A bike named Annie
“I developed a love affair for this bike. I just liked it. It became a member of the family, and you don’t sell a member of the family.”
— Bob Stieg, owner of Annie, a 1934 Harley-Davidson VLD, since 1938
There are conflicting stories on how Bob Steig's 1934 Harley-Davidson VLD came to be named Annie. Bob claims she was named after Little Orphan Annie, who was always optimistic and never gave up even when the going got rough. His wife, Jane, always thought it was named after the neighborhood glamour girl, Annabell “Annie” Lee. However this 74 cubic-inch Flathead twin got its name, she’s had it for a very long time.
Before Annie came to live in Bob’s garage, and when she was still very new, she had a moment of glory as the winner of the 1934 Jack Pine Endurance Run, with Fond Du Lac, Wis., Harley-Davidson dealer and rider Ray Tursky taking her to a first place finish.
This was no small deal, because in its day the Jack Pine was the offroad race to win, a three-day, 500-mile offroad event where competitors bashed their way through the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, fording rivers, climbing hills and running through mud, sand and every other type of terrain imaginable, all at an average speed of 24mph. In 1934, only nine of the 87 starters finished the event, run over clay roads made almost impassable by rain. Harley promoted Tursky to the Madison, Wis., dealership as a reward for his widely reported win.
Notably, the factory-supplied saddle bags Tursky used in the 1934 Jack Pine race (a $4.95 option) are still on the bike today.
Following his win, Tursky sold Annie to a Madison police officer, who traded her in the next year. In May 1937, Tursky re-sold the bike, this time to Bernard Stieg, an engineering major in his junior year at the University of Wisconsin. Bernard in turn sold the Harley to his younger brother, Bob (also majoring in engineering), in September 1938.
Although he was only 20 years old, Bob was no stranger to riding. “I started riding in high school,” Bob says. “I used to fix up old junkers with my brother. Both of us were mechanically inclined. I had a 1928 [Harley-Davidson] JD, which was a lot of work compared to the ‘34, which was a virtually new bike.”
Bernard and Bob had numerous escapades on Annie, including a trip to the Indianapolis Speedway to see the then new 4-wheel-drive racers. There were no interstates back then, and it took the intrepid pair more than eight hours to make the 330-mile trip. They watched the race, and then rode back to school in Madison. Annie was also their regular transportation between college and home in Clinton, Wis., a 150-mile trip each way.
In 1941, Bob and Jane, his girlfriend of four years — and to this day the only woman to ever ride on Annie — married. Setting up home in Wisconsin, the newlyweds stored Annie in Bob’s parents’ garage for the winter. Bob remembers that when he tried to start Annie the next spring, smoke poured out of every exhaust pipe joint. A squirrel had somehow filled the muffler
Life moved on, as it invariably does. Bob and Jane had two sons, and Annie was soon sporting a sidecar to carry the family when necessary. They took the bike on short rides around the Wisconsin countryside regardless of the season, the kids often getting sidecar rides in the snow, and on occasional longer rides to rallies and events.
In 1968, the Stiegs moved to Pennsylvania and Annie, very much a part of the family, came along. The sidecar, by that time rusty and in need of a full restoration, was sold to a friend. By this time Annie wasn’t looking too good herself and needed a total overhaul. Moving into their new home, Annie was rolled into the garage, where she stayed for several years.
Restoring a friend
In the fall of 1974, Bob decided it was time to start getting Annie back on the road. “I started by tackling one small job at a time,” Bob says. “First I removed the battery box and had it rebuilt at a metal-working shop. This opened up [access to] the transmission and clutch, so I removed them and had the local Harley-Davidson shop disassemble and inspect them. Can you imagine, after 40 years no new parts were needed?”
Tank, fender and wheel repair came next. Bob located a chrome-plating shop and started bringing in batches of parts to be refinished. “In July of 1977, I had reassembled the bike sufficiently to run, without the windshield and without the engine overhaul. It was certainly an exciting moment when, after nine years, I heard it roar to life, and I went for a short ride around my home area. The welcome sound was like the return of an old friend,” Bob recalls.
Bob found a mechanic to work on the old Harley, who replaced Annie’s pistons and gave the engine a valve job in May of 1980. “In August 1983, I considered the restoration reasonably complete and the bike very reliable,” he adds. With Annie back up and running, Bob continued to take short rides in the area and attend rallies. Jane’s health began to fail, and motorcycle riding was curtailed (but not stopped) so he could care for her, until she passed away in 2006.
Through it all, Bob’s kept hold of Annie. Although she hasn’t always been on the road, she’s always been part of the family, posing for annual Christmas cards and for an annual birthday shot (Bob’s, not Annie’s!) with Bob, and Annie’s windshield sports a historic collection of rally pins. Bob recently turned 90 (he received a birthday card from Willie Davidson on the occasion), but even today he continues to take short trips around the local area on Annie and attend rallies with her, even riding Annie the 100-mile round trip to the 2008 AMCA meet in Oley, Pa.
“We have had a long and almost always pleasant association,” Bob says. “As of this year it is her 75th birthday and my 71st year of ownership. I am still looking forward to a number of good rides together.”
Harley-Davidson VLDIn the late 1920s, Harley-Davidson was selling the model JD inlet-over-exhaust (inlet valve in the cylinder head and exhaust valve in the cylinder) V-twin in 61ci and 74ci capacities. A legendary machine today, it didn’t seem that way at the time. The JD, although sporting an excellent power-to-weight ratio and an ability to negotiate bad roads with aplomb, needed constant maintenance.
To improve reliability, Harley introduced a side-valve engine (with both valves in the cylinder). The first, 21ci (344cc) singles, appeared in the summer of 1925. Rugged and simple to maintain, they found favor in Harley’s then booming export market. The next step was a 45ci (737cc) V-twin, which showed up in July of 1928. Although it suffered some teething problems, most were worked out by December of that year.
In August 1929, Harley-Davidson took a deep breath, closed the door on the inlet-over-exhaust twins that had built the company’s reputation and brought out a new 74ci side-valve engine. These new V-twins had not been rigorously tested, and many broke down shortly after they were sold. In mid-October, Harley shipped replacement component kits to its dealers. The dealers had to eat the labor cost to retrofit new crankcases, flywheels, valve springs and clutch plates, but within a few months, sales of the new 74s began to improve.
The unreliability of the first 74s was shortly followed by another disaster — the Great Depression. From 18,036 machines sold in 1930, sales dropped to 10,407 in 1931, 7,218 in 1932 and bottomed out at 3,703 in 1933.
By 1934, things were a little better, and Harley proudly unveiled its lineup for the year. Art Deco styling was at its peak, and the 1934 Flathead is a beautiful example of this artistic movement. The VLD was H-D’s top of the line twin, with low-expansion aluminum alloy pistons, a Y-shaped intake manifold and 5:1 compression. The engine made 36 ponies at 4,500rpm, and top speed was probably about 90mph.
Standard colors were Teak Red and Black, or Silver and Teak Red, with optional special order colors of Silver and Seafoam Blue, Orlando Orange and Black, and Olive Green and Black. In the summer of 1934, Harley advertised a new no-cost option of Copper Du Lux and Vermilion Red, which is how Annie left the factory.
Like most bikes in 1934, the VLD had no rear springing and a 6-volt electrical system. Bumps on the road were softened by Harley’s patented “Ful-Floteing” seat spring. Shifting was via a 3-speed hand shift through a rocker foot-clutch that could be locked in place. A rider could bring a properly set up Harley Flathead to a stop, engage the clutch, put down both feet and fold his arms. MC
The Antique Motorcycle Club of America