Nobody likes a thief. Especially a motorcycle thief, but even less so an antique motorcycle thief. There are only so many of the old bikes left on this earth and, just like land, they ain’t making any more. The old bikes are undeniable works of classic art and those who own them are tenders of the history and legacy that inherently comes with each piece of ancient machinery. Owners of the antique motorcycles usually know the lineage of their bike and can trace its origin all the way back to the assembly line. And the public, as a whole, reveres both the historic significance and the responsibility that comes with owning these forefathers to our modern-day machines. We hold them as sacred icons of a more romantic time in our past when the world turned slower and things were simpler. Consequentially, there was a worldwide collective gasp when a trailer full of antique depression-era machines was stolen back in 2014.
Most everyone is aware of the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, the biennial gathering of antiques of varying vintage that gather on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in September of the even years to race across the continent to arrive, exhausted and expended, on the sands of the Pacific Ocean a little more than two weeks later. It’s a man and his machine against the elements race. The run in 2014 required that machines be built before 1937 and would start on the shores of Daytona Beach, Florida, ending near the port in Tacoma, Washington. Riders had just completed the epic run and were jubilantly celebrating their accomplishments as the world cheered. Exhausted Cannonballers were quietly preparing to return to their daily lives when thieves struck in the night and absconded with a truck and trailer full of motorcycles that had competed in the run. Gone were four antique race bikes, multitudes of hand tools (some were factory tools that were so rare they were irreplaceable relics), assorted riding gear, spare parts, and crates that contained a bike that had been disassembled in case their various parts became necessary during the race, along with two complete engines. The local police offered little hope and politely informed the owners that they would not be actively looking for their property due to being understaffed and distracted by much bigger crime issues, so if the riders thought they could find the stuff themselves, they were welcome to try. The Cannonball family sprang into action. Social media was bombarded with the details of the heist. Contact numbers were dispatched and support rolled in. Press releases and bulletins were posted on every motorcycle site imaginable and individuals shared the shocking news as word was spread around the world. Two days later a call came in from Sterling Kingman, a citizen who’d seen the trailer parked near his property some 15 miles from the hotel and, miraculously, the race bikes were still inside. The miscellaneous parts and gear, however, were not. Eventually the men headed home with just the bikes, but that’s far from the end of the story.
David rented a truck and headed home to Mississippi with his beloved “Lisa,” a 1919 Harley-Davidson J Model, in back. Somewhere around Hot Springs, Arkansas, truckers on the interstate spied the Cannonball bike and recognized it as the stolen antique. Immediately they reported David to the highway patrol. Despite all his efforts to convince the men that it was, indeed, his bike, they made it clear that David wasn’t going anywhere until the law arrived to straighten out the matter. The power of social media and public involvement was made perfectly clear on the shoulder of Highway 30. He was finally released with a round of handshakes and best wishes.
The insurance company eventually paid out a paltry amount on the claim and life went on for the two Cannonballers, David Lloyd and Jon Neuman. But that’s not the end of the story. Last month, out of the blue, Jon got a call from the Tacoma PD. A local landlord had evicted his tenant and upon cleaning up the property, found two old motors in the barn. He immediately enlisted the help of officer friends to check the numbers. Next thing Jon knew, he and David were filling out paperwork to claim their long-lost engines. There was a variety of red tape to be dealt with, especially since David’s motor numbers had been transposed and his motor had never even been on the watch list at all. To further complicate matters, Hagerty Insurance had paid out on the claim years ago and the titles were now property of the insurance company. After explaining recent events, however, Hagerty graciously signed off rights without requiring a reimbursement on the paid-out claim. The cases of spare parts, tools and gear were still unaccounted for, but the excitement of just getting the engines back overwhelmed the guys. After almost four years gone, David finally got his 1919 motor back. He posted pictures of himself beaming in elation with his arms wrapped around the motor in a warm hug while out in Texas, Jon sat waiting for his engine to be delivered as he prepared to ride the Cannonball again this September. Last word from the Neuman camp was that UPS had lost the motor somewhere in transit. So, nope, this is still not the end of the story…