NEW ELLENTON, South Carolina
Kelly “BK” Keenan speaks the language of hanger monkeys, softails, knuckleheads and choppers, and can draw on decades of experience when embarking on a road trip or striking up a Harley-Davidson-themed conversation and miles between New Ellenton and destinations such as Daytona Beach, Florida, and Sturgis, South Dakota.
âHarley’s personal stuff,â as he calls it, is housed in an old bank, with a safe in the back, all just yards from New Ellenton’s only traffic light, on George Avenue and North. Main Street.
The Motorcycle Menagerie includes a fleet of motorcycles, armfuls of trophies, and hundreds of magazines, photos, trophies, clothing and other accessories dating back to at least the 1940s.
The oldest ‘bicycle’ dates from 1940 and the most recent from 2006. Creations, whether raised from obscurity in a barn or purchased from a traditional merchant, have names such as Betsy, Half-Breed ( âA 1947-1950 â³), Hog-Iron, Big Bird and spare parts. Some are heavily personalized and others have their original anatomy. Some have found themselves in the media spotlight.
Red, white and blue, accompanied by stars and stripes in American and Confederate styles, are easy to spot in Keenan’s collection and humor is part of the package. One specimen has a silver pig, hood ornament style, placed on the front fender. Another has a message painted on the back: “White trash … with money.” “
“I don’t really call it a museum,” said the 62-year-old businessman. “I call it a see-through room, andâ¦ you’d be surprised at the few people who’ve been there before and watched, just because it’s hardly ever open, but I’m always there, and It doesn’t. don’t mind showing it to anyone, because I like people to see what we have here.
âI was born and raised here,â he recalls, noting that he still lives in the house where he was raised, with two brothers and two sisters among his closest company. “I make motorcycles and I make old cars.”
Keenan has traveled many miles over the decades, crossing the country to witness biker rallies, swap meets and other events, and one of his first big trips had nothing to do with the motorcycles because he got in trouble as a young man and instead of going to high school I headed to Dodge City, Kansas for work.
“I had a friend who had an aunt there who owned a restaurant … Her husband was a farmer … so three days a week one of us was doing the dishes and the other was loading hay, and It turned around. The other two days you traded jobs, “he recalls.” Someone came to the restaurant when I was there and said, ‘We’re looking for thugs.’ “
Keenan, at that time in the late 1970s, was unfamiliar with the term, which traditionally refers to a worker on an oil rig.
âHe said, ‘It pays $ 7.20 an hour, and we work seven days a week, 12-hour shifts.’ I said, “I’m a thug,” so my boyfriend and I went to work in the oil fields … and I worked there for about three years, and we went through Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Keenan has revisited the oil and gas country over the decades, he recalled. “A lot of my friends, I’ve brought back over the years, and some of them have stayed forever … but I’m coming back, and I went to work in construction with my brothers.”
He and his wife, Jackie, can now have some more free time together as she retired from her job at the Savannah River site at the end of October. âShe worked at the factory for 31 years and we’ve been married for 36 years,â Keenan recalls, noting that their family tree now includes a daughter, three grandsons and a great-grandson.
As a native of New Ellenton, he still has a pretty good idea of ââwho’s who. âEveryone who was actually from New Ellenton, I know them roughly, or I know them. Until the late ’80s, everyone was pretty much from New Ellenton, and then everyone started moving in, moving out.
His favorite motorcycle maker dates back to 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where four young men – one Harley and three Davidsons – “started a cultural wildfire that would grow and spread across geographies and generations,” as described on the Harley-Davidson website.
He adds, âTheir innovation and imagination for what was possible on two wheels sparked a transportation revolution and a lifestyle that would make Harley-Davidson the most desirable motorcycle brand in the world.