Thursday, January 30, 2014

1948 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead

1948 harley-davidson FL
Shaking my head with my arms folded, I watched him cycle the kickstarter a couple of times until he got the crankshaft into the right position. Then he stepped up on it and slammed it down.


"Blub, blub."

"Blub, blub, blub, potato potato potato..."

It started up on the very first kick.

I thought for sure it wouldn't.

"When you put it all back together right, that's what it's supposed to do", my step-father said.

The year was 1984. I had just graduated high school.  He had just put his beloved 1948 Harley-Davidson FL back together, and I was really amazed it started up on the first crank.

Earlier in that year, my step-father had finally gotten serious about putting it back together. He had been up late into the evenings and sometimes early mornings, cleaning, scrubbing, painting, and bolting together a motorcycle that had been taken apart down to the smallest piece and stored away into crates, boxes, and coffee cans.

He originally got it in the early 1970s.  It had actually been his only means of transportation during his college days in New Mexico. It probaby started in 1968 with a motor he found at a junk yard. He would work, save his money, and either go back to the junk yard or send away for parts he couldn't find anywhere else. A couple years later, he had himself a completely restored bike.

Soon after, he enlisted in the Navy, and put his FL into storage at his grandparents house in Rifle.

I remember the day he brought it back home.

It all started in the the Summer of 1975. My mother had met him in a bar in San Diego. One evening, she came home from work and told me she and I would be taking a trip to Colorado in just a few weeks. She said she met a guy who planned to drive to Colorado in his van to retrieve his old motorcycle. We spent a few days driving there, and a few days driving back.  I was just nine years old at the time.

When we brought the bike back to San Diego, he moved in with my mom and I. I used to watch him take the bike apart piece by piece. His plan was to clean it all up, repaint it, and put it back together.

Nine years later, it finally happened.

For much of that time, however, he hardly worked on it.  He'd have moments of cleaning the carburetor and trying to hammer a front rim back into a perfect circle.  And I always there to watch and ask questions.  I used to pester him and bug him and ask if I could help.  Most of the time, he didn't want me messing around with it.

Along the way, I gained a half-brother.

There were times when I grew really angry at my mom and real father.  Each of them had remarried to different people and gave birth to new sons.  I felt replaced, abandoned, and unwanted.  I became so resentful inside, I found it difficult to make friends.  I spent my junior high and high school years alone.

But my step-father did buy me a used 1979 Kawasaki KZ400 for $50.00 as a high school graduation present. It was third-hand, recently wrecked, and not running.  It wouldn't be another year, however, until we took that bike apart and put it back together.

What really impressed me the most about him, however, is that he remembered where each and every nut, bolt and washer belonged on his Harley, even after all those years of being in storage.  I mean, they weren't even labeled, nor did he bother to keep nuts, bolts, and washers connected together.  It was a testament to a rider's intimate knowledge of his own bike.

He spent probably the next year riding that old FL. He'd take it to work and take it out to bars. The last night he rode it he was drunk off his ass. He had come back home from a bar with a buddy. The two of them wanted to continue riding down Ortega Highway (state route 74). My mom begged him to not go, and he finally relented and stayed home. I don't remember him riding the bike after that.

Maybe a few months later, he sold it for $4,500.00 cash.  I think he was pissed at my mom.  She was never supportive of him riding.

By that time, we had rebuilt my KZ400 and I was riding it to college and work. I'd take it out at nights and pick up chicks. It was my only means of transportation as well.

The truth is that my step-father and I never had a close relationship. He was far more close to his son than I. But he did leave a permanent mark on me with respect to motorcycling. Somehow, growing up feeling alone and replaced created a bond with my motorcycle that I can't quite put into words.  I wish I still had my KZ400.

My half-brother posing on the Harley


  1. A bittersweet story. One wonders where both those old bikes are now.

  2. Steve:

    somehow reading this makes me sad. I also had stepbrothers and I felt like an outsider as I was treated differently. It's amazing that you still have these old photos

    Riding the Wet Coast

  3. Steve, thanks for sharing a bit of history and your life. I don't know if your step-father is still around, but I'm sure he'd be proud of you and your love for motorcycles...sounds like he may have been a big influence on how you feel about motorcycles and riding today.

    Live Free. Ride Hard. Be Happy

  4. Thanks, great story... I had a KZ400 too. I did my first long rides (Dallas Texas to Denver Colorado and Houston Texas to Bryant Alabama) on it and became hooked on touring. After laying off riding to start a family I renewed my love of riding in 2001 when I bought a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad to tour. I now have a Wing. We did our longest ride ( ) in July. Best ride ever...

  5. My, I would pay good money for that comfy-looking seat on my bike right now! It's only one step away from a sofa - excellent!


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)