The Million-Mile 1949 Harley-Davidson Panhead
A man brings his grandfather’s 1949 Harley-Davidson Panhead to the Wheels Through Time Museum, and gets it running again after 40 years.
It’s every motorcyclist’s dream: The classic bike parked and forgotten, waiting to be discovered and turned loose on the road again. In “The Vincent in the Barn,” Tom Cotter has chased down 40 great stories of old bikes and the collectors who unearthed them.
Photo courtesy Motorbooks
Every motorcyclist dreams of hearing the magic phrase: “You know, I know where there’s this old bike that’s been sitting at the back of this garage for years …” With those momentous words, the hunt begins. Too often the machine revealed is a worthless Hondazukimaha pile of hopeless oxidation, but sometimes, it’s a collector’s dream: a genuine classic motorcycle. The Vincent in the Barn (Motorbooks, 2009) by Tom Cotter offers 40 stories of motorcycle-hunting dreams come true. In this excerpt is from Chapter 4, “Passion Plays,” Dale Walksler revives a 1949 Harley-Davidson Panhead for a man who never got to ride this family heirloom until now.
“Every day I meet the most incredibly interesting people at the Wheels Through Time Museum,” said curator Dale Walksler. “Some have interesting motorcycles, some have interesting motorcycle stories, and some have both.”
Walksler remembered one particularly busy Saturday when one young man, who seemed shy, was hanging around the front counter.
“I could tell he wanted to talk to me,” he said. “And because I’m always anxious to talk to anybody, I said, ‘Can I help you?’”
The young man, Lee Miller, 36, of Hickory, North Carolina, said yes, and proceeded to tell Walksler about his granddad’s Harley-Davidson.
“I’ve got some photographs,” said Miller. “The old bike has been sitting on our front porch for 40 years. It’s at our family home place outside of Granite Falls, North Carolina.”
The grandfather, W. L. Klotz, was born in that house, lived in that house, and died in that house, according to Miller. Miller’s mother, JoAnn, remembered as a little girl when her father used to ride his prized Harley. But her son, Lee, even though he is 35 years old, had never seen the bike run.
“The last time I rode on it, I was probably eight or nine years old,” said JoAnn Miller. “He would [give me a] ride to the store on it. I’d sit on the front of the seat and hold onto his wrists.”
“He bought the bike in 1952 and rode it that year and in 1953,” she said. “After that, North Carolina had a law that you had to have insurance on motorcycles, so he parked it because he couldn’t afford insurance on both a car and a motorcycle.”
“Lee had some interest in the bike,” said Walksler, “and people had been coming by the house for 10 or 15 years trying to buy it, but it was a family heirloom and was not for sale. He showed me two pictures of the bike sitting on the porch. It was a great-looking 1949 Harley-Davidson Panhead, and I thought it was extremely cool.”
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