Celebrating 70 years of Panheads
Milwaukee, Wis., July 12–18—Every July the Knucklehead Company, a group of enthusiasts who actually own Knucklehead motorcycles, and the local AMCA chapter in Milwaukee sets about celebrating their motorcycling forefathers with a shindig down at the Harley-Davidson Museum. There’s a 1940s-style motorcycle picnic with field games and fun stuff scheduled in the warm summer sun and the shenanigans are reminiscent of a time when the world turned at a slower pace as Knucklehead owners honor their unique antique engines during the annual “Wild Ones Weekend.” This year, however, was a significant milestone for both the museum and the Motor Company and the celebration took on a different hue. The hosting Knucklehead Company and the helpful Badger Heritage Chapter of the AMCA scooted over to make room for Panhead devotees and collaborated to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Panhead motor during their special weekend. And, while everyone was in town for that soiree, the museum invited the masses to observe the 10th anniversary of their grand opening back in 2008, too. Needless to say, there was some pretty significant partying going down in Milwaukee, the birthplace of America’s own Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Festivities kicked off with the usual Thursday bike night at the museum where raffles were announced hourly as early visitors toured the museum then inspected the display of Milwaukee iron that rested comfortably on jiffy stands in the cool evening breeze out front. The campus was packed with antique fans and a discernable vibration of high-octane excitement permeated the place. Ringleader Bill Rodencal kept guests informed and educated by offering fun facts and trivia tidbits in between the swag giveaways.
Meanwhile, as the commemoration built momentum, a gathering of Panhead devotees hosted by the Classic Panhead Group and headed by Greg Lew, partied at the private property of Tom Hinderholtz, an AMCA member that opened his home and grounds to anyone who needed a place to camp for the weekend. Dubbed “Pan Central Station,” the sprawling seven-acre property was consumed by an estimated 200-plus Panhead motorbikes. Over 300 guests kicked back under shade trees to share the evening meal on Friday and participate in a celebration of motorcycles, the likes of which had not been experienced in recent history. Besides a good showing of Panhead people hailing from all over the United States, there were also attendees from the U.K., Germany and a couple of adventurous women who showed up from Australia to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help things run smoothly at the farm. By Saturday morning the festival frenzy reached stratosphere status.
To have gathered together so many folks interested in, and dedicated to, the old iron was truly remarkable and everyone was aware of the historic significance of the event, including the Harley-Davidson family themselves. The museum’s events projects manager, Erica Kaponya, arranged a police escort for the Panhead pilot’s arrival to the museum’s Wild Ones Weekend celebration on Saturday morning. More than 100 antiques paraded across Milwaukee’s Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge and into the Harley-Davidson Museum. Motorcycling’s royal family, Willie G. and his wife Nancy, were on hand to personally thank the officers for their help in guiding the pack safely onto the campus and the motor cops were excited to pose with the iconic couple. The Davidsons greeted riders as cycles quickly filled any available parking spot and the roped-off area assigned to the bike show was crowded with every conceivable configuration of eye-catching machinery. The jamboree spilled across the lawn out front as field games were organized by the Badger Heritage AMCA members and, with Josh Richardson at the helm, the afternoon entertainment was charged with thrills and spills as brave riders embroiled themselves in the heat of battle in the warm July sun. From games like the slow race and barrel roll to blind riding and wienie bites, the competitions were fierce and fun and the crowds cheered the warriors on. Jon Davidson Oeflein, Willie Davidson’s nephew, was out trying his hand at a few of the games, as well. By the end of the day, it was Stan “Sonny” Acton who took home the Best of Show in the bike show for his 70-year-old, all-original 1948 Panhead that has 40,000 miles on the second-owner machine. As with most antiques, the story behind the bike is an interesting one and we hope to hear more about it in future issues.
While the rest of the world set about their morning commutes on Monday morning, the Pandemonium party was embarking on the first leg of an antique-infused week covering about 850 miles of jockeying old iron across three states. After gathering at the museum, a group of ramped-up antique aficionados motored along the quiet countryside to arrive in the tiny town of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for boarding the historic ferry, the S.S. Badger. The coal-fired steamboat is the last operating ferry of its kind in the world and still shuttles vehicles and passengers across Lake Michigan from May–October, so the National Historic Landmark Ship was the perfect conveyance to carry the Milwaukee iron across the Great Lake. Of the 87 bikes that made the run, 75 were Panheads. Once the group arrived in Ludington, Michigan, ride responsibilities were handed off to AMCA Wolverine chapter member Roger Green and his team and the group continued on to visit the Gilmore Car Museum before their Thursday arrival at the AMCA National Meet in Wauseon, Ohio. Riders were sincerely grateful for Greg Lew and Tom Hinderholtz’s passion and hard work at honoring seven decades of a truly great machine. All in all, it’s hard to say when there has ever been a more enthusiastic salute to the past than during the 70th anniversary of the Panhead and the gathering will surely go down in the annals of Harley history. The Motor Company’s next big celebration is the 115th anniversary of their very first motorcycle, so we can hardly wait to see what kind of fun will be shared for that shindig. Hope to see you in Milwaukee!