An American made Harley Davidson used in the first World War passed through the Port of Mobile on Wednesday ahead of its cross-country tour of the United States.
The motorcycle, a Model J built in 1918, was discovered in 2008 by Christophe de Goulaine of the Château de Goulaine in France. The century-old machine was in a dilapidated state when de Goulaine purchased it, but it was restored by Pierre Lauvergeat to its original state.
From the beginning, the Frenchmen had intended to bring the vintage Harley back to the U.S. and take it on a cross-country journey. That excursion began today when de Goulaine and Lauvergeat arrived at the Port of Mobile with the motorcycle.
It’s the first time the motorcycle has rolled on American soil since it exported to France 100 years ago to support troops engaged in combat a year after the U.S. joined the global conflict in Europe. de Goulaine said restoring the motorcycle and repatriating it to the country where it was first built is an expression of admiration for both Harley-Davidson and the U.S.
“This motorcycle was built to liberate Europe,” de Goulaine added. “In all, we plan to complete 5,600 miles on a 1918 motorcycle without any special technical assistance.”
From here, both the owner and restorer plan to drive the bike to Jacksonville, Fla. to begin their cross-country trip, which will include a stop at the Harley Davidson Headquarters in Wisconsin.
However, the vintage 1918 Harley-Davidson Model J Sidecar will remain in Mobile on display at GulfQuest through Sunday, June 24. Gulfquest’s Interim Executive Director Brent Beall said it was “a rare opportunity for us to showcase a piece of military history that transited seaports 100 years ago, assisted the war effort and found its way back home through the Port of Mobile.”
The vintage motorcycle’s war effort also has other Alabama roots, though.
Alabama native and original State Docks builder, General William L. Sibert, commanded the initial four regiments of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), which formed the 1st Infantry Division in France, which is better known by its nickname “The Big Red One.”
By 1918, more than 2 million Americans landed in France, but it was the AEF that made use of 400 Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles sent to their stations at Port of Saint-Nazaire in Northern France.
Over the course of the War, Harley-Davidson would provide over 20,000 motorcycles to the U.S. Military, and its involvement in the war effort later contributed to the development of the company’s legendary brand.
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