A couple days back, are rare and interesting find made its way to Wheels Through Time from an old friend of mine of about 25 or 30 years. My good buddy, Dave Kleptz, and I have been into old motorcycles for about as long as we both can remember. Dave and I are both from the mid-west, and over the years have found some amazing motorcycle and automobiles in our own back yards.
Dave and his dad are from Terre Haute, Indiana, and through the decades have amassed the most amazing collection of Chryslers and other significant automobiles, ranging from Rolls-Royces and Duesenbergs to Packards and Cadillacs. While Dave’s dad has spent most of his life collecting machines of the four-wheeled variety, Dave has managed to find some of the most incredibe early racing motorcycles in existance.
Several months back, Matt, Myron, and I headed up to Whitestown, Indian to take a look at a pile of old motorcycle parts that I’d heard about just a few weeks earlier. Dave, who coincidentally was about 30 miles away at the time decided to make and afternoon out of it, and go ahead and meet us at the location. We all looked around a while, and within about an hour and half, Matt and I had managed to make a pile consisting of several parts for the many projects at Wheels Through Time. After settling up and chatting a while, we headed out to Dave’s trailer to take a look at a machine of his that’d been at the Indy Museum for a few years — an original paint peashooter with a modified JAP engine wedged in the frame. The bike had quite a bit of history and Dave was happy to get it back.
After staring in amazement at this early racing survivor for 30 or so minutes, Dave and I got to talking about a few of his other bikes and projects. He let me know that he might be changing direction a bit on his collection, and had a few machines that I might be interested in making a trade on. I told him to come on down to the museum one-day the next week, and we could talk details then.
Now….Dave always comes prepared. About a week and a half later, he showed up at the museum with truck, trailer, and big smile on his face. We’d talked a bit about what he was looking for — something he could ride and have fun with. He even said he had something in mind — a nice, period 1940 Indian Four — in fact, the same 1940 Indian 4 we’d picked up the previous week in Indiana. Coincidence…I think not.
When Dave took me out to see what he brought hoping to trade, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew he had some great bikes, but when he opened the trailer door, my eyes got wide with excitement. There in the trailer sat two Harley-Davidson Peashooters…each in parts and pieces, but they were almost all there.
You see, the Peashooter is such a rare machine. This overhead valve Harley lightweight factory racer debuted in 1926, and held a strong position on the racing scene, both foreign and domestic. They only made a handful each year, and because of their light weight and the nature of their use, very few survive today. Produced in 350c.c. and 500c.c. displacements, there were many incarnations of the "Peashooter" through its last year of "production" in 1935. Here at the museum, we’ve got a couple of great ones, including a very rare 1930 Model CA 500c.c. Peashooter, and a 1928 "S-bar" 350c.c. model that is regarded as the only one known.
After talking with Dave, we began unloading the two peashooter projects into the shop, then sat down to take in all that was in front of us. Staring me right in the eyes was a 1926 Harley-Peashooter in all of its rust and glory. Being the first year for Peashooter production, the ’26 has so many oddball parts and features different from the later, more "refined" models. Knowing that there are only a few ’26s still in existance, I knew this would be a great addition to the museum collection. The project was just as inspiring — this one was a 1932 350c.c. model — SERIAL # 1!!! And this one had all of the special parts…special countershaft, left side rear chain, webbed cases . Within minutes, I was envisioning these two new additions to WTTs boardtrack exhibit in up and running condition. I knew that as soon as Dave left, I was getting to work.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated on these two projects as they develop and get closer to their former glory.
So….back to the story…. Dave came up a few days ago, with another pile of parts that he thought I might be interested in. He’d expressed some interest in a bike that I had for sale at the time, and decided to load up his truck in hopes of making a deal.
He arrived at the museum about 6 p.m., and pulled right around back to the shop, where Matt and I had been putting in a hard days work. Another big smile from Dave…my mind was already thinking of the possibilities. We opened the tailgate…and found more than I was hoping for. Another Peashooter project!!! But this was no ordinary Peashooter.
Being from Indiana, Dave was not far from one of the most famous Harley dealers of all time — Harry Molenaar. I’ve got a lot of Harry’s rarest motorcycles here at the museum, including are rare H-D CAC speedway bike, the famous Gouldcar, the Shaft-Drive Knucklehead three-wheeler, among many others. Over the years, Dave had also bought a lot of rare parts and motorcycles from Harry, and the machine sitting right in front of us, was one of those bikes.
During the last years of Peashooter production, the Motor Company made big changes to their 500c.c. models, including a new, big-finned OHV head and cylinder. These two parts are as rare as hens teeth, and in my 40 years of collecting, I hadn’t found a one….that is, until now.
This particular 500 Peashooter had quite a story behind it. Built and modified by another famous H-D dealer, Bill Knuth, this 500 was set up for one of old Bill’s specialties…hillclimbing. The machine was made up of a rare 3-bar frame, special gas tank, single-speed gearbox, special handlebars and fork…and then there was the engine. Built by Knuth himself, the serial number is not of standard Harley nomenclature, but bears Bill Knuths initials and the special model number he assigned to it. Rare, rare, rare. Over the years, only a few Knuth engines have turned up, and I have to believe that this is one of the more special ones. Eventually, the machine made its way to Harry’s shop in Hammond, Indiana, and sat idle until Dave and Harry made a deal some years later.
With an hour or two, Matt and I had the bike mocked up, and were beginning to get a great idea of what this thing was designed to do. I’d imagine that we’ll be making a lot of progress on this one in the next few months. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Until next time….