A View From the Saddle!

Hi All,

After taking to the half-mile oval at the Wauseon Vintage Dirt Track Races on July 15th, 2011, I got bit by the racing bug pretty bad (or good, depending on how you look at it.).  After so many years of watching Dale and his buddies have a blast out there, I was ecstatic to make quite a few laps on my 1924 Harley JDCA racer with the rest of the guys. 

It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and am already looking forward to getting back out on the track at the Davenport, Iowa 1/2-mile races this coming Labor Day weekend.

I just got this video in from my friend John Rhodes from Virginia, who placed third on his 1926 Excelsior Super X.  He had a handlebar mounted camera recording footage during the whole race, and got several great minutes of he, Mike Lange (#21X), and myself in the battle for second place.  The real racing starts about 5 minutes in, so hang in there for a few to see some of the best old bike racing around.

Bring ‘Em Back To Life!!! Tom Hamm’s 1941 HD 45

Tom's 1941 HD WL Here at the museum, we have a little saying — "Everything is American……And Everything Runs!"

With over 320 machines on display at Wheels Through Time, you can imagine that years upon years of blood, sweat and tears have gone into bringing each and every machine back to life. And that would be an understatement.

While dozens of machines here at WTT are in pristine, restored, "off-the-assembly-line" condition, if you’ve had the opportunity to visit, you’ll remember that many (in fact, most) of the motorcycles in the collection retain a large part of their originality, down to the paint, accessories and original tires.

The question of "When do you restore a bike, and when do you leave it original" is asked multiple times per day here at the museum, and our answers always have a tendency to surprise those who ask. There are many factors to consider when beginning to work on an old bike, for example, condition of the engine and transmission, condition of the chassis, and general workability of the various mechanical components related to throttle, clutch and brakes, to name a few. Then there are other factors — the bikes patina ("acquired" condition from use or non-use), the overall desirability of the motorcycle, its value as a restored machine, and so on. Currently, all original motorcycles are some of the most sought after machines in existence, and we carefully weigh every decision when beginning to restore or "bring back to life" an old piece of American iron. In most cases, if we can get a bike running and riding without disturbing the originality it has acquired over its lifetime, we’ll do just that. And let me tell ya, its one of the funnest ways to go about it.

Tom's HD 45 resting peacefully in the museumSo when Tom Hamm from Atlanta, GA called us about his old, original 1941 Harley-Davidson 45, we took particular interest in helping him get her back on the road. Tom had visited the museum several times since it relocated to Maggie Valley in 2002, and took an big interest in all of the original paint bikes. As fate would have it, a few years back, when Tom purchased an old rental house down the road from his residence, he opened up the garage door for the first time and lo and behold, there sat an aging 1941 Harley Davidson WL 45!

For a year or so, Tom went back and forth on whether or not to restore his "new" bike back to its former showroom condition or to leave it as it was and get her back on the road. After a few conversations on the phone with Dale, and another trip to Wheels Through Time to see what originality is all about, Tom made up his mind to ride it just as it was.

Within a few days, Tom loaded her up and headed to the museum to see just what it would take breath a little life back into the old 45. Dale, myself, and John the Painter were on hand to get it unloaded and start work immediately.

The bike showed all signs of being previously "retired" good condition. The motor turned over freely, the transmission shifted through all of the gears, and remnants of grease and oil covered much of the bike, keeping the overall level of rust to a minimum.


Within minutes we were cleaning fuel and oil tanks, and lubing all moving parts to keep them from seizing or excessive wear. A little air in the tires, and a general electrical check to make sure the wiring was complete and not drawing amperage from the battery through a loose ground or frayed wire. Everything looked to be in great shape, so we didn’t waste any time after adding a bit of oil and lubing the chain.

Now keep in mind, when it comes to internal combustion engines, you need three things to make them run — compression, spark, and fuel. A few kicks with the kickstarter gave us plenty of compression, and after touching my leg to the spark-plug wire as I kicked it over, I assured everyone that we had plenty of spark. Next…..a little fuel. Because early motorcycle engines were all relatively low compression (especially flathead 45s), we fill our bikes with 87-octane pump gas, as the higher octane ratings are for newer, higher compression engines.

After a few kicks, the bike roared to life for the first time in ages. Tom was ecstatic! When asked what he thought of his bike after she fired for the first time, he said, "Now that it runs, I’m going to leave it just the way it is."

wheels throught time