Late last week, fearless Fool Drip Port leader Jeff Fischer conducted this poll (among others) asking for your help in improving the overall value of the daily Drip columns. The two leading responses so far are "Learning about specific industries/companies for long periods" and "Learning more about valuing companies." The people have spoken. Fools are listening.

This week I'm going to begin an in-depth look at a one of my favorite companies — one that I invest in and one that I hope to be a consumer of one day in the not too distant future when I cash in my shares and drive off with this baby.

Let's start from the very beginning. After eons in a state of moltenous lava, the Earth began to cool . . . er, OK, maybe not quite that early. Let's try this again.

It's Milwaukee, circa 1901. Perhaps motivated to gain an edge in the Tour de France, but then again probably not, two young men, William Harley and Arthur Davidson, set out to take the work out of bicycling. Before too long, Arthur's brothers, Walter and William, joined the project and two short years and many design revisions later production of the first Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HDI) motorcycle began. Two more units followed that year for a grand total of three. It was a start.

Harley-Davidson thrived during wartime, proving an invaluable asset to the armed forces. Twenty thousand bikes were used in WWI alone. By 1920, units were being sold in 67 countries and production had reached 28,189 units. WWII brought more demand for bikes, and 90,000 Army-version cycles were shipped overseas.

The company's 50th anniversary in 1953 was especially festive as its oldest and closest competitor, Indian, went belly-up (it has recently resurfaced). Harley-Davidson's was the kickstand holding steady in a once overcrowded American motorcycle marketplace. Production that year reached 14,050 units.

The company first went public in 1965, only to reverse course four years later when it merged with American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF). Early in 1981, 13 Harley-Davidson executives banded together to reclaim the company from AMF and celebrated the emancipation with a New York to Milwaukee road trip. Then, in 1986, after a 17-year absence, the king of two-wheelers returned to the public market. Since that time, investors have been rewarded remarkably by the flawless execution of the company's simple, yet focused mission.

If you had invested just $100 in Harley-Davidson's dividend reinvestment plan in 1986 and never added another dime, you'd have $10,000 today. Had you added the Drip minimum $30 monthly over that time span, well, let's just say multimillion dollar lottery winners would be hitting you up for a loan.

Harley-Davidson today operates two business divisions: motorcycles and related products and financial services. The motorcycle and related product segment includes Harley-Davidson Motor Co. and the Buell Motorcycle Co. These companies design, manufacture, and sell a complete line of motorcycles, parts, accessories, and general related merchandise, including two Harley-Davidson Cafe theme restaurants.

Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS), is a wholly owned subsidiary of the parent company. Its business consists of financing and servicing wholesale inventory receivables and consumer retail installment sales contracts. HDFS is also an agency for certain unaffiliated insurance carriers that provide property and casualty insurance, as well as extended service contracts to motorcycle owners.

The world's most dominant motorcycle company has a nearly unrivaled and loyal cult following; however, it may be one of the best-kept secrets on Wall Street. Over the past decade plus, Harley-Davidson has performed more smoothly than the engine on a FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide, yet it's often overlooked as a great investment idea. It's time the secret gets out.

Next week, we'll open up the toolbox and break down the numbers. Until then, post your thoughts on Harley on the Drip Companies discussion board. Drip on, Fools!

— Vince Hanks, TMF Elwood on the Fool discussion boards

Related Links:
There's Something About Harley, Fool on the Hill, 7/12/00
— Harley-Davidson Discussion Board