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Fire Department Flathead: 1945 Harley Davidson WL

This 1945 Harley-Davidson Flathead was discovered in a small New Hampshire town with some interesting clues as to its previous life still attached. The seller noted the presence of a siren and leg shields as equipment the last owner added to assist in his firefighting duties, but whether that was in an official capacity is unknown. Still, it adds some serious cool factor for a bike that was already loaded with eyeball appeal. Find it here on eBay with bids to just over $12,000 and the reserve unmet.

The question I come back to is whether this was one of the bikes originally allocated to government/municipal use. Harley’s 45 Flathead was super rugged and could run fairly efficiently without much upkeep, which made them ideal for use by public agencies. The red paint would seem appropriate for a bike used by the local fire department, but the seller notes “…bluish paint under the black on the frame, fork, handlebars, wheels,” which he speculates could have been a standard color for bikes destined for police or fire duty. Check out the leg shields the last owner added.

The paint is tired but pleasingly worn, and the seller notes that the bike remains highly original in other ways, too. The original tins, cycle ray, and beck grips all remain attached, and the belly numbers still match. It’s highly entertaining to imagine this bike racing through town en route to a two-alarm blaze, but given the lack of actual firefighting equipment attached, it seems likely the owner was a decision-maker rather than someone tasked with manning a water cannon. Of course, this is nothing new – my local fire chief uses a Ford Expedition that is clearly useful for transport only.

The Harley doesn’t run at the moment but was supposedly still operational a few years ago. The seller recommends the usual assortment of start-up tasks to get it firing reliably again, including fluid changes, a carb rebuild, and a new battery. The bike does kick over nicely and the seller notes it feels like it is shifting into gear without too much resistance. The best part about this Flathead is that you can – and should – absolutely leave the cosmetics as-is, making this a straight-forward mechanical restoration. Will it clear the reserve?


  1. geomechs geomechs Member

    Brings back a lot of memories. Definitely not a powerhouse. If you ran a big twin before, this one will be rather anemic. But still a lot of fun. Parts are getting hard to find, especially lifters/stools, which tend to wear out. I never had to do anything with mine other than give it a major tuneup. My brother bought one in pieces, which we managed to put together. I did the bottom end for him. I remember the motorshaft had a wobble in it that made it difficult to align. I popped the shaft out and manipulated it on the press until I had it down to less than a thousandth of an inch of runout. Lining up the flywheels was a breeze after that. I would love to have another 45 but it seems they always show up when it’s most inconvenient…

    Like 13
  2. Solosolo ken tillyUK Member

    Would this bike be known in US as a 750cc or a 1200cc? In South Africa they were known as a 5/7 or a 10/12. I also owned a 1925 JE model I think it was, and that was called a 7/9. We all figured it out to mean 750, 1200 or 900cc engine.

    Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      They would’ve been referred to as a “45,” or in some cases, a “W.” The Big Twins were referred more to the CID (74 or 80) than even the letter model number. I do remember guys who rode 61 inchers calling them “ELs,” but seldom heard anyone referring to the larger bikes as “ULs” and “FLs.” But in reality, a 45 CID is equal to 750 cc. I might add that a Sportster was usually referred to as a 900 or a 1000, or the newer 1200. Myself, I referred to the Big Twins and 45s by their CID. A Sportster was a ‘Sportster’ or a ‘Sporty.’

      Like 1
  3. Cees van Schilt

    in no way this is a 1945 bike. looks late 40’s or early 50’s looking at the tank, forks, hydraulic dampener etc.

    Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      I agree with you, Cees. The Cat’s Eye dash ended at the end of the ‘46 year, and the Tombstone taillight began in’48. My 45 was a 1942 model with the typical Cat’s Eye dash and the Beehive taillight.

  4. Howard A Member

    This not a fire dept. bike, I read, fire chiefs might have had a Servi-Car, but this is clearly a police bike. The rear fender has holes for the sidebags, the front leg guards and foot siren are police options. Should have no problem on the roads, I’m sure cops went 100 mph on these chasing V8 Fords. Be a handful, and $15g’s buys a pretty nice Electra Glide, but I could see this all spiffed up, be a cool ride. Looks terrible as is. Have some pride in your ride, patina be darned, for heavens sake.

    Like 7
    • Solosolo ken tillyUK Member

      My 1943 750cc would never make 75 mph let alone 100 mph. It was happy at about 60 mph but anything over that, not.

      Like 2
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi Howard. I think about the only time you could get a 45 up to 100 would be in a free fall. 75 is attainable and 80 is a gift.

      Like 6
  5. Rick Haner

    I can only hope that some resto nut doesn’t get ahold of this one…it took 75 years for it to tell its story…..too easy to restore one,but harder still to find one that shows all it’s stories like this one

    Like 1
  6. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Bike is located in a Boston neighborhood, has paperwork in someone else’s name out of Maine, and the NH paperwork in non existent.

    Why even mention it?

    Like 1
  7. Chris Londish Member

    With that Eagle on the tank could be a postal service bike

    Like 1
  8. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    NI know what my siren is………

  9. Poncho

    As far as engines go, Harley Davidson offered a rebuild program on any year engine, replacing and making parts to spec if needed. At least they did a number of years ago. This work was done at the York, PA final assembly plant. Now that that plant went to full automation, I’m not sure of what services they still offer. I own 2 Harleys I purchased new. Back when i bought my 1999, I ordered the model and colors I wanted and had to wait for it for a year. That’s when Harley (York, PA) had one shift, so the used bike market was doing well as some people didn’t want to wait for a bike. When I purchased my 2003 100th anniversary CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) bike, Harley added a second shift, basically doubling production output. The used bike market fell out and you could pick up a new bike off the showroom floor. Nowadays, my $18k when new 1999 Fatboy with all the chrome (at least $4k) is only worth $6k. This is for a great looking bike with less than 17,000 miles. The Harley image used to be for riders of a rebellious nature, and the bikes were made in America by Americans with pride. Now, the bikes are assembled in America with parts made in China (or other countries {likely lowest bidder}) by robots. I used to be proud to own a piece of American made mechanical artistry, but now I feel like the company has gone all corporate, simply concerned with turning a profit, disregarding their history and American pride. I would lose my butt if I decided to sell either of my bikes, so choose to keep them instead as they are paid for. I would never buy another new bike. The dealerships are flooded with new bikes they can’t push out the door fast enough, and I was told they don’t get to choose what models they receive in from the factory anymore. My local HD Dealer is swamped with dressers. Just crazy. I prefer the older bikes, but I’m sure parts have to be getting harder to find and costs are going up like everything else.

    Like 3
  10. Stevieg Member

    Having worked at a Harley dealership for a long time until a couple months ago, I can tell you that every Monday when the transporter arrived was kinda like Christmas. You had to pull the covers off the skids to see what the gift was lol. Being one of the guys that did that, I fell in love a couple times.
    The middle to late August shipments were the best. I, living and working in Milwaulee, saw the next years bikes before anyone else got to, even from other dealerships. We had to have the next years models prepped & ready to go for the Milwaukee Rally, every Labor Day weekend.
    I’m with you Poncho. The mystique is not quite dead, but it is walking with a limp & pretty much ready for a wheelchair. I love those first generation FatBoys though. What model CVO do you have? CVO’S are always pretty special. They are still hand made to this day (for the most part) which is one of the reasons they are so costly to buy.

    Like 2

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