In downtown Ravenna sits one of Portage County’s coolest attractions: Bear’s Vintage Metalworks.
In an old feed mill on West Main Street, Bear Oehler and his wife, Sharon, have been amassing a collection of custom seats, vintage Harley motorcycle parts and memorabilia in their museum. The museum’s newest exhibit is on the Kent Falcons Motorcycle Club, which organized in 1937 “to promote the sport and good fellowship of motorcycle riding and competition events.”
On display are clothes and the jacket riders wore, a photograph of the motorcycle club behind the old Kent Hotel in 1948 (with David Bianchi, Sharon’s cousin, pictured) and the original charter from the state of Ohio that gave them the right to have a motorcycle club.
“We didn’t even know this club existed,” Bear said. “This is super important to history of motorcycles in Portage County.”
Posters and blueprints of Harley motors cover the museum from floor to ceiling. Behind glass, rare memorabilia is on display, including a 1918 Harley-Davidson air compressor, a 1926 motor and glass oil cans that were made only during World War II. There’s also one of the keys that were given to Harley-Davidson executives, a bicentennial gas tank from 1976, the first and only issue of the Harley-Davidson comic book and original motorcycle movie posters.
“Everything is rare,” Bear said. “I collected this stuff for the last 40 years.”
Of everything on display, perhaps the most interesting is the Harley Bikes Bear built from pieces over the years, including a baby blue Pinhead and a 1941 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. Sharon traded her wedding ring for a trike that’s been retired in the shop.
Bear and Sharon have been in the Harley business for 39 years. They’re not a licensed Harley-Davidson dealer, but they sell parts that fit Harley motorcycles from 1936 to the present.
“This place was built in 1881,” Sharon said, pointing out a picture of the original feed mill with horse-drawn wagons parked outside. “He got me into Harleys. We opened our store in 1980 and we’ve been doing this ever since.”
Glass cases hold vintage head and tail lights, wheels, rims, saddles and handlebars. Posters and tin signs cover every inch of the walls.
“We just kept opening one room at a time until it was full,” Bear said. “It gets pretty wild as you go.”
In the back of the shop, seats hang on the wall all the way up to the ceiling. Ostrich, boa and croc seats come in many colors and custom stitching. This is why they call Bear “The Seat King.”
“We have over 700 seats in our store,” Bear said. “We take and design a seat that makes them happy and they’ll come pick it up. We just had somebody come up from West Virginia. The farthest we had this way was Kentucky and we just had a couple come up from Niagara Falls last Saturday for a part.”
Bear also has steampunk lamps for sale. Building them during the wintertime has become a hobby of his.
In the summer, it’s normal to have a lineup of 70 bikes outside. People from all the surrounding states come for parts or just to hang out and see the museum.
“It’s like a big party,” Sharon said. “So many guys will just come and hang around and talk and look at everything. It becomes a destination.”
It’s also one of the few places around where people can buy a T-shirt with “Ravenna, Ohio” on it. The museum is free and open to the public. Call 330-297-7755 for hours.