motorcyclists, played a huge role in law enforcement motorcycles in the early years. (On the top floor of the museum, Indian Bike lovers will be delighted to view a collection of this particular brand, all beautifully restored by Doug.)

One display seems to draw visitors immediately and that is the hefty black-and-white motorcycle with a life-sized cutout of rock ‘n roll idol Elvis Presley nearby. The bike once led the procession for Elvis’ Memphis, Tennessee funeral and it is a piece of irreplaceable American history.

On the lowest level of the museum, Doug’s favorite exhibit area is housed. He explained that after serving as a police officer, he worked as a teacher and saw first-hand how bullying has become a problem in our schools. Thus, when he was working on the displays for the museum, it seemed only fitting to do something positive to counteract bullying among children.

The children’s area is a large space where youngsters can sit at a picnic table and color pictures. Every child entering the museum will be given an opportunity to become an American Police Motorcycle Museum Junior Officer. A specially designed badge and ID card will be issued to each child and there will be a simple pledge that every child who wishes to become a Junior Officer must take. The pledge is simple and effective:

To be respectful and kind to all

To read every night for one half hour

To obey and respect your parents

Doug commented, “Yesterday we just welcomed our 300th Junior Motorcycle Officer. The children’s area and the pledge are quite popular with kids.”

One particularly interesting and historical section features replicas of the first motorcycles ever made: the 1867 Roper and the 1885 Daimler. The early motorcycles look more like strange and bulky bicycles than engine-revving motorcycles!

The fascinating museum represents about 40 years of collecting motorcycle, parts and literature by Doug. “Everything displayed in the museum runs, with the exception of three bikes. We plan to build a motorcycle a year in our shop on the lower level. This year we are building a 1929 Boston Police Bike that will be on display in Fenway Park on September 16, for the 100th anniversary of the Boston Police Motorcycle Squad.”

The museum is open from May to October, seven days a week. Anyone with an interest in motorcycles and/or law enforcement should plan to stop by and chat with Doug and Leslie. If he doesn’t know about it, Doug will surely find the information to answer questions on police motorcycles.

Rounding off the museum is a gift shop where visitors can purchase T-shirts and other items related to motorcycles and law enforcement.

Should a visitor to the Lakes Region happen to be driving by the American Police Motorcycle Museum in Meredith, they should not be deterred by the word “museum.” It’s a place where one can learn, in a lighthearted way, about old and newer motorcycles and about the more serious subject of law enforcement and what our police force has meant to our country over the years.

To learn about the museum, visit www.americanpolicemotorcyclemuseum.com or call 279-6387. 

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