A broken-down bicycle helped kick-start a southside Indianapolis family’s legacy.
George Schulteti was 16 years old and the proud owner of a Harley-Davidson bicycle. When it broke, Schulteti couldn’t find a replacement part to fix it. So, living in the shadow of the Harley-Davidson factory, he went straight to the source.
His impassioned argument with factory security caught the attention of one of the company’s founders. Two days later, he started his job with Harley-Davidson.
That was in 1922, and the Schulteti family history is still studded with the orange, black and chrome of the motorcycle giant. They are the owners of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson, the company that George Schulteti would go on to found in 1947. Four generations of the family have worked in the dealership, which has become a mainstay of the motorcycling community in central Indiana.
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The history of the family and the motorcycles they love is the focus of a new exhibit at the Indiana History Center. “The Harley Shop: Seventy Years of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson” features rare memorabilia, photographs and, of course, motorcycles from 70 years in business.
Visitors will have a chance to explore the iconic Harley-Davidson brand partnered by a local family’s bond to it.
“It really touches on so many eras of our history, in terms of pop culture and the fascination with the Harley culture,” said Eloise Batic, director of exhibitions for the Indiana Historical Society. “We’re telling the story of the Schulteti family, and then making sure that those who aren’t familiar with that family have an entry point to the story through a more national Harley-Davidson content, so they could realize they’re connected to that story.”
Seven Harley-Davidson motorcycles will be on display, showing the evolution of the bikes over the years. Welcoming visitors will be a 1947 model and a current 2017 one, representing the entirety of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson’s existence.
Dozens of commemorative pins and coins will show the artistry behind Harley-Davidson’s marketing. A rare Harley-Davidson 5-gallon oil can — a product that was only available from 1932 to 1934 — will surprise even aficionados of the brand.
Leather racing boots with a steel shoe, used in flat track racing, will be set up on a pedestal.
“It’s taking something that’s old and dirty and beat-up, then saying, ‘Look how cool this is,'” said Sherry Long, advertising and marketing director for the company, as well as Bob and Anita Schulteti’s granddaughter.
Video monitors will show old 8-millimeter film footage of Bob Schulteti racing.
“The stories are being told, but you can still see it, see a 20-year-old Bob in action,” Long said.
After 16-year-old George Schulteti was hired on at Harley-Davidson, his first job was sweeping the floors of the factory’s service department. Slowly, he worked his way progressively higher in factory ranks. In the research and development department, he was a test rider, testing new motorcycles for the company.
Harley-Davidson provided the U.S. military with motorcycles during World War II, and George Schulteti was responsible for setting up mechanical schools for the military throughout the country, traveling more than 50,000 miles each year on his motorcycle to do so.
But George Schulteti set his goals even higher. He wanted to own his own dealership, and he and his wife, Ann, saved everything they could throughout the 1940s. With the help of a partner, and taking advantage of Harley-Davidson’s extensive demographics research, he narrowed potential dealerships to two locations: Omaha, Nebraska, and Indianapolis.
“They had these predictions about the future population and who would be buying motorcycles, and that’s where the decision was made,” Bob Schulteti said. “What they had found was that Indianapolis would be a better place.”
In 1947, George Schulteti and his partner bought a dealership on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis, and Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson was born.
Bob Schulteti was 14 when the dealership opened, and grew up surrounded by motorcycle culture. The family lived above the dealership, and Ann Schulteti was the office manager and worked the parts counter.
He tells the story of the day he was born, and as his parents returned home from the grocery store in their motorcycle and sidecar, his mom started having labor pains. Though they made it home, it was close.
“I was about 45 minutes away from being born in a sidecar,” he said.
As he grew older, Bob Schulteti only became more involved in motorcycles. Going to work at Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson was a natural decision, he said. But just being a young man, he didn’t match the established motorcycle culture in the dealership.
“I didn’t really fit in. I was young, and all of the motorcycles were big. By the time I was 15, Harley-Davidson came out with its first light-weight motorcycle, and that was perfect for me,” he said. “The mechanics didn’t care about it, they were all big burly guys. So my dad taught me to be the lightweight mechanic. It just went from there.”
Bob Schulteti met his future wife, Anita, when they were still in high school. Her parents had a Harley-Davidson, so joining such a motorcycle-centric family wasn’t intimidating.
“My mom rode when she was expecting me, so I had an early start,” she said. “But I still had to get permission the first time he offered to take me for a ride.”
Bob Schulteti started racing when he was 16, going out every weekend to take part in local and regional competitions. He’d wheel around the flat track dirt ovals and clamor up steep tracks in hill-climbing events.
Some of the most prestigious races in Indiana were the “hare and hound” events. A motorcyclist — the hares — would take off through a rugged course. Along the way, they’d mark their path with lime. The rest of the field would set off after an hour to follow the course, with whoever finished first the winner.
Over the years, Bob Schulteti scaled back his racing and focused more on the business. He became vice president of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson in 1957, and then president in 1981.
By the late 1990s, the company had grown tremendously. Harley-Davidson corporate leaders had approached the Schulteti family the year before with a marketing plan to even out distribution of dealers throughout the country. They wanted the Schultetis to scout a new location, which the family found further on the southside, off of Southport Road.
“It’s been a great experience for us. It’s a real pleasure to think about mom and dad looking down and seeing this go on as it has, because it was a dream of theirs,” Bob Schulteti said.
The new Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson opened in 1998 with 17 employees. Since then, it has grown to include 32. Much of the family is still involved, with Bob and Anita Schulteti’s children and grandchildren involved in different ways.
“When Ann (Schulteti) was still working here, there were literally four generations working together at the same time, seeing each other on a daily basis,” Long said. “It’s not always easy. It changes the holidays some times.”
That generational family bond is unique in businesses these days, which is part of the reason Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson appealed to the Indiana Historical Society for an exhibit, Batic said.
The dealership had been involved with the society’s annual Festival of Trees, having a customized decorated Christmas tree set up for the holiday celebration.
Their unique story warranted an exhibit, Batic said.
“Very quickly, it became apparent how very proud they were of their history. Once we were talking with them, you realize the depth of that history and what an incredible job the family has done in preserving it,” she said. “In addition to being a good story, we were blessed to have a partner who had done such a good job gate-keeping that history, so we weren’t starting from scratch.”
With Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson celebrating their 70th anniversary this year, it also served as a celebration of the family business.
“It’s just a way to tell the story, and represent some of the things that were used over the years,” Long said. “We’ve focused on the fact that the business has been in Indiana for 70 years. It’s Indiana business history.”
“The Harley Shop: Seventy Years of Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson”
What: A look at the history of the Schulteti family and their business, Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson, as well the overall history of the Harley motorcycles.
Where: Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis
When: July 22 through Sept. 9
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Admission: The exhibit is included in regular museum admission, which is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors 60 and older, $5 for youth ages 5 to 17 and free for children under 5.
Indianapolis Southside Harley-Davidson
Location: 4930 Southport Crossing Place, Indianapolis
Original owners: George and Ann Schulteti, who moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where George Schulteti worked at the Harley-Davidson factory, to buy an existing dealership.
Current owners: Anita and Bob Schulteti, the son of George and Ann Schulteti.