The Million-Mile Harley

Harley on the porch

We haven’t featured any motorcycles for a while, so today’s story is long over due. This one comes from the Vincent in the Barn and we think you will enjoy it, even if you’re not into bikes. Be sure to subscribe to our mailing list for a chance to win a free copy of the book. Or you can just purchase your own through Motorbooks or here on Amazon. Keep sending in your own find stories too because the best one submitted before December 1st going to be published in Tom’s next book!

“Every day I meet the most incredibly interesting people at the Wheels Through Time Museum,” said curator Dale Walksler. “Some have interesting motorcycles, some have interesting motorcycle stories, and some have both.”

Walksler remembered one particularly busy Saturday when one young man, who seemed shy, was hanging around the front counter. “I could tell he wanted to talk to me,” he said. “And because I’m always anxious to talk to anybody, I said, ‘Can I help you?’”

Fluids drained

The young man, Lee Miller, 36, of Hickory, North Carolina, said yes, and proceeded to tell Walksler about his granddad’s Harley-Davidson. “I’ve got some photographs,” said Miller. “The old bike has been sitting on our front porch for 40 years. It’s at our family home place outside of Granite Falls, North Carolina.”

Joann and her father

The grandfather, W. L. Klotz, was born in that house, lived in that house, and died in that house, according to Miller. Miller’s mother, JoAnn, remembered as a little girl when her father used to ride his prized Harley. But her son, Lee, even though he is 35 years old, had never seen the bike run.

“The last time I rode on it, I was probably eight or nine years old,” said JoAnn Miller. “He would [give me a] ride to the store on it. I’d sit on the front of the seat and hold onto his wrists.”

speedo   “He bought the bike in 1952 and rode it that year and in 1953,” she said. “After that, North Carolina had a law that you had to have insurance on motorcycles, so he parked it because he couldn’t afford insurance on both a car and a motorcycle.”

“Lee had some interest in the bike,” said Walksler, “and people had been coming by the house for 10 or 15 years trying to buy it, but it was a family heirloom and was not for sale. He showed me two pictures of the bike sitting on the porch. It was a great-looking 1949 Panhead, and I thought it was extremely cool.”

Miller also showed Walksler some of his grandfather’s original paperwork for the bike, including the sales contract. It was signed on October 11, 1952, and committed Klotz to make six payments of $49.46 each and a final payment of $44.54 for the used 1949 Harley, serial number 49EL3353. Klotz financed the $346.30 purchase though Kilbourn Financial Corporation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

shifter“So at some point in our conversation, I mentioned to Lee that he should bring the bike over to the museum so we could take a look at it,” said Walksler.

“Maybe we could even get it running.”

“You’re kidding me!” said Miller.

Walksler assured him he wasn’t kidding and handed him a business card.

“Call me sometime and we’ll get that thing running,” he said.

That was on a Saturday. The following Wednesday Miller was on the phone and wanted to know if he could bring the Harley over on Friday. “I told him it was a great idea and that I would have my video crew record it for one of my Time Machine shows,” he said.

“Lee showed up at about 5 p.m. with his mom, JoAnn.

plug-wire“We gave the bike a pretty thorough 5-minute evaluation, unloaded it from the trailer, and brought it into the shop. We had it running in 15 minutes and had it perfected by the end of the evening.”

Within a week, it was operating well enough that Walksler said you could have hopped on it and ridden it anywhere, if you were happy with riding it on old tires.

“The saving grace was that the carburetor and gas tank were dry, so apparently old W. L. drained them before he parked the bike,” said Walksler. “It was a huge time savings to us in getting the bike revived again.

“The bike was incredibly straight and hadn’t been damaged. A lot of times bikes are put up when they are on their last breath, maybe with a blown transmission or a blown rod, or a bad ring. This was a case where a perfectly good motorcycle had been parked on a porch for 40 years while W. L. raised his family.”

Walksler said that most people would take a bike like this Harley and completely restore it, but he said a bike in this condition deserves to be preserved in its original condition.

emblem“In today’s world, barn finds have a lot more interesting stories to tell than restored machines,” he said, “because all those stories are still attached to the bike.

“I’ve seen hundreds of before-and-after photos, but personally, I’d rather see the before pictures and never even see the finished product.”

According to JoAnn, they had discussed fixing up the bike for years, but her father was always worried that his grandson, Lee, would get hurt on it. When her father died in December 2007, they knew the time was right to get it running in honor of Klotz.

“When I was a little girl, I rode a million miles on that bike when it sat on the porch,” she said. “I never doubted that it would run just as good as it did when I was a little girl.

“When Dale got it all fixed, he told me to crank it. I told him, ‘There’s no way I have the power to crank up that bike.’ But Dale said, ‘Your daddy is going to help you.’

The Harley Today

“I know he’s smiling down on us now.”

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Comments

  1. Don Andreina

    Bikes usually leave me cold but that is a fantastic looking machine. Sweet story.

  2. joe lonzello

    Looks like.’52 Model K pre-sportster. Bought one in early 80’s. Tim Robbins rode one in the movie I Q with Walter Mathau as Einstein.

    • Joe Howell

      Panhead

    • Chief

      It’s a 1949 Panhead

  3. boss

    What a great story

  4. Max Pigford

    Joe, this a`49 panhead 74″. Model K was a flathead and was not intrduced till1952.

    • Joshua James

      actually its an “EL” so 61”

  5. Roger

    Loved the story. My 1st Harley was a 1948 Pan. The last springer built in that era. Ran it hard, and only problem I ever had was chain broke, and once I blew the rear tire out. Lucky it was the rear one.

  6. Mark E

    If the owner wants to keep it like that, they’ll have to keep it PERFECTLY DRY. Otherwise it will look like crap if it even sits out in a sprinkle or dew gets on it. Personally I’d dust it off and clean it a bit but to each his own, I guess…

  7. braktrcr

    I agree, wash it, put tires on it and ride it. Has to be safe.

  8. Roger

    “YES” Totally agree. with wash it and tires,than go enjoy it.

  9. Rev. Rory

    “EL” serial number means 61 ci, 1000cc. FL is 74″. Had a few of each…

  10. Joe Howell

    Shame it was left unprotected like that, guess no one ever thought it would sit on the porch for that long. With only 16,000 miles it would have really been sweet had it been protected from the elements for the past 60 years.

  11. Jonathan

    I’m not really into bikes, but THAT’s a bike I’d be into! Glad they got it running and are keeping the patina!

  12. Clayb

    Leave it that way and take a putt thru Sturgis during the run.I found a 1911 Indian 2-cyl PowerPlus that had sat for 47 years.2K and a case of Windsor got it.The real kicker was right next to it in the garage behind it was a 4.2 mortor round with the fuse still in it.Talk about having to find parts if something went wrong.

  13. geomechs geomechs Member

    Good article, an unforgettable story. Those bikes are so hard to find, especially in original condition. There was a lot of guys who rode Panheads in my day but nearly all of them were either modified or downright chopped. Modified bikes could always be brought back to original but choppers the end of the line. We called choppers T-to-T bikes (tavern to tavern) because about all they were good far was parking in front of a bar. The only way to restore a chopper is to find another frame (and all the tinwork that got discarded) so you’d have all the tabs and eyes to fasten parts to.

    Finding an original like this would be like winning the lottery twice in a row with the same set of numbers. I’m sure glad to see that it is being preserved. I echo the thoughts of the others, saying that this bike should be cleaned, polished and run.

  14. thomas sloan

    What a great story. That is just the way Dale as well as his son Matt are. They are beautiful people.

  15. Chris A.

    Beautiful bike. Now that’s patina. Clean it up, make sure it’s safe, and yes, a trip through Sturgis would turn lots of heads. Great story.

  16. Larry Johnson

    Dale Walksler has a cool show called “What’s in the Barn” and seems to be a genuine article about bikes. Not your typical buy low, sell high with a lot of cursing in between type reality show. He’s found and gotten a lot of old bikes running for other people just for the challenge of doing it, I feel. Some, he talks the owners into displaying in his business/museum “Wheels Through Time” in Maggie Valley, NC, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Guys like Dale love bikes and the history behind them rather than the profit they might make off them. Thanks for sharing this one, Jesse, and thanks for making this old car and bike guy’s days a little brighter with the posts!
    Larry Johnson

  17. jim s

    yes, make it safe and enjoy the ride. another great story. thanks

  18. Charles

    Cool Story and Cool Bike!

    Dale and his museum are the real deal! We live 30 miles from Maggie Valley, and have visited Wheels Through Time four times over the years. We have talked briefly with Dale a couple of times, as he is the sort of fellow that always makes a point to speak to visitors. Even if motorcycles are not your thing, if you any where close to Western NC, Wheels Through Time is a must see!

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