Army Surplus Harley-Davidson WLA Restored

Collector Fred Wacker restored a custom hot-rodded bike to its former glory as an Army surplus bike used in WWII.

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Burt Richmond
An older white man on a motorcycle

Most of us had difficulty getting parental approval to ride a motorcycle.

Mom would remind us about how dangerous they are. Dad would tell us that he never wanted to see a motorcycle in the woodshed. Imagine how lucky Fred Wacker was, as he had a Bonanza mini-bike when he was only 7 years old!

On his 16th birthday in 1976, Fred’s father gave him an adult-sized yellow Harley-Davidson, which happened to be an old WLA Army surplus bike from World War II. Fred Sr. was not only a fellow motorcyclist, but was also a British sports car fan, competing in MGs and other race cars of the 1950s. Luckily, Fred had a great role model in his dad, who taught him how to ride safely and how to keep his 1942 Harley tuned and running properly.

Fred Wacker, Sr. paid $250 for that old Army surplus bike. The seller had removed or cut-off all the non-essential military components and added a large buddy saddle instead of the single bicycle-type seat. He also had the front-end chrome plated — it was a perfectly hot-rodded bike for a teenager. WLA was Harley-Davidson’s abbreviation for their military model: W= flat head 45 cubic inch engine; L= high compression and A=Army. The yellow Harley took Fred through high school and college. Well into his working career, Fred decided to freshen up the bike in 1987. He dismantled the bike, stripped off the old school bus yellow paint, and sandblasted the frame and the sheet metal. The tired and pitted shiny parts were re-chromed — all part of Fred’s love affair with anything with two wheels and an engine. The family business was manufacturing tools, so it was natural for Fred to learn how to use them with proficiency. Like father, like son. Fred grew into a competent weekend mechanic.

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