Work began on the tired engine as John’s dad had ridden the pants off it. “This was my first time rebuilding a Shovelhead so it would be safe to say the whole ordeal was a day-by-day, part-by-part learning experience. The first major problem was finding a bent connecting rod and New River Harley-Davidson in Jacksonville, North Carolina, pulled me through that fiasco by setting the bottom end up. Then I found broken oil pump studs which my friend, Rob King, and I managed to drill out without destroying the cases on his Bridgeport mill,” said John. “The cylinders were donated standard bore because my originals were bored to the max. I bored them .010 over and fitted new Wiseco 8.5:1 pistons. It has an Andrews cam with solid lifters, the carb and intake is an S&S Super E, and the exhaust pipes are aftermarket up-sweeps custom fitted by Bobby Downes, owner of Overrev Fabrication in Wilmington, North Carolina. Carolina Coast Harley-Davidson in Wilmington, North Carolina, helped out with the older parts I needed. I kept the point ignition for two reasons. One, you can buy points and condenser at an auto parts store if they die ─ try that with electronic ignitions. I also keep a small piece of .020 plastic gauge and 320-grit sandpaper in my wallet for emergency tuning/cleaning. The other thing is I think the electronic ignitions just don’t hit like the point ignition.”
With the engine healthy, John refurbished the rest of the drive train. “The kicker-only transmission is from the old police bike. It still uses the gated shifter with no ratchet action so you have to find each gear which can be interesting at times. In the heat of the moment, you can go straight from first to fourth in a heartbeat if you’re not careful,” he said. “I put a huge front sprocket on the tranny to help the lil’ 74 keep sight of the bigger-inch engines and 6-speeds on road trips. I rode at 70 mph for almost three-straight hours going to the Smoke Out last year with no problem. The motor is connected to the trans with a BDL open primary with a Barnett cutch and a Drag Specialties pressure plate operated by the Harley rocker clutch pedal.”
With the drivetrain completely up to snuff, you’d expect it to be chucked back into the old FLH frame and hit the road, but to quote Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.” “I put the 4-speed frame and swingarm to the side and replaced it with the Santee rigid with a 33-degree rake and 2”-up stretch in the down tubes,” said John. But that’s not all he did as he explained the rest of the build, “The springer is a 2”-under DNA topped with Billy Lane Whiskey Bars on 5”risers. There’s no front brake to keep the front wheel clean as well as the handle bars that now have no clutch or brake levers. The back brake is an Exile Cycles sprocket brake since I wanted to keep the back wheel as clean as possible too. The tail light is off a ‘51 Chevy while the head light is from Paughco. The gas tank is standard sporty but I had Bobby Downes take the tunnel out and ‘frisco’ it to get extra fuel capacity and relocate the pet-cock to the lower rear corner of tank. Bobby also made the badass stainless -steel upper motor mount as the stock mount would not fit because of the up-stretch in the frame. The back fender is just a trailer fender fitted to the bike held by a sissy bar made by my friend Rob. The oil tank was donated by another friend. Friends are great!”
When it came time for paint, there was only one guy John needed to turn to, himself. “I have painted custom bikes as a hobby and have painted about every kind of custom paint job out there. For me, less was actually more which is why I have the simplicity of the paint on it. The number 11 is my number. I was born the 11th day of the 11th month.
I am kinda simple in style so I wanted people who know me to be able to see this bike and know it is mine.”
After the year-and-a-half project was completed, you gotta wonder if the thrill was just in re-building dad’s bike or does the boy hop on and ride it like old dad did? “I actually ride this bike quite a bit, basically whatever the mood of me and the crew I ride with is feeling. It’s usually a one- or two-kick start Shovel. If doesn’t start on the third kick, which is rare, you better just go have another beer cause it’s flooded!” said John. “It rides like rigids ride. After about an hour of steady riding you think your ass is on the road somewhere behind you trying to find its way back to ya. The foot clutch and no front brake can be interesting, especially on hills, but overall it doesn’t handle bad due to its light weight. The bike has hardly anything on it that it doesn’t absolutely need to carry me down the road. It is what it is, simple and to the point, nothing fancy.”
It’s great and all that it worked out so well as a real rider (and I have plenty of testimonials that John rides the pee out of it often), but there’s that something very personal about the build as John explains, “ Knowing that it was my dad’s and I rode on it as a kid makes it priceless. Ya kinda get that warm fuzzy feelin’ when riding it. I think I managed to build a bike that represents me and bring part of the family back to life. I also put a big grin on my dad’s face. He didn’t think he would ever hear the old family Shovel run again!”