1948 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead

Shaking my head with my arms folded, I watched him cycle the kickstarter a couple of times until he got the crankshaft into the right position. Then he stepped up on it and slammed it down."Blub.""Blub, blub.""Blub, blub, blub, potato potato potato......

1948 harley-davidson FL

Shaking my head with my arms folded, I watched him cycle the kickstarter a couple of times until he got the crankshaft into the right position. Then he stepped up on it and slammed it down.


“Blub, blub.”

“Blub, blub, blub, potato potato potato…”

It started up on the very first kick.

I thought for sure it wouldn’t.

“When you put it all back together right, that’s what it’s supposed to do”, my step-father said.

The year was 1984. I had just graduated high school. Earlier in the year, my step-father had finally gotten serious about putting his old 1948 Harley-Davidson FL back together. He had been up late into the evenings and sometimes early mornings, cleaning, scrubbing, painting, and bolting together a motorcycle that had been taken apart down to the smallest piece and stored away into crates, boxes, and coffee cans.

It had actually been his only means of transportation during the early 1970s in New Mexico. It started with a motor he found at a junk yard. He would work, save his money, and either go back to the junk yard or send away for parts he couldn’t find anywhere else. Eventually, he had himself a completely restored bike.

I remember the day he brought it home.

It all started in the the Summer of 1975. My mother had met him in a bar in San Diego. One evening, she came home from work and told me she and I would be taking a trip to Colorado in just a few weeks. She said she met a guy who planned to drive to Colorado in his van to retrieve his old motorcycle. Apparently, he had left the bike with his grandparents in Rifle just before enlisting into the service.

We brought the bike back to San Diego in the back of his van, and he moved in with us. I used to watch him take the bike apart piece by piece. His plan was to clean it all up, repaint it, and put it back together.

Nine years later, it finally happened.

For much of that time, however, he hardly worked on it.  He’d have moments of cleaning the carburetor and trying to hammer a front rim back into a perfect circle.  And I always there to watch and ask questions.  I used to pester him and bug him and ask if I could help.  Most of the time, he didn’t want me messing around with it.

Along the way, I gained a half-brother.

There were times when I grew really angry at my mom and real father.  Each of them had remarried to different people and gave birth to new sons.  I felt replaced, abandoned, and unwanted.  I became so resentful inside, I found it difficult to make friends.  I spent my junior high and high school years alone.

But my step-father did buy me a used 1979 Kawasaki KZ400 for $50.00 as a high school graduation present. It was third-hand, recently wrecked, and not running.  It wouldn’t be another year, however, until we took that bike apart and put it back together.

What really impressed me the most about him, however, is that he remembered where each and every nut, bolt and washer belonged on his Harley, even after all those years of being in storage.  I mean, they weren’t even labeled, nor did he bother to keep nuts, bolts, and washers connected together.  It was a testament to a rider’s intimate knowledge of his own bike.

He spent probably the next year riding that old FL. He’d take it to work and take it out to bars. The last night he rode it he was drunk off his ass. He had come back home from a bar with a buddy. The two of them wanted to continue riding down Ortega Highway (state route 74). My mom begged him to not go, and he finally relented and stayed home. I don’t remember him riding the bike after that.

Maybe a few months later, he sold it for $4,500.00 cash.  I think he was pissed at my mom.  She was never supportive of him riding.

By that time, we had rebuilt my KZ400 and I was riding it to college and work. I’d take it out at nights and pick up chicks. It was my only means of transportation as well.

The truth is that my step-father and I never had a close relationship. He was far more close to his son than I. But he did leave a permanent mark on me with respect to motorcycling. Somehow, growing up feeling alone and replaced created a bond with my motorcycle that I can’t quite put into words.  I wish I still had my KZ400.

My half-brother posing on the Harley