“The Legend” Treatment
“The Legend” is a story about a man, Mike Macpherson, a high level executive at one of the top media technology firms in Chicago. The only son born to Lilly and Duncan Macpherson, Mike was quite a surprise to the couple as Mike showed up when the couple were in their mid-40s. Father and son could not have been more different from one another. Besides the generational difference between the two, Mike was gifted with high intellect and a love for scholarly things, while Duncan, a VietNam Veteran, was a man’s man who’s hands were always calloused and smelled like oil and gasoline. Mike’s passion was computers and technology while Duncan’s passion was Harley Davidson motorcycles, especially the magnificent 1915 Silent Grey Fellow that he inherited from his father, who bought it in the 1920’s and Duncan had restored it to mint condition.
Mike rocketed through his academic years and went on to college, while Duncan wrenched away on his collection of classic Harley’s surrounded by a small group of younger bike builders fascinated by Duncan’s stories of the old days of motorcycling and the golden age of motorcycle racing. The passing of Mike’s Mother seemed to bring the father and son a little closer together, but Mike now married himself with a small son and totally consumed with his job never seemed to find time for his father. That is until one day he gets a call with some really bad news. Mike’s father is in the hospital diagnosed with terminal cancer. Mike rushes to his side. The doctors all insist on chemo and other horrifying treatments. The gritty old rugged Scotsman tells them all to go to hell.
Father and son lock horns over Duncan’s refusal of the ghastly treatment. Mike finally asks, “Then what the hell are you going to do?” Duncan replies, “I’m gonna do what my father did, I’m Gonna Ride!” Mike flips his lid. “WHAT?” Duncan answers, “That’s right, me and the Old Grey Fellow are going for one last ride. And you know what? My dad asked me to go with him on his last ride. You know what else? I WENT! What about you Mike you going?” There is a silence between the two as they stare at one another. “I’ll be leaving in 3 days,” says Duncan. Mike grabs his head with both hands and stomps out of the hospital room. Three days later, his heart heavy, Mike shows up at his father’s house on his own custom Harley. Duncan is sitting on the front porch dressed in his father’s riding attire from the twenties. This ride has always been at the top of Duncan’s bucket list, this all important ride with the son he never got to really know.
Now that Mike has shown up to ride, Duncan is not only surprised, but knows the old Silent Grey Fellow he would have ridden if alone, will not be realistic on this ride now, since the old machine’s top speed might be 50 mph at best. But this is exactly what he was hoping for, because now Duncan gets to break out one of his favorite bikes from his custom collection. It is an evil, wicked, mean and nasty ’48 pan head that looks like it was built by the Devil himself, and forged in the fires of Hell, complete with a large bottle of nitrous oxide to boot. But it’s not long into the ride, before all the unresolved issues between father and son erupt. Each one is looking for a resolution before there’s no time to find one. Mike also gets to see a side of his father he never got to see up close, a side of his father buried away from Duncan’s days as a 1 percenter. Mike gets his first real look at this in a hair raising and heart pounding ride through Monument Valley, when he and Mike are riding a little over the speed limit and a Utah State Trooper tries to pull them over. Duncan decides it’s time to show Mike what it’s like to “live a little” and takes Mike, six state troopers and a police helicopter on a 25 mile ride at a 127 mph. It makes Mike furious, but it’s just what the old man needed. There are other moments on this ride that bring deep emotion and a closeness between Mike and his Dad that they’ve both secretly wanted, but never had, and they find the resolution that they were looking for.
Also, over the course of the ride, Mike finds out that his grandfather actually knew Arthur Davidson and Duncan tells Mike one of the most incredible stories Mike has ever heard. The story of how four men, William Harley, Arthur, Bill and Walter Davidson, built the most legendary motorcycle of all time, “The Harley-Davidson”. After the two return from this fantastic journey, Duncan soon passes away.
After a few months, Mike finally gets the nerve up to go and clear out his father’s house. Mike goes out to the garage where his father spent all his time wrenching on bikes and the shrine he built to the Old Grey Fellow. Mike stares at a photo on the wall of his father holding him upright on one of Duncan’s old Harleys when Mike was just four years old. The weight of the silence nearly crushing him, he falls to his knees and weeps from his core. After some time he clears his head and walks over to the cabinet where Duncan kept his father’s riding gear. Mike opens it and stares at the old riding wear. There is an envelope attached to the old leather riding jacket. Mike opens it up and unfolds the letter inside. It simply reads, “Ride it.” Mike looks over at the old bike as it seems to glow. Mike gears up and takes the old Grey Fellow out and feels what it was like when life was not so fast. Unknowingly, Mike neglects to check the gas tank on the old machine and while out on the road runs out of gas. After being mocked by a rude passerby in a pickup truck, Mike pushes the old bike down the road a bit until he happens upon a small road leading to a house where an old man sits in a rocking chair. Macpherson having left his cell phone behind asks the old man if he can use his. The old man replies, “I don’t have a phone son”. The old man asks Mike about the old bike and where he got it. Mike tells the old man a little about the great adventure with his father, but the old man wants to know more. Mike now having been told by his father all there is to know about the old machine, the men who made it, and the hundred years of history behind it says to the old man, “Well old timer, the story goes something like this…
One day in 1895, an inventor by the name of Pennington from Indiana, put a primitive gasoline combustion engine on a bicycle frame and called it a “motorcycle.” Proud of his invention, he publicized it in many publications. He decided to debut his invention on the downtown streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This fateful decision set in motion one of the all-time greatest American success stories. The newspapers and public were a blaze with excitement for two young boys by the name of William Harley and Arthur Davidson, ages 14 and 15.
When the big day arrives, thousands line up and down Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. A frantic Arthur Davidson bangs on the front door of his best friend William Harley’s house. The door opens and the two boys jump astride their bicycles and ride like the wind toward the big event. The boys arrive just in a nick of time, jump off of their bikes, and push their way through the crowd, and emerge next to the street.
What they witness next changes their lives, and the lives of millions, forever. Flying by at a blistering 38 miles per hour is Edward Pennington, sitting atop his “motorcycle.” The crowd cheers him on, but for William and Arty, it’s as if they are in a vacuum. Transfixed by the sight, they are oblivious to the thousands around them. It’s as if time is standing still and the world is in slow motion. So entranced by the event, their faces are ablaze with innocent awe. Their mouths are slightly agape in an unconscious smile. Suddenly the sound of thousands of cheering people burst upon their ears as the man and his machine disappear in the distance. The boys can’t stop talking about it, nor do they ever forget that moment. By 1900, William has a job at the Meiselbach Bicycle company getting his early experience in design and Arthur is working at a pattern fabrication company working with metal fabrication. Arthur, now nineteen years old and William, now twenty, go out on the town one night and take in a show at the Bijou Theatre and see a woman open her show by riding right onto the stage on a nickel plated motorized bicycle. The boys had already been working on something similar but had not yet reached working status. In fact, they were far from it. Night after night they hammered away in the basement of the Davidsons’ residence seeming always to be covered in grease, dirt, and grime that they tracked through the house. Arthur’s mom was growing fed up with the mess. One night the boys got their basement “eviction” notice from mom. Mr. Davidson, feeling sorry for the boys, buys a pile of lumber and builds that famous shed where the first Harley-Davidson motorcycles were born.
The year “1903”
They now had all the working parts, but they lay unassembled on the floor of the shed. Uncertain of how to actually assemble their invention, they scratch their heads. They need another mind with practical assembly experience. This comes in the form of Arthur’s older brother Walter. Walter was an expert mechanic with a railroad company, but was located in Parsons, Kansas. A family wedding however, which Walter will be attending, offers the boys the chance they’re waiting for. They send a letter to Walter inviting him to ride their new invention when he arrives. When Walter does arrive, he discovers the boys have not been totally honest with him. He takes pity on them and agrees to assemble the machine. Walter gives up his job in Kansas and joins the boys in their dream. Another Davidson brother, William A. Davidson, also joins the team. But it took the exquisite artistic talents of Janet Davidson to bring the name “Harley-Davidson” to life. For it was she who first wrote upon the door of that little shed these immortal letters: “Harley Davidson Motor Company”……..A legend is born. History may now commence. It was also she, who hand-painted the name on the first bikes. Mike adds….
How apropos that it should be a woman to bring artistic style and grace to this rugged and crude machine, trumpeting the involvement of women in the history of Motorcycling and Harley-Davidson from the very beginning. Legendary women like Dot Robinson and Linda Dugeau who competed in the most grueling endurance competitions head to head with the toughest of men AND BEAT THEM. Both of whom later joined forces to create the first all woman’s riding club known as the Motor Maids in 1940. Mike mentions other great women of riding history such as Margaret Gast and Bessie Stringfield just to name a few. Mike also goes on to share with the old man, the virtually unknown story of African Americans in the history of Harley Davidson.
Little did the founders know that their invention would go on to become the most popular motorcycle of all time.
This story embodies what may be considered the last remaining moments of American innocence, when American craftsmanship and character was revered. It was a time when the industrial age was manifesting some of its greatest expressions, and inventors: Henry Ford, the Wright brothers and of course William Harley and the Davidson’s. That innocence is lost as WWI explodes and H-D and America change to meet the challenges of a changing world. Mike’s story follows the founding members and their machine through those humble beginnings in a small wooden shed in the Davidson’s backyard, the company they built. The families and the machine through both great wars, the depression, and post war years. He tells of how the Hollister incident, a single photograph and a journalist’s overactive imagination placed a negative stereotype on motorcyclists that lasts even to this day, the glorious 50s, Elvis, his first Harley, the turbulent 60s, the 70s, the buyout by AMF, and the decisive turning point for Harley, the buy-back of Harley-Davidson from AMF by the gang of thirteen, headed up by the legendary Willy G. Davidson and twelve other executives in the early 80s.
He tells the old man of the creation of what has become the single largest riding group in the world, numbering in excess of one million, the famous H.O.G. organization. Mike realizes that the whole afternoon has gone by and asks the old man if might have a bit of gasoline around. The old man points to a gas can nearby. Mike fills the old grey fellow up and it starts right up. When Mike turns around to thank the old man, there is no old man in fact the rocking chair the old man had been sitting in is old and dry rotted, one of the legs is broken and the chair now sets lopsided on the porch. The paint on the chair, in fact on the whole house is weathered, cracked and peeling. The windows are covered in layers of cobwebs and filth. The house appears to have not been lived in or tended to for decades. In fact the gas can that Mike had just been holding in his hand is almost completely rusted away as it sits upon the ground. Mike is shocked and dismayed. Where did the old man go? How could this be? He looks in all directions calling out for the old man just for his own sanity sake thinking he’s gone crazy or maybe hallucinated the whole thing. He decides to get the hell out of there. He rides to the end of the long gravel road that led him to the house. He looks both ways before entering the main road. As he looks to his right he sees an old rusty mail box with some lettering on it. Barley able to discern what is say’s, Mike spits on his fingers to rub off the rust and grime. But he can’t believe his eyes. The letters read,
A. Davidson…..Mike stares and mutters to himself. “It can’t be… It just can’t be…Amazed, Mike just rides away.
This story is a weaving of American culture that no other story can tell quite the same way. This is a story of how movie stars, fortune 500 executives, outlaws, politicians, Joe public and his Wife, have become one big family, the Harley-Davidson family. People of all cultures and creeds in every nation around the world will enjoy this movie. This includes movie buffs, history buffs, gear heads, the millions who ride and the millions who don’t but sit in awe at the Harley pumping away at the stop light, or who turn their head to see the source of thunder as they walk down the street.
Everyone knows what a Harley-Davidson is and who Harley- Davidson is.
Now they will know why.