Savage Roads

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

John Miskerik set up Harley Davidson dealership in his garage

The official Harley Davidson dealership, as pictured  in 1958, was  located in the garage at 747 Wabash St. in Milan. The owner, John Miskerik Jr., lived in the house at that address.

 John Miskerik Jr. was born in Milan in 1913. He had to speak English for the first time when he started school in the small town.

Both his parents were born in Czechoslovakia and spoke their own language at home.

The young Miskerik had plenty of playmates speaking Hungarian, Czech and other European languages, many of them living in his neighborhood on Anderson Street.

Miskerik's parents were always looking for ways to save money. Once, they bought a pair of girl's stockings and insisted their son wear them to school.

Usually, a boy would wear knickers -- pants cut just below the knee - to school and a pair of boy's knee-high socks. When Miskerik's dad insisted he go to school with the girl's stockings, the youngster hid under the Wabash bridge all day until school was out.

Apparently, it was better to skip lunch and crouch under a bridge all day than be seen in girl's stockings.

Upon graduating from Milan High School, Miskerik went to work for Pete Johnston at his gas station on the west side of Wabash Street. John also lived there. He made auto repairs and pumped gas.

Occasionally, he hopped into an airplane with Johnston to fly to Deerfield and visit friends, including his fiance.

Miskerik was looking for a better way to support himself, so he purchased a "Hammermill" gasoline-powered feed grinder.

Miskerik drove to the area farms in his Ford truck and ground any amount of grain the farmer wanted. This was more convenient for a farmer than hauling large amounts of grain to the elevator.

In 1935, Miskerik married Catherine Fojtik. They probably met at Ostrander Hall in London Township, the scene for ethnic dances, parties and celebrations of all sorts.

Ostrander Hall contained a roller rink, as well as a dance floor and facilities for a party. Today it's Sebres Market.

Eventually, Miskerik had to give up the animal feed business because a woman at the draft board refused to let him make "hammers." Hammers aren't necessary to the war effort, she said.

Unable to explain that he was using a "Hammermill" brand feed grinder, Miskerik got a new job at the soybean factory producing plastic parts for war vehicles.

The factory was located in the old flour mill, and is used today as the Milan Community House.

Miskerik worked the night shift at the soybean factory, and repaired autos and motorcycles during the day. Miskerik's son, Harvey, remembers wearing dark glasses as a little boy, while watching his father weld motorcycle parts.

Miskerik and his family lived at 747 Wabash St. in a home that was used previously as a speakeasy during Prohibition. His house was full of hidden spaces under floors and behind walls, once used to hide illegal beverages.

In 1945, when World War II ended, Miskerik was able to step up his motorcycle repair efforts. Parts and metal were available.

He got his Milan Harley Davidson dealership authorized in 1947, with his territory covering all of Monroe County.

The Harley Davidson franchise urged Miskerik to establish his dealership in Monroe, rather than Milan. He rented space from a Crosley car dealer and then moved to 1610 N. Telegraph Road.

Young Harvey was 10 years old and helped his father with the motorcycles. "I was a little boy in heaven," he remembers.

Business improved at the Monroe dealership. However, Miskerik opened his shop in Milan again in 1956. His son, Harvey, drove away on a motorcycle in May 1956 and suffered severe injuries in an accident.

The photo of the motorcycle dealership was taken in the fall of 1958. Two models are displayed. The showcase was in the garage at 747 Wabash St.

Looking closely at this photo, a furnace is visible hanging from the ceiling.

The Harley Davidson franchise objected to this dealership as being sub-standard, with the cement floor, tools and parts stored everywhere, and a poor paint job.

A few light bulbs illuminated the store. This was a two-car garage, but the dealership was squeezed into just one car space.

This was not a glitzy establishment.

The franchise kept complaining about Miskerik's dealership. In 1959, he got a job at the Federal Correctional Institution as a teacher.

No doubt Miskerik was good at explaining how to repair cars and motorcycles. He kept his motorcycle dealership open until 1968, hiring Orlo "Tim" Smith to work there.

Originally, the Federal Detention Farm at Milan specialized in training inmates to farm. Later the agricultural operations were closed down and inmates learned modern vocational skills, like welding.

Miskerik taught welding, small engines, automotive, and machine shop at the FCI.

When he retired from FCI, Miskerik moved to 13855 Wabash St., his father's old greenhouse. He lived until 1987.