VALLEJO (CBS SF) — A Vallejo man has created a collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles that began, appropriately enough, by thumbing his nose at authority.
In an undisclosed garage location near downtown Vallejo, Thom McIlhattan maintains his private museu — a tribute, really, to the things he loves most in life.
“My wife, my dog, my motorcycles — in that order,” he said.
Harley Davidson motorcycles, to be specific. His collection of 35 bikes, give or take, were collected during the 17 years he owned the Harley dealership in town. He, like most enthusiasts, was drawn to the brand for its rebellious image.
“The whole attitude thing that goes along with it,” he said, “Yeah, they’re loud pipes!”
And it was that attitude that actually made his career. In the early 1980s, working as a government scientist, Thom watched as his roommate, Danny Yokum, began stenciling the famous Harley Davidson “bar and shield” logo on t-shirts and other merchandise.
“And he was out there running around in his car selling Harley Davidson stuff,” Thom said. “And I kept watching this go on and he said, no, no, Thom, this is a hot deal, dude!”
It turns out they had discovered a massive loophole.
“They never trademarked their logo…hadn’t copyrighted it, hadn’t protected it in any fashion at all,” Thom said. “So, we weren’t doing anything illegal, but it was like, oh well, stop, man stop!”
So, the company called Thom in and offered him the local dealership just to get him to stop using their logo. Now, his stable is full of vintage Harley’s including his 1909 5A which is currently on loan as part of an art exhibit in Richmond. It is so rare that Thom believes it may be the only one left on earth.
“It’s one of one as far as I know,” he said. “I mean, nobody’s ever come to me and said, no, I’ve got one of those too, Thom.”
McIlhattan says he was lucky to own the dealership just as Harley Davidson began gaining mainstream popularity. And he says the business probably had its best year the year he retired. These days, at age 74, Thom still rides daily and his collection is a reminder of when his career path took an unexpected turn and sent him on a road to happiness.
“…you know, that whole thing about, if you can do something that you really love?…”
Harley Davidson has been the great love of his life…if you don’t count his wife and dog, that is.