Nieman’s Motorcycle Rentals Home to Weird Artifacts of Old St. Helena | Lifestyles

An embalming table, a dentist’s chair, small and surprisingly large casings, and the remains of crashed planes. What do they have in common?

Not much except that they share a local connection, they each have their own story and they have all found a home at Nieman’s Motorcycle Rentals in downtown St Helena.

“People come from all over and have so much fun,” said Mike Nieman.

Last year, Nieman acquired a treasure trove of items from the Morrison family, who ran the Morrison Funeral Chapel and an ambulance business. In addition to a table, flasks and tubes used for embalming, the family provided the rotary telephone from the old funeral chapel, an ambulance siren, clocks, a dental chair which they received from a friend and tools that belonged to the late Harley Morrison.

“My dad was fascinated with electronics – radios, stuff like that,” Harold Morrison said of Harley, who died in 1976. “He worked as an electrician in Lodi, wiring houses. He was very good at it.

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There are also memorabilia of the Morrisons’ adventures in aviation. Harold Morrison recalled an occasion when his father took longtime editor Starr Baldwin and his ubiquitous cameras for an aerial tour of the valley.

“Starr was taking pictures with the window open and he lost a lens,” Morrison said. “My dad thought he was going to jump after.”

Aviation is a recurring theme in Nieman’s collection. There are machine guns salvaged from a Navy Skyraider that crashed on Mount St. Helena in 1954 and the twisted control panel of a 1940 Lockheed PV-2 bomber that crashed during an air show in Lakeport in 1990, killing eight people.

“Two divers discovered this 15 years later,” Nieman said. “I found it in a junkyard.”

And, of course, there’s the massive 4,300 horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial aircraft engine that helped power a Cold War-era Convair B-36 bomber. Nieman found it on eBay and periodically turns it on for a curious customer.

When the star recently left the Galleron building, a sign possibly from the Starr Baldwin era was added to Nieman’s collection.

Think of Nieman’s quasi-museum of local artifacts and memorabilia as the unpredictable and eccentrically endearing parent to the narrower St. Helena Historical Society’s heritage center.

“When people come here to look around me, I direct them to the (Heritage Center),” Nieman said. “I think they complement each other.”

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or [email protected]

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