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Policing America by Motorcycle

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - June 9, 2011





There was a time when the only way to apprehend a criminal or someone who was speeding was via motorcycle. Bikes were fast, they allowed policemen to travel over early 1900s bumpy, rutted dirt roads before super highways were the norm and they even had sidecars so the police chief or a second officer might ride along.

Most people don’t know much about police motorcycles; indeed, many people have no idea these vehicles were once the best way for law enforcement to get around in any town in America.

Doug and Leslie Frederick know a great deal about the subject and have spent years collecting police motorcycle memorabilia. Doug has taken his passion for police motorcycles to an even higher level by purchasing and restoring old bikes that were once used by law enforcement. Often these old bikes are in tough shape, but no matter, Doug and a small group of friends/motorcycle afficionados have taken it upon themselves to restore the bikes to their former glory.

This summer Doug and Leslie have opened a wonderful, unique museum that pays tribute to anything and everything about police motorcycles. They searched far and wide over the years for just the right spot for a museum to showcase their vast collection, which includes some beautifully restored police motorcycles. The building they have chosen for the museum is the former Burlwood Antiques Center at 194 DW Highway in Meredith.

The huge barn-like structure was for sale when Doug and Leslie saw it. They knew it was the perfect spot to make their dream of a museum come true and moved forward to purchase the property. It has taken them over a year to renovate the building to suit the needs and specifications of a museum and to add the extra touches that will teach as well as display the history of police motorcycles.

The couple stress that the museum is for the people who visit, and the dedicated policemen and women who have served over the decades. “We are all in this together,” says Doug, commenting that the museum is for everyone and not about himself and Leslie. They feel they are the conduits to creating a space where people can enjoy the old bikes and learn about the history of police motorcycles and how they have aided in keeping the peace in our country.

What will visitors to the museum see? More than can be written in one story and enough to warn that one should plan to spend a chunk of time in the museum to take it all in. If a phrase described the museum, it would be absolutely charming and informative.
If you like antiques, you will like the museum. If you are interested in history, the spot will appeal to you. If you have a connection to law enforcement or want to teach your children positive messages about how to act and to respect police personnel, this is a wonderful place to visit.

On all three levels of the museum, Doug and Leslie created a place that showcases beautifully restored motorcycles and displays in vignettes and behind glass cases. Visitors will see everything from a child’s 1930s Dick Tracy police car to the shiny, gorgeous motorcycle that led the police motorcade for Elvis Presley’s funeral.

On the basement level, visitors with children will love the large area set-up for kids. Children will be asked to take a pledge that says they will be respectful to all, not bully others and that they will promise to read each night. After taking the pledge, they will receive a toy police badge and card and be allowed a ride on a child sized motorcycle (this is the old-time coin operated version that were once popular at arcades). While sitting on the bike, kids can have their photo taken.

Also on the basement level, adults can sit on a 1948 police motorcycle with a large American flag in back of the vehicle. Friends and family will be allowed to photograph the person sitting on the bike as a fun memento.

Doug has included a large area where he will actually be at work restoring old police motorcycles. Parts for the bikes sit on shelves and will be used during the restoration efforts, which visitors can watch. (What a great spot for bike restoration fans to observe and ask questions!)
Elsewhere on the basement level, a World War II military bike is on display, along with large posters taken from old-time literature on motorcycles. A huge poster in black and white shows a mammoth building with many bikes in front. Could this be a photo of the old Gunstock area (then known at the Belknap Area) in days gone by? Doug and Leslie are not sure, but welcome information that the public may be able to provide on this unusual photo made from the original glass plate.

On the first floor, guests will see the history of police motorcycles and browse to their heart’s content. At various times, police departments from around the country will be spotlighted; the first spotlight exhibit will be on the Springfield, Massachusetts police motorcycles. Bikes from each decade are on display and are shiny, wonderfully restored examples of the transportation once used by law enforcement.
Visitors will see a 2005 Cambridge, Massachusetts bike; a 1995 Boston Harley Davidson; a 1989 NYC police motorcycle and the 1976 bike that Doug restored (the bike that led the motorcade for Elvis’ Memphis, Tennessee funeral) to name but a few motorcycles on display.
Mannequins dressed in period police uniforms are charming additions to the museum, as are the huge posters enlarged from old magazines and photos that show early policemen and motorcycles.

Behind a glass case, old police radios from the 1930s to about 2005 are on display, as well as early police-related toys. Those who wish can sit in the movie area and watch short films of old/police subject matter,  including an old how to ride a bike instructional film, 1930-40s chase scenes and others.

On the top floor, more historical memorabilia awaits. The Indian company made many of the older police motorcycles. Doug explains that Indian and Harley Davidson competed for the contracts to produce police motorcycles in the early days, and at one time or another each won the contract.

Old police motorcycles, most completely restored, are on display on the top floor including a 1936 State Police bike, an original 1931 Harley given to the NYC police force and a 1929 riot car. The riot car is fascinating because it has three seats (one being a side car for a police sharpshooter). Cars such as this were used during the labor unrests that sprang up during the Depression.

A large area at the back of the top floor is used for vignettes to show early police headquarters/dispatch and old police radios.
Doug and Leslie have thrown their hearts and souls into the museum and have been working on getting everything just right for many months. Because Doug bought his first motorcycle at age 13, he has been around bikes most of his life and is ready and able to share his vast collection with the public.

This is an opportunity to see up close a part of American life from days gone by and is not to be missed. The best thing about the museum is that it is child-friendly and experts on the subject of police memorabilia and motorcycles will be on hand to take one back in time to the day when dusty dirt roads were policed by men who used motorcycles to help keep the law.

For information on the museum, visit americanpolicemotorcyclemuseum.com

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