Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! This morning, I saw a picture of a Panhead “barn find” that had been sitting in a shed somewhere for decades. Covered in chicken poop, and saturated with petrified oil leaked from faulty gaskets back in the day, it was pushed into the sunlight for the first time since Eisenhower was president, and photographed to show every crusty detail. There was nothing to identify the whereabouts of this mythical beast, but judging from the lack of terminal rust, I’d guess the Midwest or Southwest. Who knows why it was parked all those years ago; maybe it quit running, maybe the owner quit riding, or maybe a combination of both. In this day and age of social media, it’s hard to believe that the owners of these mechanical unicorns don’t know what they’re worth. Years ago, we’d hear “Oh, that old Harley? Yeah, it belonged to my uncle, an’ it’s been here in the barn since ’62. I’ll take fifty bucks for it if ya get it outta here today.” Those days are long gone, but the “barn finds” are still out there, though the price has gone up slightly…
When I see a picture like the one of the old Pan, it’s often part of an article where the new owner states, “Yeah, I’m gonna leave it just like it is.” Now you can say, “They’re only original once,” or “It’s theirs to do with as they please,” and that’s true, but I can’t help thinking that those old soldiers deserve better. To me, it’s like the prince finding Cinderella and leaving her in her soot-stained rags. Leaving it original is fine, but wash the chicken poop off of it, gunk the petrified oil, saddle soap the seat, and at least give it a little infusion of the dignity it once had!
About 20 years or so ago, I came into possession of a “barn find.” Well, it was actually a pump house find, but it was next to a barn… It was a 1974 Shovelhead, and there wasn’t an inch or a part that wasn’t either rusty or corroded. It was partially torn apart, but the engine was still in the frame, along with the transmission, and the rest of the parts were scattered around next to it. Being short of funds after the initial $1,500 I paid for the derelict, I just stuck it back together and rode the hell out of it for a year. When my parts fund was built up again, I tore it down and started building it as a fairly stock FXE, with custom paint and some chrome goodies, with the intention of giving it to my wife. The rusty stuff went into the swap meet pile, and the build began with her color choice, which, naturally, was red. About halfway through the build, my wife was tragically killed when a red light runner hit her on her way to work. To maintain a tentative grip on reality, I obsessed on the build, spending countless hours getting all the details just right. In the meantime, I bought a new 2003 Softail Standard, which I still have, to keep me in the wind. When the old Shovel was finished, I entered it in Arlen Ness’ show, and won a first place in the Shovelhead class. Yeah, it was pretty, but I seldom rode it, and when I met and married Reggie, the Shovel just sat under its cover in the shop.
In 2011, Reggie said, “You need to do something with the old Shovelhead. Either ride it, or sell it. It’s become a shrine, and it’s not good for it to just sit all the time.” Admitting that she was right, I started its second transformation into the custom chopper I’d wanted since I was a kid. Into a rigid frame the engine and trans went, along with the 60-spoke wheels, and a new chrome springer front end, Sporty tank, and a lot of handmade parts were thrown into the mix. The morning after I finished the build in 2012, we stuck it in the back of the pickup and headed for the Sacramento Easyriders Show. It had to sit there for three days, so riding it up was out of the question. When the show was over, I was proud to have won second place in the Old School Chopper class against bikes costing far more than mine. (In the same show, Reggie’s pink trike won People’s Choice, Best of Show!)
I rode the hell out of my once-a-barn-find Shovel, until my back got so bad I couldn’t take riding a rigid frame anymore, and after almost 20 years with it being part of my life, I reluctantly sold it, and it now has a good home in Las Vegas.
I know there’s a big difference in the value of that rusty, greasy, chicken poop-covered Panhead and my old Shovel, but if I’d found a Panhead instead, I would have done the same thing. It’s just the way I am. I’ve tried to give every bike I’ve owned (and there has been over 50) the care they deserve, and along the way, I’ve probably destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of “patina,” and originality, but I’m not a damn bit sorry, and would do the same thing again.
Reggie and I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year, and we’ll see you on the road!