The re-birth of Harley-Davidson

In 1988, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company loaned me a brand new red Harley Electra Glide and invited me along on a ride from Maine to Milwaukee to celebrate Harley’s 85th birthday. I wrote several stories about the ride and about the company’s resurgence from the road. I also had a blast! This story was one that I wrote once I returned to Maine. This clip was published in the Chicago Sun-Times, but the story was also published in papers around the country, as well as in Europe and Australia.

Harley roars back to lead the cycle pack


MILWAUKEE (UPI) – Harley –Davidson Motor Co., careening toward extinction just five years ago, has roared back to lead the pack, scooping up an increased market share from the best of the Japanese motorcycle builders while placing itself solidly in the black.

It was a different story in 1983, when Honda and other Japanese motorcycle makers pushed Harley, America’s only surviving motorcycle manufacturer, to the edge of bankruptcy.  But Harley searched its past and re-discovered a formula that seems to be redefining the company’s future.

The quality of the big V-twin engines Harleys had declined seriously over the years, and antiquated manufacturing techniques kept costs high and production low.

When Japanese builders such as Honda and Yamaha began building low-cost, high-tech super-heavyweight touring bikes, once the sole domain of Harley-Davidson, a number of former Harley riders jumped ship.

“We simply weren’t building a product that the customer wanted from a quality point of view, “ said Richard Teerlink, Harley’s president. “The customer needs quality, especially when he is paying a premium price for the product.”

Harley had once dominated the large-displacement motorcycle market, but by 1983 Harley’s market share for motorcycles of 851cc or more had faded to just 23.3 percent, while Honda’s share of the market had swelled to 44.3 percent. And there seemed to be no end to the downward trend.

“They used to call me Dr. Doom around here – my reports were always that the sky was falling,“ said Frank Cimermancic, Harley’s director of business planning.

With its back to the wall, Harley began fighting back.

The company claimed Honda and other Japanese manufacturers were dumping big-displacement motorcycles in the united States in order to harm Harley, and asked the Reagan administration for stiff tariffs on the biggest Japanese bikes,.  The administration responded with a five-year tariff plan.

With the tariff providing some breathing room, Harley went to work and began devising a strategy for getting back on solid ground. Harley’s strategy worked so well that by the end of 1987, its market share had zoomed to 40 percent, and was still climbing steadily.

1988 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 85th Anniversary Edition

In the first quarter of 1988, Harley’s share climbed to 50 percent, while Honda slipped to 22 percent.

“We are really smoking,” Cimermancic said. “It is hard to believe, if you had told me five years ago we would be doing this kind of volume now, I would have asked you where you got your drugs from.”

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Scott and Helen Nearing

In 1973, I moved from Boston to central Maine, having been transferred by UPI to cover, among other things, Maine government and politics. I settled in a small, rural Maine town, Mount Vernon, a village of around 300 people. I soon learned that Mount Vernon (and many other similar Maine villages) had become the home of young hippies from all over the country who were searching for a simpler, back-to-the-land lifestyle. At the time I was unaware that most of these young people were following the teachings of Scott and Helen Nearing, whose 1954 book, “Living the Good Life,” was a handbook for simple rural living.

A year later, in 1974, I wrote to Helen Nearing at the Nearings’ home on the coast of Maine, requesting an interview. She invited me over.

This story resulted from that interview.

One thing I remember about that visit, something that didn’t make it into the story: At one point I gave the 69-year-old Helen a ride down the road in my Chevy Nova, which had a bad clutch throwout bearing and made sort of a grinding/screeching noise. When I shifted the car into second, she cocked her head and said, “Hmmmm. Sounds like a bad throwout bearing.”

This story was carried in newspapers around the country, but I found the old clip in the Connellsville, Pa. DAILY COURIER.

Ex-professor, 90, remains highly active with writing


HARBORSIDE, Maine (UPI) – Scott Nearing is 90 and his face is creased with age and from many cold New England winters. His eyes disappear when he smiles.

Nearing and his wife Helen, 69, have homesteaded in New England for more than 40 years, ever since they decided to leave the city and search out a simple life. First in Vermont, and now in Maine, they have grown their own food organically, have built their own buildings out of stone, and have cut their own firewood.

Nearing turned his back on Western civilization years ago, after being fired from teaching jobs at two colleges because of his radical political beliefs. He thinks Western civilization has been on the decline since the late 1800s.

“Western civilization is on the carpet, just like Nixon is now,” he said.

ScottNearing pic

Scott Nearing

Nearing’s day began as usual at 4:30 a.m., and he worked on his latest book until breakfast.  He had spent the morning working around Forest Farm and now was eating homemade soup out of a wooden bowl.

“I’ve been working on this theme since 1926,” he said. “It’s called, ‘Where is Western Civilization Going?’ It’s a social analysis of civilization. Almost no one has analyzed society objectively as far as social organization is concerned. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Nearing threw a faggot of twigs on the fire in the kitchen woodstove and went out to the woodshed, tugging a wheelbarrow full of saws and axes behind him. The Nearings burn driftwood and dead trees as much as possible, cutting down live trees only when they have to.

Helen led the way to a half-finished stone building at the foot of the hill, across the road from the bay. The building will be a library and garage and will stand in front of the Nearings’ new stone house, to be finished hopefully by next fall.

“I’ve done all the stonework,” Helen said. “If people stop by to help, they hand the stones up to me and I put them in place.”

Finding help hasn’t been hard. In recent years there has been a steady stream of visitors, mostly young people, who have read “Living the Good Life,” a book about homesteading which Scott and Helen wrote in 1954.

“Last year I kept a head count and we had 2,300 visitors,” Helen said. “This past year I stopped counting after 2,500.”

The Nearings have lived in an old frame farmhouse since they came to Maine 22 years ago, and they are looking forward to moving into the new stone house.

“This place isn’t our house,” Nearing said about the farmhouse. “It’s somebody else’s house.”

Helen ran through the snow to the house site and pointed out where the rooms would be.

“I’ll have a room in front, overlooking the water, and Scott’s room will be in the back with an east window,” she said. “He gets up early and he likes to see the sun rise.”