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Exclusively for you, our Archivists have assembled a wealth of stories, photos, and artifacts that provide a true insider’s view of the Harley-Davidson legacy. Enjoy your visit, and thanks for being a valued Member of the Harley-Davidson Museum.
The Rhinestone Harley
“And then they had Liberace’s Harley! I loved that…” We’ve heard some version of that comment a number of times. Visitors see that rhinestone-encrusted dresser, and they’re sure it must have belonged to the Las Vegas superstar who grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin. It didn’t. That’s “Russ & Peg’s Rhinestone Harley-Davidson,” a 1973 FLH lovingly “beautified” by its proud former owner, Russ Townsend.
After Russ passed away, his loving wife, Peggy, elected to sell the bike. Expecting that they’d have better luck selling a more “stock” vehicle, Peggy and her son Gary talked with their local dealer, and discussed stripping off some of the decorative elements. The dealer contacted the Harley-Davidson Archives, and when we expressed interest in acquiring it for Museum display, those plans were scrapped. The Rhinestone FLH came home to Milwaukee with its glorious bling intact.
In 2006, as we began planning for what became our Custom Culture exhibit, Curatorial Director Jim Fricke contacted Peggy and her son Gary to get a better understanding of the story of this flashy ride. Here’s a bit of that background, taken from interviews with the Townsends:
The Townsend family lived in rural Pennsylvania, and in the 1970s Russ built a motorcycle garage out of the former family trailer.
“… they bought another trailer, and Dad was gonna build a garage, but they didn’t want to give him nothin’ for his old trailer, so he put a garage door on the front. It had heat and it had a bathroom in it, so he had a real big garage then. And he spent a lot of time out in that garage, I think because there was five kids in the trailer. So it was his escape. He just went out there and he made parts for the bike and he dressed it up and he did different stuff to it, and that was his enjoyment, that’s what he liked to do. Any time he had time, that’s what he was doin’.”
– Gary Townsend
His bike was his pride and joy, so he just kept makin’ it better, at least in his eyes … He didn’t have a plan, I think it just all come out as he was doin’ it. He went down to the craft shop and he bought glue and rhinestones, and this tool that he used. He’d put one on at a time; he would set a rhinestone in the tool and put that dab of glue on, and he’d eye it up and put it on. Everything had to be lined up: Dad was really meticulous about stuff he was doin’, and if it wasn’t right, he’d get it off of there and do it again … I don’t know … that was his pride and joy, that’s all he wanted to do”
– Gary Townsend
“He spent hours and hours putting on the red, white, and blue rhinestones. It was impossible to count them all. After 245 lights there was no more room …”
– Peggy Townsend
One of the most emotional moments of our opening weekend came when the entire Townsend clan visited the Museum to see the bike. Four generations of Russ and Peggy’s family celebrated the inclusion of the Rhinestone FLH in our new museum, and family members have made regular pilgrimages in the years since.
“I hope the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren will continue to visit the museum for many years. They all think it is great that the bike is there.”
– Peggy Townsend
|Adults (18-64 years):||$18|
|Children (5-17 years):||$10|
|Children (under 5):||Free with Adult|
|Seniors (65+):||$12 (with ID)|
|Military & Students:||$12 (with ID)|
|H-D Museum Members:||Free|
Hours and location
May-September - Daily: 9am-6pm
October-April - Daily: 10am-6pm
400 W Canal Street
Milwaukee, WI 53201
1-877-HD-MUSEUM or 414-287-2789