The two years I worked for Dick Travis was educational, to say the least. Pumping gas exposes one to some of the most interesting and diverse group of people you are ever likely to meet. One of these characters was a kid whose given name I can't recall, but whom we called Waddles. Use your imagination. Waddles was a chubby kid, maybe eighteen, who wore thick, wire-rimmed glasses and...waddled whenever he walked. He was also one hundred percent infatuated with Harley Davidson motorcycles, more specifically, choppers. He had an old Triumph, but managed to find a 1948 panhead totally stock police bike that he immediately proceeded to butcher. He later sold it when he realized that with his short stature and lack of anything remotely resembling muscle, he couldn't pick it up when he went over on it, which he did with amazing regularity.
Waddles did do one thing for me: he got me interested in old Harleys. Growing up, my folks thought motorcycles too dangerous, so I wasn't allowed to have one, but thanks to Waddles, I managed to locate a 1953 panhead motor that had just been rebuilt by the local Harley dealer, an old guy operating out of a shop that looked like it came from a Norman Rockwell painting. Three hundred fifty dollars later, it was mine, papers and all. The guy who brought it in for a rebuild was going to chop the bike but ran out of money. Another $150 and I had the rest of it in my garage, all in pieces. It took me three years to get it together. I soon learned that a basket case project always seems to be missing a few critical pieces which end up costing more money which I didn't have much of back then. I ended up selling the bike to fund my seminary education. It turned out that I had made enough on the sale to buy another basket case while in Chicago. It was a 1948 panhead, the very first production year of that model.
The problem with these kinds of projects is that when I had time to work on it I didn't have the money, and when I had the money, I didn't have the time, so it took a long time to get that bike put together. Actually, I never did get it finished. A friend had a running 1942 Harley '45, but he lusted after that panhead, so I made a deal to trade even up. He was happy. I was happy. I ran into him at a funeral recently and learned that he got it up and running only to have the motor blow up between his legs at about 80 mph. He limped and talked in a a high, squeaky voice for quite awhile, as you can imagine. Nearly 20 years ago I decided the old '45 was getting tired and needed a rebuild, so I took it to a local guy who was a crackerjack mechanic, but who I learned later was having some serious medical issues that eventually claimed his life before he hit fifty. That motor and transmission bounced around between three different shops for fifteen years before I finally got them back.
My son has been badgering me to start putting it back together, so a couple weeks ago I took the frame to be sandblasted and then painted. Just before going on vacation, I picked it up, and Matt and I sorted through all the parts that need to be cleaned up, painted, and mounted on the frame. The project is underway, the only hitch being my need to sell my 1974 Sportster to fund the project. A couple guys are interested, and it's getting to be crunch time.
Sometimes patience is a virtue. It's been a long drawn out affair, but we're getting close. I am grateful that in retirement I finally have the time (and soon, the money) to work on it. I probably won't ride it much. I'd have sold it long ago except for Matt. Having something we both can talk about, work on, and dream about is every father's dream come true. It's been a long night with lots of dreaming, but it's morning now, and we're ready to go.