The Bike in the Barn

Reader Contribution by Richard Backus

If there’s an old bike nut who hasn’t dreamt about finding the fabled “bike in the barn,” I’ve never met them. It’s an alluring, tantalizing dream, enveloping as it does so much more than just buying an old bike. I mean, hell, anybody can do that; it just takes money. But the bike in the barn, that’s different. Finding it takes not only that most impossible to predict ingredient — luck — but, we want to believe, the knowledge and skill to identify that diamond in the rough and bring it shining back to life.

I’ve actually “found” a bike in a barn, literally, but I’m not sure it meets the vision most of us have when we think of that fabled barn find. For one thing, it’s not particularly rare. A 1966 Honda CA95, the last of the Baby Dreams, it’s definitely a pretty cool old scoot, but not cool enough to inspire the kind of lust envy you feel when you hear about someone awakening an old Vincent or Indian from its long-lost slumber. For another, it was in a friend’s barn, so even though the bike had been languishing for years, it’s not like it had really been lost to time, a vital component of a true barn find. It does, however, have something of a cool story behind it, in my opinion an essential ingredient for a barn find.

Years before I happened across it, the Honda had been found sitting in another barn somewhere in the open expanse of Oklahoma. Its first owner was a Shriner, who, as many Shriners apparently do, rode it only in Shriner parades. At least that’s the assumption, given the bike’s approximately 1,200 supposedly original miles. True to its Shriner roots, it’s been festooned with a few extras, including a period set of Bates bags and chrome freeway bars and fender guards. Shriner Red paint, now looking more raspberry than red, dresses the tank, side covers and bag lids.

Then there’s Glenn Bewley’s barn find, a discovery incorporating the essential elements of the best barn find; luck, rarity, and an incredible back story — at least what’s known of it or can be reasonably inferred. Glenn tripped across the bike, a 1949 Vincent Black Shadow, after it was found tucked away not in a barn, but in a garage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it had apparently been hiding for decades. And it gets better.

What Glenn found wasn’t just any Vincent (as if there were such a thing). It was a hot rod, a special, a bike probably built for the speed trials that used to run regularly at small airports across the country. And it wasn’t just any special. Based on an early Series C Black Shadow, its creation was likely aided by none other than Gene Aucott, the first Vincent dealer in the U.S., who opened shop in Philadelphia in 1946.

Apparently, Aucott liked and encouraged building hot rod Vincents, and it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to think he had a hand in this bike. Glenn, a Vincent specialist himself (a fact that certainly played a role in his finding the bike in the first place), has had contact with Aucott’s son, who told him their basement used to be full of the same desiccant plugs Glenn found carefully screwed into the Vincent’s spark plug holes and into corks in the carburetors.

Then there’s the issue of proximity; the house where the Vincent was found was only five miles from Aucott’s old shop.

Glenn has coaxed the Vincent back to life, but he’s not sure what to do with it next. He’s pondering selling it at Bonhams’ Las Vegas auction in January, but only because he favors riders. He wants it to stay as it is, but as it is, it just isn’t a bike he can ride. That thought actually saddens him a little, because it’s such an obviously special machine. Whatever Glenn decides, his find is inspiring, proof positive that barn find bikes really do exist, that they’re still out there waiting to be found. It’s the stuff of dreams, dreams that occasionally come true.

Richard Backus

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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