Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Harley-Davidson Comes to Birmingham, AL. - Episode #10

By: David L. Morrill
@ Mototique

Updated - June 25, 2015

Specht Harley-Davidson 1714 3rd Avenue North - Birmingham, AL.
L to R - J. Aiken, W. Specht Jr., Gray Sloop
O.V. Hunt 1914 - Johnny Whitsett Collection
In the early teens, motorcycles were a popular form of transportation in Birmingham. Many businesses in town used them for moving goods, or providing services to the growing city. Motorcycles were also raced on the one mile oval dirt track at the Alabama State Fairgrounds beginning in 1906.

In early 1914, Atlantic City Harley-Davidson dealer and racer William F. Specht Jr. moved to Birmingham and opened the first Harley-Davidson dealership in Cliff Howell's bicycle shop at 1714 3rd Avenue North. The opening of the dealership was explained in an article in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper.

Atlanta Constitution - March 29, 1914

The first wagon load of Harley-Davidsons that arrived in Birmingham was captured by photographer O. V. Hunt. Specht Harley-Davidson was located across the street from Bob Stubbs’ Indian dealership, and  they would be rivals for the next few years.

1914 Harley-Davidsons arrive in Birmingham  
O.V. Hunt 1914 - Johnny Whitsett Collection

Interior of Specht Harley-Davidson - ca. 1914

During the 1914 Southern Series , Specht and his friend and fellow Harley-Davidson dealer/rider Sloop Gray of Mooresville, North Carolina won races at Meridian, MS. , Anniston, AL. and Charleston, SC. They were featured Charleston, SC. They were featured in a Harley-Davidson factory ad in the September 22, 1914 issue of The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.

In October, Specht got a chance to challenge his rival Bob Stubbs at the Fairgrounds Raceway. Harley-Davidson factory rider Red Parkhurst beat several of Stubbs' young riders and won the F.A.M. One Hour Championship Race on the new 11-K racer.

Harley-Davidson 11K Racer (Left)
Stripped Stock Model (Right)

The Birmingham win went down as Harley-Davidson's first Championship race win, and played a key part in their advertising for the 1915 model. 

1915 Harley-Davidson Ad

A letter from Specht praising the new Harley-Davidson model appeared in a full page ad.

By October 1915, Specht Harley Davidson had moved to a new location at 310 North 17th Street.

Birmingham News - October 9, 1915
By January of 1917, the dealership had changed names to the Harley Davidson Sales Company of Birmingham, and again relocated to 1616 Third Avenue North. They were regularly advertising in publications like Popular Mechanics selling Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Pope, Merkel, and Henderson Motorcycles.

In December 1917, an article, and photograph, appeared in Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated which announced the Birmingham dealership at 1616 Third Avenue North had been taken over by Charles A. Merkel of Rochester, NY.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - December 20, 1917

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - December 27, 1917

Motorcycle dealerships throughout the country were hit hard by the shortages of new motorcycles and parts caused by America’s involvement in World War 1. Merkel's Harley-Davidson Sales Company survived the war, but he closed the dealership in 1919. 

William F. Specht Jr. returned to New Jersey, and became a top contender in National Championship Hill Climb events throughout the Northeast. 

In early 1919, Gail Joyce opened the Gail Joyce Motor Company at 1709 3rd Avenue North in Birmingham. 

Gail Joyce Motor Company - Birmingham, AL. ca. 1931
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection
Although the record is a little spotty, it appears he handled both Indian, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles until his death in 1934. His family took over the business, and were still the Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer in the early 1950s.


Atlanta Constitution

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Birmingham Alabama Public Library Archives 

Birmingham News

Johnny Whitsett Collection

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated

O. V. Hunt Collection

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