Carmen Tom: Downtown Harley-Davidson Founder

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Carmen Tom

The Story Behind the Man

Editors Note: Carmen Tom passed away in April 2018. This story was originally written and published in 2001. As you read along, you may notice how times have changed.

The early 1940s. World War II is in session.  A seventeen year old kid from South Dakota joins the US Navy and is sent to the South Pacific off the Coast of China - where he takes his first motorcycle ride. Some people get the itch in the strangest places, but in reality servicemen riding for Uncle Sam back in these times often picked up the bug.

Above/Left:  Carmen Tom, at left, wins the award for eldest rider in the 2001 Bonehead Enduro competition.

In 1946, Carmen Tom was discharged from the US Navy and returned home eager to buy his first motorcycle, "but in those days it took so long to wait for a new one I bought a used 1937 Harley-Davidson 45 that cranked 750 cc's," comments Tom from the conference room of Downtown Harley-Davidson.

But Harley-Davidson is just one aspect of Carmen Tom's foray into the world of motorcycles. 

In 1949, Tom married his wife Donna and moved to Seattle in 1951. Prior to Tom's franchise agreement to sell Harley-Davidson, which began in 1983, he owned and operated Tom's Cycle on Empire Way (MLK Way today) that began with Jawa/CZs and grew to include Suzukis, Hondas, Bultacos, Maicos, Mustangs and other assorted lines.  In all, he had carried 20 lines over a 25-year period and sold a significant amount of used motorcycles as well. 

As local m/c historian and a close friend of Carmen's, Tom Samuelson puts it this way, "You had motorcycle row on Pike Street and Broadway and then you had Carmen at the other end of town selling anything and everything else, he's always been a good business man." 

"We also did a lot of Chopper conversions and had a line of custom gas tanks that sold well throughout the 70's and early 80's" says Tom. The tanks Tom speaks of are the infamous coffin tanks seen on so many choppers from that era.

It was also during this time that Tom and Donna brought four bouncing boys into the world. "I'll never forget the day I got pulled over on the way to Seaward Park with four boys loaded onto a Honda."

In 1983, Tom took on the Harley-Davidson franchise, renamed the store Downtown Harley-Davidson and the rest is history. At one point all four of the boys worked at the store and today two are still involved in the business, Carmen having sold it to his son Russ in 1997.

Somewhere along the way the Honda thing rubbed off on young Russ and today he has a sizeable collection of Honda Mini Trails.  The chopper thing made an impression with him as well because Russ is one of the top custom creators of HD's in the Northwest.

Although older now, Carmen lets little get in the way of his motorcycle riding. Despite an ailing leg and need for a cane, Tom still gets out on a Harley Road King and hits the dirt on a Yamaha TW model, sometimes with the grandkids. This year, he won eldest rider in the 2001 Bonehead Enduro.

TM/Summer 01

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