Jan 092011
 

Two biker buddies buy historic filling station, open motorcycle museum on State Highway 66, where travelers from around the world drop by.

WARWICK — Gerald Tims likes old motorcycles. Jerry Ries likes anything old.

That’s the short version of how two biker buddies ended up owning an old filling station on a lonely stretch of State Highway 66. Today, Seaba Station, as the 5,000-square-foot brick building listed on the National Register of Historic Places is called these days, is a motorcycle museum that houses about 75 vintage motorcycles, most from a collection put together by Tims.

Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum owners Jerry Ries and Gerald Tims stand with some of the bikes on display in Warwick.

“That’s part of the fun of owning it, letting people see it,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you how many private collections there are in this country that nobody ever gets to see.”

The long version: About 25 years ago, Tims bought a 1953 James motorcycle, similar to one his father rode. Then he bought another interesting old bike. And another and another. Before Tims knew it, he was a collector. A self-proclaimed “motorcycle addict” who grew up with one hand on a throttle, Tims had raced motocross, three-wheelers, four-wheel all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and about anything else that had a motor and off-road knobbies. He worked at motorcycle shops and eventually got his own dealership, Performance Cycle on Historic Route 66 in Bethany.

One day about 15 years ago, Tims answered an advertisement for a used trials bike, a specialized machine that is light, nimble and powerful enough to hop boulders and perform other radical maneuvers. “He bought it,” recalls the guy who sold it to him — Jerry Ries, a science and physical education teacher at Crutcho School in northeast Oklahoma City. The two men competed together in trials events, Ries said, and “we’ve been friends ever since.”

As Tims’ collection of vintage motorcycles grew and was refined into a line of mostly racing models, he and Ries thought about the unused space on the second floor of Tims’ dealership. “We’d always talked about putting a museum up there,” Tims said.

However, for years, Ries had been intrigued by a building he often passed in a blink of a town on SH 66. The place, built in 1921 by John and Alice Seaba in the then-busy town that boasted rail lines and three cotton gins, was a filling and service station selling DX Nevernox gasoline and offering a modern rock two-seater outhouse featuring some of the first automatic flush toilets.

The Seabas then used the place for decades as an engine rebuilding shop. In recent years, the landmark at the Warwick curve along SH 66 about 25 miles east of Oklahoma City spent time as an antiques shop.

“It always fascinated me,” Ries said.

One day, Ries noticed a “For Sale” sign on the old place. “This would be a pretty neat place for a museum,” he thought.

Tims always wanted to show his bikes. And Ries, a hobby carpenter and woodworker who built several homes, always imagined turning his skills on a classic building. “This would be cool place to do it,” Tims remembers thinking. “We both had the same kind of vision.”
Three years ago, the two, who point out they “aren’t exactly rich,” bought their dream. “We both kind of got our wish that way,” Tims said.

Ries retired from teaching and dived in, with Tims pitching in when he could spare time from his business. The building came filled with antiques from the previous owner, so the men sold most of the inventory, some of which is still for sale in a small room. The men restored much of the original layout of the building, reopening a covered porch area. Inside, they removed foam that was sprayed on the arched ceiling and replaced it with finished wood, which is highlighted by exposed steel trusses over the main showroom.

The motorcycles, which include four contributed by Ries, range from a 1909 Triumph with a carbide lamp headlight and a 1913 Pope “boardtrack” racer to a dirt track speedway bike with no brakes and one footpeg (the rider kept one foot on the ground) and, the most valuable machine, a 1965 Ducati road racer, one of 12 made. There are oddities — a Honda Mini Trail, a tiny Indian with no internal engine parts (it was built for a carousel), a “brand new” 1979 Triumph Bonneville — still in the crate.
“It’s never seen the pavement,” Tims said. “It’s kind of unique.”

Some people stop for the building or the service station or Route 66 memorabilia inside, some just to see the outhouse. Most drop in for the bikes. “The biggest comment you hear is ‘I used to have one of those as a kid,’ ” Tims said.

For Tims, 49, and Ries, 54, it’s all good. “The building and motorcycles kind of go together,” Ries said. So do the old bikers and other gearheads who drop by, often in groups, Tims said. “People come out and talk about old motorcycles with people who want to talk about old motorcycles.”

And, of course, there’s the highway. Historic Route 66’s magic lures visitors from around the world, some of whom fly into Los Angeles or Chicago, rent cars or motorcycles and hit the Mother Road. The Seaba Station visitors’ log is filled with notes from people across North America, from Japan, Australia, Switzerland and on and on.

“It’s amazing how many foreigners, this is their lifelong dream to come do Route 66,” Ries said. Like one Italian guy who spoke little English. After touring the museum, he approached Ries, rolled up his sleeve and pointed to his arm.

“You give me goose bumps!” he said.

Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum
Where: Warwick OK, one mile east of U.S. 177 on State Highway 66.
Admission: Free; donations accepted.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Closed Wednesdays. Arrangements can be made to open for groups.
More information: www.seabastation.com or (405) 258-9141