Pulling into Marne, Iowa, in search of the legendary Baxter Cycle, we, my wife Gail and I, figured there had been a screw up. Maybe there was another Marne in Iowa? This town, surrounded by seemingly endless acres of corn fields, was nothing more than single-family homes, a Mason’s Lodge and a Methodist church. No grocery store. No Subway sandwich shop. No Home Depot or Target store. The town is so tiny that city officials offer free lots if you promise to build a house on it.
Sitting smack dab between Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, (but not on Interstate 80) it didn’t feel or appear to be a mecca for serious British motorcycle fans. Ready to throw in the towel (the GPS couldn’t even figure out where the shop was), we cruised one more street and found (by pure luck) the modest metal building housing Baxter Cycle.
Walking into the shop, we were even more puzzled. The modern, well-stocked, well-merchandised shop (with a mezzanine accessory area) was filled with late-model Triumphs and the revitalized Royal Enfield brand. This shop would not be out of place in a city like Los Angeles or Seattle, but it was not what we were expecting. When a salesman asked if he could assist us, I embarrassingly said, “I thought you guys had a big vintage selection.” The salesman put on a wry smile because I’m sure he had encountered more than one bewildered seeker. He motioned for us to follow him down a corridor to a warehouse behind the modern showroom. There we uncovered the promised Nirvana.
It was so unexpected to find the quality and quantity of vintage Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons in such a tiny Southwestern Iowa town, but here they were in all their glory. This was a British steel collection that you’d only expect to find in California or New York, but you won’t because they are in Marne, Iowa. The salesman laughed at our expressions of pure disbelief and invited us to take all the time we needed to explore the inventory.
Baxter Cycle does the lion’s share of business by shipping vintage bikes and parts all over the world so they are as close as your internet connection. That said, if you are a fan of British motorcycles, an internet connect is not going to cut it. You need to make a pilgrimage to this hold-out of pure mid-century British motorcycling dominance. We left with a shop T-shirt and the knowledge that this wouldn’t be our only visit.