MEREDITH, N.H. — They are more agile than patrol cars and faster than pavement-pounding beat cops.
Associated with thunderous roars, dignitary escorts, and distinctive uniforms of chaps and britches, police motorcycles have been on patrol for more than a century, rolling on everything from dusty, rural roads to high-speed highways.
Housed in a renovated Lakes Region red barn, the American Police Motorcycle Museum chronicles the history of the motor officer from 1903 to the present with more than 50 motorcycles and a wealth of photos, displays, articles, and movies.
Hands-on owners Doug and Leslyee Frederick opened the museum three years ago. Doug, a motorcycle collector for over 40 years, was a Hartford police officer for 23 years with a love of the bikes and history. He restores the vintage motorcycles on site. All but two run.
Many of the early bikes were produced by Indian motorcycles in Springfield, Mass. There are also Harley-Davidsons. The oldest rigs look like bicycles with engines and many appear uncomfortable with wide leather seats. Visitors can sit on bikes while wearing a police uniform. Children have their own motorcycle and uniform. They’re encouraged to take a pledge affirming to be kind, respectful, and read nightly for a half-hour. Their reward is a junior motor officer badge.
A sleek 2005 Cambridge police BMW is on display near old black and white photos showing patrols on Spring Street and old Central Square. Boston is represented by a 1995 Harley, a 1965 Vespa scooter for crowd control, and a restored 1929 Indian used in the 2012 Boston procession marking the 100th anniversary of the city’s motorcycle unit. To honor the six Boston motor officers killed between 1921 and 1961, Frederick sent six motorcycles to the ceremony, one for each year an officer was killed.
Visitors see the 1976 Memphis Harley that led Elvis Presley’s funeral procession, a 1912 single-speed Excelsior, the manuals, badges, and photos of a 1937 New Hampshire State Police officer, uniforms, a new display honoring female motor officers, old radios, and a replica of an early police headquarters complete with a scratchy recording sounding a “calling all cars” bulletin.
AMERICAN POLICE MOTORCYCLE MUSEUM
194 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith, N.H., 603-279-6387, www.americanpolicemotorcyclemuseum.com. Adults $11, $10 (cash), children under age 12 $5, 62 and older $9, group and family discounts. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Memorial Day-November.