This story is both a motorcycle lover’s dream and nightmare. It comes from the depths of the internet, passed around on specialist forums and chat rooms, a tale of an amazing discovery and woeful loss. Our first source is motorcycle enthusiast David Cuff of the website Classic Cycles, who several years ago, came across someone’s flickr account that contained a collection of mystifying photographs showing a forgotten army of motorcycles abandoned in an unknown warehouse. After some chatter on the local bike forums, David managed to obtain the location of the warehouse and his obsessive adventure began. He was determined to visit the motorcycle graveyard for himself, if it was indeed still there, take pictures, hopefully even purchase an old bike. He organised a trip with his friend and hit the road heading nine hours north to the town of Lockport, New York.
“The building with the alleged motorcycles is within eye sight of the canal lock,” describes David of the moment he first eyed the warehouse. “We hung out by the lock for a little while watching boats being raised and lowered. I was getting a feel for the area and casing the building like a bank robber.”
“The buildings were trashed, stuff everywhere … There were small hints that there were motorcycles in there with a gas tank here and a beat up motorcycle frame there. The door to the building that had the motorcycles was open a few inches and I could see a motorcycle leaning against the wall…
“The basement was full of old rusty bikes that nearly rusted away from the moisture in the air…There was a set up stairs that looked like they were just days from crumbling. I lightly walked upstairs and opened the door and that’s where my jaw dropped.”
“The room was full of motorcycles. There were holes on the main floor with motorcycles falling into the basement and there were motorcycles on the third floor falling onto the main floor. Half of the main floor was concrete and very stable so we wondered around and tried to process what we were seeing while trying to be quiet and be aware what was around us.”
When David returned home, he still wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know more about the history and how he might purchase some of the bikes. Through a friend of a friend who works in commercial and industrial real estate, he managed to get an owner’s name and a few details about the status of the building. The owner was a guy named Frank who wasn’t actually permitted to enter the building himself and hadn’t been inside for over a year and half. The building was condemned and owned by the City of Lockport due to unpaid property taxes. A lengthy process to acquire accident insurance would be needed for Frank to enter the building. David began to call Frank regularly, gaining his trust in the hopes of helping him save some of the forgotten bikes.
“The process was slow and I would call Frank every three to four days and inquire about the status of entry. I probably got on Frank’s nerves but I knew it would be worth it in the end. Frank was very patient with me and always gave me an update when I called. While trying to win Frank’s trust I asked about the history … The motorcycles were collected by a guy named Kohl. He owned several different motorcycle shops over 50 years and was by all accounts a motorcycle enthusiast. Kohl would take trade-ins of motorcycles and would also buy inventory of defunct dealerships… It was easy back then to start a dealer compared to today… In 1997 I believe Kohl sold the building and motorcycles to Frank. Frank operated the business as Kohl’s Cycle Salvage which sold parts off of the hundreds of motorcycles he had. Back taxes were owed on the building and Frank began paying them. In 2002 Kohl died at 80 years of age. The building began to fall apart and crumble around itself. At one time Frank got an estimate to have the roof replaced. The estimate was $300,000, far more than Frank could justify. As the building continued to fall apart and the city condemning the building, Frank didn’t see a reason to continue to pay the back taxes.”
The city finally gave Frank a deadline to get whatever he wanted out by mid November 2010 and David began planning his second visit, this time with a bike trailer in tow ready to take home some motorcycle history.
“We spent the next 6 hours in the building exploring every square inch of the four levels…We claimed bikes and parts and gathered them up and talked to Frank about prices. The prices were very good which made us happy and allowed us to get more stuff. I got three motorcycles, well one complete bike which is a Honda CB350, a rolling Jawa frame from right around 1950 and a “what’s it”. I don’t know what the last bike is. I bought it because it looked different. The only writing I can find on the bike is “Made in Germany”. It’s missing the whole front end. I’m not sure what my plan is for it. I can’t try to find parts if I don’t know what it is.”
David’s “What’s it” bike (c) David Cuff
Four days after his second trip, David returned once again after getting word that Frank was going to start scrapping the remaining bikes.
“We drove all night and got to Lockport at 7:15am the next morning… We got to the building a few minutes before Frank did and we were surprised to see two large roll off dumpsters full of motorcycles …”
“We were able to save some bikes and parts. It was also nice to see the memories come back to Frank. He has a great memory and told us details from back when the business was booming including such as [that time] he scrapped 600 or so motorcycles years ago. I shed a tear hearing that. These weren’t ugly late 1970s or 1980s bikes. These were 1960s and early 1970s bikes.”
On July July 30th, 2013, the building burned down in a fire and the remains of the graveyard were lost forever.
“I’m afraid there will never be another scrap yard like this one,” David says woefully. “These days it’s much different. Motorcycles are much more expensive and not just tossed aside. With things like ebay and craigslist there are just too many avenues to sell bikes and parts. These finds are what we dream of as kids. We all hear the rumors but assume they don’t exist or don’t make the effort to explore the possibility or to track down the facts. This is one time where the outcome made it all worth it.”
Of course, it’s always possible that the lost motorcycles of the graveyard might just rise from the dead after all…
Read the full account of David Cuff’s incredible journey in re-discovering New York’s Motorcycle Graveyard.