Former Police Bike? 1938 Harley-Davidson UH

If originality is your thing, this 1938 Harley-Davidson UH may be the motorcycle for you. The seller indicates that this example, stored since 1977, is 99% OEM. It really resembles a prop from an old movie with its perfectly aged bearing. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, this Harley-Davidson is available, here on eBay for a current bid of $18,800, reserve not yet met.

The Harley-Davidson UH was introduced in 1937 and offered through 1941, racking up a total of 698 copies. It featured a twin-cylinder, 1,300 CC, flathead engine. The seller states that this bike’s engine runs great and doesn’t smoke; he further adds that he doesn’t think it has ever been apart. The four-speed Linert gearbox, which is left hand shifted, in coordination with a foot-operated clutch, has an “R” stamped on the transmission lid which the seller assumes is for “reverse”. He mentions that it doesn’t engage in “R” and the reason, derived from research, indicates that only the three-wheelers, known as the Tri Glide Ultra and the Freewheeler had actual reverse gear capability. That would be logical as UH’s were frequently used in police service, a place where three-wheelers were common too, and the marked transmission lid was probably shared between the standard UH and the aforementioned three-wheelers.

The seller offers no specific reasoning for why he thinks this is a former police bike other than the fact that the UH model frequently found itself in such service. One aberration noted is that the right-side fuel tank is identified as a ’40 version but the left side is considered correct for a ’37 to ’39 model. Additional enhancements include new wiring, a rebuilt generator, and a new battery.

This Harley has a typically aged look about it but considering its 82 years of age, it’s holding up quite well. The finish is a bit worn and rather flat but there is little to no evidence of surface rust or bent components. Even the leather seat doesn’t show the wear one would normally assume for a motorcycle of this age. Of note, this Harley is equipped with a rear stand in addition to its kickstand that is in use throughout the accompanying images. Here’s a quick lesson in how the rear stand is engaged.

Assuming that this bike has been sitting since ’77, it still had to be somewhere and in some sort of use for the twenty-nine years that preceded the commencement of its long slumber. To think that it has existed for that length of time with no obvious modifications, changes, damage, etc. is rather remarkable. This bike could go a couple of different ways; one, due to its originality, shown as a static display; two, restore it to like-new condition or three, preserve it, ride it and enjoy it as is. Option three would be my choice, how about you?

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  1. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Wow-a personal time capsule. My dad rode one this exact model bike from Lincoln, IL. to South Plains AAFB (near Lubbock, TX., now Silent Wings Museum) after WW2 for his discharge from the USAAF 9th, 437th Wing of the Glider Corp.
    It’s tough to imagine that, looking at this bike and knowing the roads were mostly dirt, thinking about the lighting, suspension maintenance and parts availability en route there or anywhere!
    At the very least, an amazing generation, worldwide and especially here in our country in contrast to these times..

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Nev, I hear ya’, but there was nothing else to compare it to ( GoldWings were years away) and without dealing with a bus or train, it was probably the cheapest way to get there. Besides, after a war, he was probably looking for adventure anyway.

      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        You’re again right on all counts, Howard. After flying into the invasions of France and Holland, flying supplies into Bastogne and finally crossing the Rhine this was probably the best decompress he could have done. And yes as a child of The Depression he was frugal-besides it being an uncles retired Springfield (IL) PD bike (free)! It was the best bike for the job back then.
        My cousin still has the bike…

  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    The 80 inch U-series was a significant improvement over the V-series that preceded it. This was the first flathead that had a full circulating lube system instead of the total-loss system. The V/VL worked OK but so many times it got out of calibration. People were always scared of starving the bottom end so they would pump more oil in than it could use. Consequently a lot of bottom ends were actually destroyed because too much oil made the needle bearings skid instead of roll. This one was indestructible.

    This bike could go straight to my place. I would ride it and have a lot of fun with it. I would eventually give it the restoration it needs but not until I had some riding time…

    • Howard A Member

      Like I’ve said before, call me spoiled, but after my FXRT, GoldWings and modern dual sport bikes, these bikes do nothing for me. I find it hard to believe, someone today would actually ride this. I’d think one ride would scare the bejessus out of them, and it will go in the corner of their warehouse next to the VW bus, that wasn’t so cool either,,,

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        It’s all what you’re comfortable with. I’ve had breakdowns on the road but always managed to get to my destination. I did, however, run across some whose trip ended quickly. Honda 900 with a broken ring and pinion; Honda Goldwing with a blown timing belt (something like 4700 miles. I didn’t know those were NOT a free-running engine); Harley-Davidson Shovelhead with a dropped valve; another Shovelhead with a broken exhaust rocker (mine). Bikes break, even new ones. Sometimes it’s poor planning and sometimes it’s just bad luck.

        Back in ‘81 I met a couple of former Booze Fighters from CA who rode into Sturgis on a pair of ‘29 Harley-Davidson JDs with sidecars. Two scooter tramps in the age group we’re in now, who had, at that time, ridden over 3K miles, and were going the other way. Another guy I knew (he was killed in the London-Brighton car rally last fall) drove his ancient Rolls Royce on a rally through the Australian Outback where oftentimes the only other living creature was a buzzard flying overhead.

        I would have no qualms about riding one of these anywhere. My biggest fear would be the weather; I’m not fussy about getting caught in a cloudburst and having to ride through 50 miles of WI road construction (I did that). But I have to say that riding through adverse conditions makes you appreciate the sunshine…

    • redwagon

      @geomechs it never ceases to amaze me what you know and how well you describe it.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Thanks, RW. There’s nothing (besides my family and grandkids) I like better than sharing gearhead things with fellow gearheads. Maybe that’s the reason I worked in the repair business for so long. Mechanical things always fascinated me and I enjoy sharing my experiences. Glad to have you in the circle…

      • BTG88

        I remember that story in the news about the London-to-Brighton. Ron Carey and his wife in their 1903 Knox ‘Old Porcupine’. It was called that because it was air-cooled with over 1,000 studs that stuck out of the engine like porcupine quills. Poor guy took a wrong turn onto a major highway. His wife survived as I remember.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Yes, BTG, One wrong turn that got them onto the motorway. They were trying to steer onto an exit when a truck came around the bend at speed and hit them. Ron’s wife was thrown clear and landed in the bushes on the opposite side of the highway. She suffered mostly superficial injuries and a concussion. Ron, however, ended up in the guard rail. It was a sad day but he died doing what he loved doing…

    • Jocko

      That is a very true comment… my VL was the same. I was always thinking I’m burning it up so I’d pump the oil stick every 2 miles or so. Took HD a while to go with a full recirculating oil system

  3. Jm

    I love this….imagine hauling it (along with a more modern long-distance cruiser)to Daytona and using it to hit the bars and shows with…

  4. Stevieg Member

    Wow Geomechs, you have had quite a life! I really enjoy your stories, along with HowardA’s and Lieniedude’s stories.
    There are many others that I enjoy too, but I search out these three guys because I am always either entertained, I learn something, or often both.
    I am going away in a few weeks for a year or so, and I will really miss these stories. I can’t wait to complete my obligations and get back to normalcy!
    I’ll still be around for a few weeks, and look forward to these few weeks yet.
    As for this bike, what a sweetheart! How it never ended up a chromed out chopper with a king/queen seat & psychedelic paint is beyond me. I am glad it was so well preserved. If I had someone around who could teach me how to ride and maintain this, I would love to own and use it as it is.

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Well Stevieg, it’s always been great having you guys along. It’s a pleasure sharing experiences with everyone on this page. I sure hope that all is well with your assignment. Just remember that the coffee pot is always on, even if it’s only in the virtual sense. Take care and be safe.

    • On and On On and On Member

      Hey Stevieg, what school will you be away at? Is it up north near Chippewa Falls?

      • Stevieg Member

        Not sure yet. They generally don’t let you know ahead of time. I hope that’s where I end up. I have family near there.
        Last time I was in this situation was about 13 years ago, that’s where I ended up then.
        Why do you ask?
        Email me at please.

  5. Catie H

    My husband and I were at the Sturgiss rally a few years ago and saw a group of old Harleys with European plates touring the Badlands. The riders were from the Netherlands and the bikes had been left behind by the Allies after WWII. They were touring on their way to the anniversary celebrations at Milwaukee. One guy was even wearing wooden shoes!
    As for riding this bike any distance, if you haven’t ridden anything better you don’t know any better. I have ridden to Sturgiss twice on a Sportster. It’s the best bike I have owned and I am too small to ride a big touring bike. 3000 miles roundtrip in 9 days, including touringaround.

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      We met a lot of riders from Europe while at Sturgis. Quite a dedicated bunch. I really have to give them credit for bringing their bikes over here to ride around and see the country. I have a friend who took his bike over to Europe and I have to give him credit for that…

  6. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Good on you, Catie! From my experiences the folks that had real challenges but worked hard to overcome them (especially in our MSF classes) were the ones that were the more dedicated-and BETTER- riders especially in later years..

    Every ride is an adventure to remember-some more so than others.

    We shouldn’t quit riding because we got old- we get old because we quit riding!

  7. Stevieg Member

    Thank you Geomechs. I’m not gone yet, as I stated lol.
    Having spent a number of years working at the only Harley dealership in the city of Milwauker (Milwaukee Harley), I had the honor of working anniversary parties along with the Milwaukee rallies. Never been to Sturgis for the rally.
    I have met some amazing people from all over the world! I was fortunate enough to make some new, life long friends out of some of these rally goers that weren’t local, some of whom I am still in touch with to this day.
    Being at that dealership that has “that” name, we were a destination, so to speak. Other dealerships in the area were too, but we happened to have the right name. It didn’t hurt that our dealership was founded by Willie G’s aunt, or the fact that we shared a parking lot with a strip club & that strip club sent strippers out in golf carts wearing nothing but body paint, selling beer out of coolers lol. It really was quite a circus! I really miss working there.
    I’ve met riders who rode with wooden shoes (modern bikes, not vintage. I am certain they weren’t the same people Catie saw). I wondered how that even worked lol.
    People would approach me, looking for some trinket to take back home with them. I had a stack of the cardboard “license applied for” plates featuring the dealership name that I handed out. They LOVED those!
    I will never be in the Harley world in Milwaukee again, but my next stop after my upcoming sideline will be in Arizona, and I certainly intend on getting back into the Harley world down there. I enjoy what I currently do, but I LOVED doing that even more!
    Peace to all!

  8. William Cockayne Member

    Back in 1981 I bought a 45 flathead out of a gentlemans basement. $600 for the bike, plus a new battery, plugs, oil and away I went. Rode it to Carlisle from Niagara Falls and back never thinking about the 25 year old tires. Rain, hail, construction, Yup seen it all. Young and foolish but the most fun I ever had.

    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      A perfect example of how we sometimes need to have been young and foolish to become old and wise..I’ll bet it was a great adventure, William!

  9. William Bussler

    A long time ago I had a 1940 ULH. I’m pretty sure this bike is a ULH and not a UH. Harley made two versions of the 80 cubic inch engine. A UL for low compression and ULH for high compression. If we could see the serial number on the left side of the engine case that would clear this up.

    No matter, I’d love to have this but I’m now just too old to take it on. I loved that old hog.

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