First Theme Bike?

The "Coke Bike" at Wheels Through Time is a common favorite among visitors.  Built by David and Asa Cargill in the late 1960s and early 70s, the bike began life as a 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead, and after a massive amount of custom work by the Cargills and a few other major players of the 1970s chopper era, it bears nearly no resemblance to its original form. 

Motorcycle customization during this time took a turn in a new direction, with long front ends, tall sissy bars, king/queen seats and funky handlebars……. The Chopper era had set in, and it was only a matter of time before the imagination took hold and new ideas were put into motion……..Which makes me wonder —- Could this have been the first "Theme Bike"?

Nearly every part on this bike is a tribute to Coke, from the bottle shaped gas caps, arrow theme throughout, "Coke" slogans, and custom red and white paint.  The Cargills were even so proud of their machine that they sent a letter to Coca-Cola, offering the motorcycle for use during photo-shoots, commercials, and advertising campaigns.  What the Cargills didn’t expect was a certified return letter from the Coca-Cola Legal Division, asking them to "cease and desist" from displaying the motorcycle in public, and to ensure those who have seen the machine that there is no affiliation between "Coke" and the motorcycle — I suppose a good indication of how the "American public" viewed the Chopper crowd, and motorcyclists in general.

With all of the popularity of motorcycles on TV and in everyday culture, I wonder if Coca-Cola would do the same thing today?

Winter Workshop Projects

Several months back, I found this early 1920s FLXI Racing Sidecar just south of Marshall, Michigan.   Before I arrived to pick it up, I had no idea what to expect.  But as soon as I rolled up the garage door, I knew I was looking at something special, and the wheels were turning in my head the whole way home.

About 11 hours later, I was back in Maggie Valley, drooling all over this thing.  It was mostly complete, down to the 28×2.25 Firestone Cord Racing Tire.  You can even read the racers name on the side — "Cliff Palmer, Battle Creek, Michigan" — and the original FLXI striping.

Currently, I’ve got a pair of my dad’s wheels installed on the bike, but have already rebuilt a perfect set of original board track racing hubs.  They’re being laced up as we speak and should be on the bike in the next week or so.

 As you can notice, with a FLXI sidecar, the bike and outer sidecar wheel actually lean when you turn.  They were made in both racing and road form.  The company was based in Loudonville, OH and produced sidecars through the late 1920s.

I’m not sure exactly how many original FLXI sidecars are in existance, but there can’t be many.  This is one of two that I know of configured for a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle.

Wanted: Autopulse Model 500 6-Volt Electric Fuel Pump

Hi guys.  Hope everyones holiday season is off to a great start.

I’ve been working on a special project here at the museum and I’m in need of an Autopulse Model 500 6-volt Electric Fuel Pump.  Specifically, I need the brass "diaphragm" (at leat thats what I think its called) but would be happy to replace the pump as a whole because ours is "well used". 

Below is a picture of the pump.  Any leads would be hugely appreciated.  Please email me at, or call the museum at 828-926-6266.  Thanks!

New Workspace!

Here at the museum, we’re always drumming up new ideas and exhibits to make the experience of visiting even better.  Some of the updates are merely cosmetic and some are implemented to give visitors a better idea of how life was like on a motorcycle way back when.  Many of these improvements are done on the fly, during the season or during regular operating hours, often with the help of visitors who are on site that day.

However, during the winter, when the museum is not open for regular hours, its a perfect time to put in a little (or a lot) of work in order to maximize our own working space.  Recently, I started working on a very underutilized area of the museum in order to make it a little more functional, with a vision of turning the space into an operable workshop. 

About a month ago, the room was overflowing with parts and project bikes — kind of a catch-all area for the parts and machines not in use or under the restoration process.  First step, was to clear the room and choose a direction.  I wanted the new "shop" to be a time-warp, much like the rest of the museum interior, so only "aged and patinaed" materials were used.  The room measures about 20′ X 25′, which is plenty of space, and has a full garage door for easy outside access. 

Over the past week, we’ve installed a whole wall of shelving and oak siding, all with old reclaimed barn wood from the area.  Tin roofing from a barn that was originally on the museum property was also used as siding, giving the room the look as if you were pulling into an old warehouse.  Parts were organized and put into cubbies, and within no time, the room was starting to come together.  With the addition of a tool box, a new work table, and an air compressor, we’ll have the new space fully functional by the beginning of spring.

Just the other day I pulled in the old 1928 Model A that Dale found up at the Lee Hartung Auction.  Up on blocks she went, off came the wheels.  A two-day brake rebuild ensued, and currently we’re onto bolting on the new engine head. 

I’m really digging this space, and as soon as I get that Model A out of there, I’ll be onto the finishing touches.  I’m dreaming up projects as fast as I can, and the new workshop will be perfect for putting many of them into motion.

A Visit to the HD Factory in 1939

These are a few great photos from one of the Harley-Davidson Enthusiast issues from 1939.   This special section in HD’s monthly magazine was titled "A Visit to the Factory" and was included by the Motor Company to give their readers a glimpse into how America’s top brand of motorcycles were produced.  In total, there were over a dozen images of various parts of the process of building the 1939 Harley-Davidson, including engine assembly, parts machining, chrome plating, painting and more.  Over 70 years later, they serve as a fantastic resource in gaining an understanding of the precision with which parts were made, the general working conditions of the HD plant at the time, and the overall sense of pride they had with the finished product.

This first photo is from the paint booth, where a batch of Big Twin Knucklehead and Flathead frames are getting a fresh coat of paint.

This next photo is a neat one — the sidecar assembly division.  Here we see a room filled with 20 or so sidehacks being prepared for their role on the road.  This was the first year for stainless trim on the top and sides of the sidecar, and the folding windshield has only been installed on a few of them.  Interesting to note that almost all of the sidecars in the photo appear to be the same color, which looks to be Airway Blue — one of three standard colors available in ’39.  The five in the far back look to be slightly darker, maybe Teak Red, which was also available. 

Men Who Shaped Motorcycle History — Benny Campanale

Benny Campanale was a true pioneer of motorcycle racing.  He began winning regional dirt track and TT races at an early are in the New England are, and by the end of the 1930s, the Woonsocket, Rhode Island native rode to victory in two of the first three Daytona 200 Beach Races in 1938 and 1939. 

One year after his victory in ’39, good friend and fellow Woonsocket, R.I. native Babe Tancrede took home the checkered flag in 1940 at Daytona. 

Benny, as well as a host of other early Class-C racers, often stopped by my dads place when the museum was in Illinois on or around the weekend of the Springfield Mile.  I would have loved to have met him, if only to ask a few questions of what it was like to race back then.

When looking at the bike in the photo, we make some interesting observations.  The machine is a 1937 Harley-Davidson WLDR — HD’s 45 cubic inch high-performance flathead.  They produced around 100 of these bikes, and this one is in full racing trim, as most likely set up by Campanale himself.  The bike features front fender, and gutted front brake, as well as a thin pad on the rear fender for sliding back to get out of the wind.  Floorboard have been removed with pegs put in place, and special Linkert MR-2 Barrel racing carburetor has been mounted.  It is interesting to note that the machine has no magneto, but instead runs a total loss battery with timer, but no generator.  This was about the only option back then, as the generator was too heavy, but the racing rules stipulated "no magnetos or other special racing equipment".

Happy Holidays!!!

A Harley Christmas — These photos were donated by a museum visitor back in 2005, and are featured in our "Women In Motorcycling" Exhibit.  Looks like Santa left a new ride under the tree.  This was Christmas 1952.

Nearly every ornament on the tree is motorcycle related, from the HD Chain Lube, Winter Hat, Stockings, and of course, the brand new 1953 Harley-Davidson 125cc Hummer under the tree. 

It really is the most wonderful time of the year! Hope everyone rounds out their 2011 in style, and gets off to a great start this 2012!

Rolling Sculpture

Below is a picture of one of my favorite machines.  I’ve got lots of favorites, but this one ranks right up there.  Its a 1930 Harley-Davidson CA Peashooter Factory Racer.

To me, this bike represents the bare bone’s approach to racing, and the special factory efforts to get ahead of the competition.  The bike is a 500c.c. Overhead-Valve "Peashooter", featuring direct drive, single-speed countershaft.  Peashooters were built in 350 and 500 cc versions, this one being the only known 500 in this configuration.   Notice how the gas tank is notched right above the motor?  This was to fit in the taller cylinder that came on the "factory built"  500s.  Harley-Davidson did offer a kit to make your 350 a 500, which included stroked flywheels, different connecting rod, different piston and cylinder.  The kit was often put to use by privateers, who would have to home-modify their frames for the taller engine.  This example was built at the factory this way, and also features special, stronger frame which fits the 500 motor.

Harley began production of their 350 OHV motor during the 1926 model year, having debuted the technology on the track toward the end of the 1925 racing season.  The nickname "Peashooter" quickly stuck, given for the machines "pop-pop" sound, and before long, the new machines were doing more than just holding their own on the track. 

Before long, 500cc versions of the same engine were being stuffed into low slung race chassis, with riders like Joe Petrali, Jim Davis and Lou Balinski competing for top honors on dirt ovals around America.  By the early 1930s, despite some of the toughest economic times the Motor Company had ever seen, the developement of the Peashooter had brought Harley-Davidson checkered flag after checkered flag, and numerous national championships to boot.

A perfect combination of power, art, and the vision that has brought the motorcycle world to where it is today!


History In the Making — Up and Over

From time to time, I’ll be posting some great historic photos from throughout American motorcycle history.  Some of great bikes, lots of influential faces, and some of the big events have shaped the way two-wheel culture has evolved over the past century.

This first one is a photo of Floyd Emde going up and over at a Hillclimb in San Diego in 1948.  OUCH!!!

Now, you’d think this little mishap would put the hurt on you for a month or so, but believe it or not, less than two weeks after, Floyd was back on the track at Daytona, and piloted his Indian 648 to victory on the beach at the 1948 Daytona 200.

Here is the Indian Altoona 61" Hillclimber as it sits today….

Resting in the Hillclimb exhibit at Wheels Through Time, the 1928 Indian "Altoona" 61-inch Factory Hillclimber sits in its original condition, as last raced in the late 1940s.  This motorcycle is serial number one and the only of its type.  It features ultra-rare 61 cubic inch, ball-bearing, two-cam, big-valve flathead motor, with single speed transmission, and was set up to burn alcohol.  Its fired on occasion, in order to keep the machine in tip-top running order.

I’ve heard it run a few times, and let me tell ya, it’ll throws flames the size of basketballs.  One of these days we’ll air the tires up and taker her to the hill…..

Dream Bike!!!

1927 Harley-Davidson FHAC Factory Twin Cam Road Racer

Below is a factory photograph of one of my favorite bikes of all time……unfortunately, one that is not known to exist today.  The bike is a 1927 FHAC Factory Racer.

Keep in mind that this is an original factory photograph, so the bike is EXACTLY as it rolled out of the race shop after initially being built.  When looking a little closer, we see the special, magneto equipped FHAC two cam bottom end, with "straight fin" Ricardo racing cylinders, and three speed transmission. This combination was capable of producing speeds well over 100 mph. The Keystone chassis was also specially built, with steering dampener neck casting, side engine plates to anchor the motor, teardrop tanks, and dropped racing bars.  The front end is the ’14-style racing front end with scissor shock dampener.

Here’s a look at the left side of the bike.  I love the cutdown front and rear fenders, and the shortened primary cover.  This bike’s got speed written all over it.  Standard Harley "Heel/Toe" rocker clutch was used, and I really dig the tall, 28X3 Goodyear Diamond Tread tires. 

It’s my dream to build a bike like this someday.  Can you imagine running flat out on this thing, at about 110, hangin’ on for dear life? 

I can!!!


Who was Andy Koslow?

Who was Andy Koslow?

In my last post, I mentioned that I had found a rare and unused "Koslow" Overhead Valve Head for a motorcycle engine at Mike Wolfe’s Antique Archeology Store in LeClaire, Iowa. My eyes lit up as soon as I saw it, and when Mike saw the look on my face, he knew it was something special. So I’m sure you’re wondering…. "Who or What is Koslow?"

During the late 1920’s, Professional Hillclimbing began to emerge as a premier venue for manufacturers to prove the superior performance of their machines in order to boost sales. As the saying goes, "Win on Sunday, and sell on Monday". Companies like Harley-Davidson, Indian and Excelsior specially built limted numbers of highly developed machines in order to become "King of the Hill", which translated to much needed sales during the financial crunch of the Great Depression. Today, just a handful of these machines exist, many of which are on display in the hillclimb exhibit at WTT.

During this time, manufactureres began to realize the advantages of overhead-valve technology for their racing efforts. In 1928, Excelsior jumped in with both feet in orderto produce a factory 45 cubic inch Class A overhead valve hillclimber to compete with Indian’s "Altoona" OHV 45, utilizing a bottom end simliar to the company’s

"Super X" road model, and a specially cast, overhead valve top-end with hemispherical combustion chamber and detachable, bolt-on heads. Given the advantages of increased compression capabilities, these machines were set-up to burn alcohol through special aluminum racing carburetors. It is rumored that only 24 were built, two of which are on display at Wheels Through Time. The later of the two machines, is serial number OH103 — the third built — and was ridden to the 1930 National Championship by Gene Rhyne, after a short stint as Joe Petrali’s personal mount during his years with the Chicago-based Excelsior.

Excelsior’s new machine was immediately victorious in many big events, showing Indian they were a force to be reckoned with when it came to OHV technology. Harley-Davidson would not have their 45 cubic inch OHV ready until the middle of the 1929 season.

I know, I’m rambling. So who was Andy Koslow?

After some initial success with the Super X model on the dirt and board tracks during the 1926/27 seasons, Ignaz Schwinn began to show interest in racing for the first time since the death of factory rider Bob Perry in 1920. Sometime in 1928, he instructed chief engineer Arthur Constantine to develop a competitive machine that could capture the National Hillclimb Championship with the right rider aboard. Constantine immediately went to work, relying on a young Chicago native and Excelsior Racing Department engine-builder and tuner named Andy Koslow to finish the task.

They based the bottom-end on the high-performance Super-X, which had been race proven for two years already, but modified the bore and stroke. Special, twin-port, cast-iron, overhead valve top ends were produced, with hemispherical combustion chambers, which provided for much better airflow inside the engine. Compression was out the roof at 14 to 1, and the machine burned alcohol for maximum horsepower. The chassis were specially built for hillblimbing, small tanks, low gearing, and only a single speed in the transmission. Koslow himself test-rode the machines and raced them in many events to some success. He left the real riding, though, to the professional hired guns of Excelsior to reel in the fame. Joe Petrali took home the 1929 National Championship in 1929 and Gene Rhyne took top honors in 1930. Koslow and Constantine had developed America’s top Hillclimb machine.

When Ignaz Schwinn unexpectedly instructed the management to "close the doors" at Excelsior in 1931, just a year off two National Hillclimb Championships, Koslow made sure that his technology was not lost, and convinced Schwinn to allow him to retain the blueprints and molds from the company’s overhead valve endeavors. Over the following years, he would go on to produce a very limited number of specially built OHV motorcycle and midget car engines, and also may have provided parts to other companies. Ever since, these special dual-port cast-iron top-ends have been known as "Koslow heads". In the hillclimb exhibit at WTT, there is an undocument, one-off factory built Harley engine with these very heads on it.

The museum also displays a collection of molds from both Koslow and Excelsior, from cylinders and heads, to manifolds, pistons, and even engine cases. The head from Mike’s is right at home with a mate that Koslow cast in Aluminum.

Pickin’ The “Pickers”

A few items in the museum to look for next time you’re in…

Here at Wheels Through Time, we’re always on the hunt for new and interesting pieces to display inside the museum. Anytime we find that special part for a project, the rare document that pieces the puzzle together, or a picture that tells the story of 1000 races, the adrenaline really starts pumpin’. 

Sometimes, it can be months before you dig up that next find …and sometimes you find that special piece that helps to tell the story of our motorcycle history just around the corner. In some cases, you may have known it was there for decades, and in others, you may "uncover" it rumaging through a pile of long since forgotten junk, or sitting on a shelf a back corner. You might be at a swap meet, a garage sale, an old buddy’s house, or just walkin’ down the road. Maybe the guy new he had it, and maybe he had no idea it’d been sitting there waiting for the right person to find it all along…..

Its called "Pickin", and the best part of it all is that there’s still thousands and thousands of treasures out there to find.

A few weeks back, I was over in Nashville, TN visiting with some family for Thanksgiving. It turned out to be a fantastic weekend, and after loading up the car to head back home, Hailey and I decided to make a quick stop at one of our favorite "Pickers" places — Mike Wolfe’s new Antique Archeology location in downtown Nashville.

Mikes new place is amazing! Just off of I-40, the new store is located in the old Marathon Motor Works building, who produced the Marathon Automobile from 1911-1914. It fits that American Picker’s style that they’ve become famous for, and I’ve got to say I was blown away at the location, layout, and everything in between.

Now, we’d only planned on staying a few minutes, but before I knew it I was on my hands and knees going through some of the finds that Mike and Frank had found over the years. I didn’t plan on taking anything home at first, but within just a minute or two, I’d found a piece that I new belonged inside the museum — and old tire display from the U.S. Tire Company, who went out of business in the 1930s. We’ve got a great collection of tire displays, from Goodyear and B.F. Goodrich, to Firestone and Pirelli. But this was one I’d never seen before. So after a bit more rummaging, I brought it up to the counter and made a deal. It made a great birthday present for my dad!

Now, oddly enough, I just happened to be up in Iowa about a week later, so I decided to do the full "American Pickers" tour and stop by Mikes first location near Davenport, Iowa, in a little town called LeClaire. Having unexpectedly found a neat little piece for the museum in Nashville, I figured this time I’d keep a close eye out. Turns out I would not be dissappointed.

I browsed around the store for a few minutes and picked out a few shirts for friends and family, and as I made my way to the back corner, I saw it screaming at me from across the room. My jaw dropped. I knew what it was from first glance, from over 20 feet away. My feet seemed to automatically take me in its direction, stepping around and over everything in my way, to get my hands on it as soon as possible. The "NOT FOR SALE" sign, which pertained to everything on this certain shelf, may as well have been invisible, and as I picked it up I realized I may be one of just a handful of people in history to ever have laid my hands on it. So what was it?

It was a geniune and original "KOSLOW" overhead-valve head for a special type of racing engine privately produced by Andy Koslow of Chicago. Koslow used to work for Excelsior, and helped to develop the 45 cubic inch overhead-valve top end that won numerous National Hillclimb Championships in the late 1929 and early ’30s. After Excelsior officially closed in 1931, Koslow retained the blueprints and was able to produce the top ends under his own name. How many were produced no one knows, and to date, I have only seen a few complete engines, but never any spare parts. The best thing about this one….it was brand new…never machined…..and the manifold came with it!!!

As my adrenaline came back down a bit, that "NOT FOR SALE" made its way back into my sight. Now, here’s where most folks would end up putting the part back on the shelf, and walking away, almost as if they’d never seen it….but I couldn’t let it just sit there! Here at the museum, we’ve actually got about 95% of the original molds for the Koslow engine, and many of the other bits of tooling used to engineer them. Most folks have never even heard of Koslow, but Dale happens to know all about him, and even went to high-school with the guys grandson! I knew I had to get this head…..

After a few minutes with Mike (who drives a hard bargain, I must say), we agreed to a deal. Its now on display here at the museum, helping to tell the story of the glory days of American Hillclimbing and the famed Andy Koslow.