Riding Runs In the Family

April 16, 2023 | By Mike Seate


At a much younger age, me and my buddies used to frequently pontificate on what qualities would make for the prefect prospective bride. The usual assortment of comments would surface again and again, mostly having to do with sexual appetites and whether said women’s family owned a pizza shop, brewery or, ultimately, a motorcycle dealership. This was back in my early 20s when most of my riding buddies were of the same age and typically underpaid as are most folks of this age. This meant the very challenge of owning a running motorcycle was a bit of a challenge, hence, we imagined marrying into a family who owned and operated a motorcycle dealership would solve all of our problems – financial and mechanical- at once.


After getting married some years later, those youthful conversations faded from view as the daily realities of working multiple jobs and being happily married combined to help me forget about such silly, unrealistic fantasies. But wouldn’t you know it, I actually just missed out on being married into a motorcycle family. During a holiday dinner some 10 years in, my wife’s family revealed that they had, indeed once been proprietors of a Harley-Davidson dealership here in my native Western Pennsylvania, a fact that made what little hair I still have left stand on end. My mother in-law promptly whipped out an aged leather photo album that was chock full of amazing images from Probst Harley-Davidson, a dealership opened by her late father back in the 1930s. The images were striking and full of amazing period details, with family members and a crew of customers gathered around the small, neighborhood dealership enjoying each other’s company and working on their shiny, full-dressed bikes. Their leather polit’s caps, chrome-rimmed goggles and color-coordinated leather riding gear lent insight into a far different time and the pristine Knuckleheads and Flatheads were clearly prized possessions for these working-class riders.

My wife’s mother began sharing stories of helping out in the shop’s small parts department after school where she rolled up the sleeves of her dresses and washed engine bits in sinks full of foul-smalling gasoline. “There were huge rides on weekends- gypsy tours they called them- where my parents and dozens of friends would ride off for long trips to rallies and field meets in neighboring states,”
she recalled wistfully.  Riders were of a far tougher breed back then, as many of the shop’s regulars would simply strip away the lighting equipment and saddlebags, and utilize their everyday rides to compete in grueling hare scrambles races, off-road competitions and cross-country  excursions. And all this aboard rigid framed V-twins with poor (by today’s standards) brakes, tank-shift gearboxes and kickstarters, no less.

The images were compelling enough to make me daydream about what it must have bene like being a motorcyclist in those days, and over the past 29 years together, my wife has slowly revealed even more photos and her family deeper details about those days. The family shop closed in the late 1950s, by which time Harley dealerships had become far slicker and more uniform in appearance. The old family garage-turned-bike-shop would have never made the cut.

Still, it’s fun to imagine that I nearly did achieve my teenage dream of marrying into a bike dealership, only I turned up about 30 years too late. Managing editor Kim Love, my bride of 29 years, has penned a fascinating column about women riders and the family shop I the current, April/May issue which is well worth a look. In the meantime, dig on the images above, which are part of an upcoming Legacy photo essay slated for this fall.