It’s easily the most unusual and memorable Harley-Davidson archival photo I’ve ever laid eyes on and I viewed it for the first time over 40 years ago within the pages of a volume published in 1965 by the incomparable Floyd Clymer entitled A Treasury of Motorcycles of the World.

The photograph depicts William S. Harley seated on a motorcycle with William Davidson ensconced beside him in a sidecar. Leaning against the sidecar is a rod and reel, and spread across the front of the sidecar is a collection of about a half dozen truly impressive fish. The shot was taken in 1924 on a woodsy back road at Pine Lake in Waukesha County, and both men are attired in business suits. Mr. Harley even sports a bowtie.

What struck me most back then as a cheeky teenaged moto-neophyte was how laughably ludicrous the image was, juxtaposing that load of fat fish piled on a sidehack rig somewhere in the backwoods of Wisconsin against a pair of straight-faced gents suited up more appropriately for the boardroom. It could as easily have been a couple of fishmongers on their way to church.

But what has come to intrigue me more after many year of revisiting the image is how uncannily that photograph encapsulates the entirety of the Harley-Davidson spirit, history, and enterprise—the camaraderie, love of the outdoors, spirit of adventure, and obsession with motorcycling evidenced there, as well as, more abstractly, the breathtaking success and longevity of the company founded by these captains of industry in concert with Arthur and Walter Davidson 111 years ago.

The reason I’m bringing that photo up here is because it, strangely perhaps, was the first thing that sprang to mind upon reading the recent press release from Harley-Davidson announcing that, as the next installment of their recently instituted “Renew the Ride” campaign, they were embarking upon a campaign to plant 50 million trees worldwide by the year 2025. You read that right… 50 million.

Started last year, the Renew the Ride project is, in part, a partnership arrangement with the highly regarded and apolitical Nature Conservancy, an organization whose mission is nothing short of preserving and restoring the environment for, you know, human habitation. And in addition to their myriad environmental projects being pursued around the globe, including all 50 of these United States, they’ve added another small item to their agenda: the jaw-dropping task of planting one billion trees worldwide in that same aforementioned 10-year span. You read that right… one billion.

That partnership was kicked off during the 110th anniversary celebrations in Milwaukee last year, starting out humbly enough with the planting of 110 trees at the H-D Museum. But then it took wings from there with the Harley-Davidson Foundation funding the plantation of 110,000 trees in the imperiled Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil. Other projects have followed, but the big item on the to-do list for 2014 is planting 111,000 (get it?) trees in the forests of the southern United States. (I have a hunch that goal will rise to 112,000 for 2015.)

What “Renew the Ride” boils down to, then, is pretty much “Renew the Planet” and that’s a connection that’s impossible to dispute given that this planet is the only one we have to ride on for the foreseeable future, and healthy forests are indispensable in salvaging, improving and maintaining the quality of our air, water and wildlife habitat, and in the essential sequestering of CO2 in the atmosphere that would otherwise be accelerating the disastrous climate change afoot that will definitely ruin everybody’s good time, motorcyclists more than most.

It should be noted in all of this that The Motor Company is not new to the ecology game, and has gone to great lengths in recent years to dramatically enhance the environmental sustainability of their own industrial operations. They’ve proven model corporate citizens in reducing landfill waste, lowering power usage, increasing recycling of materials and setting goals for their own supply chain for achieving similar ends. They just haven’t crowed about it much.

But now with the launch of the 50 million tree project they’re starting to crow, and they’re intent on bringing their dealers and ridership onboard for the long struggle ahead. The battle has been joined and besides the outreach to their extensive network of individuals and organizations underway we can expect to hear more on the subject; we expect to hear more in terms of the specific programs and contributions they’ll be striving to engender in the months ahead. (Get your shovels and your wallets out, people. A single dollar contribution will get a tree planted. Your kids will thank you for it.)

Considering the overwhelming success The Motor Company has achieved in their determination to attack muscular dystrophy and breast cancer (including through their MotorClothes Pink Label collection) there’s cause for optimism on this front as well. Perhaps they could roll out a Green Label collection for the Renew the Ride program. Or maybe even reintroduce the moribund Sportster Hugger model, last produced a decade ago, only rename the bike…wait for it…the Tree Hugger. (

It’s all right here in the diaries.


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