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Where to Start

Kyle Smith from Hagerty Media with some Bandit touches and Sam Burns images

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No matter how old we get, we keep daydreaming. It’s these hopeful visions of what’s possible that help fuel the proliferation of the barn find trend. So, let’s all close our eyes and ponder: What you would do if you opened that random garage door and found a 1928 first year of the Harley Flathead 45 or a racing OHV Peashooter? Where does one even start in bringing a project like that back to life?

As the venerable Tom Cotter has said any number of times on the Barn Find Hunter video series, it certainly involves more than just dropping in a fresh battery, airing up tires, and turning the key. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to bring a bike back to life than a car.

If you are fortunate to buy from the last owner and he has history with the bike, take detailed notes. Even stop the conversation to find paper and a pen. Not only will the history add value to the purchase, but might contain additional resources or even remind the owner about spare parts or trophies he might have hidden in the basement.

Set a plan and a budget

Is this a full restoration? Bare minimum to get it running and enjoyable? An attempt to simply lock in the time-capsule look and stabilize the bike for even longer storage or a custom project?

Each of these approaches comes with its own priorities and picking a goal will steer your decisions moving forward. There is no shame in admitting you bought something just because it was cool, but now that it’s home you probably need to figure out what you are actually going to do with it.

Writing out your plan and setting a budget give you guardrails on the path this project will take. You will certainly hit these guardrails, and how rigid they really are is up to you. These check-up points help keep things from rapidly spiraling to a bare frame on the floor or an empty bank account when “while I’m in there” syndrome attacks.

Start your list

The key to any successful project is organization, inspiration and passion. Now is the time to start writing down what you know, what you need, and whose brain to pick. The human brain is not an iron trap, so it has a way of letting valuable information slip away into the ether (more often than any of us would care to admit). All the details that the seller told you should be the first things you write down, so you aren’t left trying to recall exactly what they said, and what kind of work was or wasn’t done.

Start the list of parts or materials you already know you will need; at the top of that particular list should be a factory service manual.

Find what’s missing

Looking at schematics is a great way to find not only how a system works but also clearly shows if you might be missing pieces.

The battery disappeared years ago. That’s an easy one to spot.

In a perfect world, this step would have been performed before purchase, but we are being realistic by including it in the post-purchase steps; there is often a lot going on during the inspection and buying process. Long-stored cars are often pilfered for parts or half-disassembled for one reason or another. Sometimes that’s why it ended up in the barn.

Other times it was an attempt to get it out of the barn that fell short. Regardless, it’s more than likely that parts of your new treasure are no longer with it. If you are very familiar with a particular model you can spot the items that went AWOL, but most people will need a little help to find exactly what is gone and determine the importance of each missing component.

I have found that referencing assembly drawings or exploded images is a great way to accomplish this step. Finding these drawings in service manuals or parts catalogs is the best way I’ve been able to consistently get clear and accurate drawings.

Many manuals contain photos, while parts manuals contain line drawings. Between the two, you can sort out the image and the part number.

These books show me not only what each part is, but gives me part numbers and how it interacts within the system. Use these books and the internet to identify parts in the boxes that came with your barn find as well.

Take photos. Lots of photos.

All that dirt and grime holds information, believe it or not. Witness marks of what was leaking, what had been disturbed or disassembled, and what has been absolutely neglected.

Taking photos to document exactly what you brought home is good to have for the future before/after picture, but also as a reference should you need to double-check your own memory of the project’s starting point. Make references in your master list to specific photos easily by writing number on sheets of paper and putting them in the frame of the photo.

You can then easily find these by photos by saving the files to Google Photos or some other cloud service where the AI powered search can sort through hundreds or even thousands of photos and find just the one you need when you search just the number in the image.

Get to cleaning
For me, cleaning is both the most critical and least fun process in this whole adventure. Careful cleaning will do one of two things for you: reveal more problems than you ever imagined or show just how sharp you were to buy your barn find.

For my project, the process included a pressure washer, Simple Green, and a soft scrub brush to break up the caked-on grease. For something more delicate it might mean a careful hose rinse followed with a specific list of products to lift the dirt and preserve the finish underneath. (Exactly which products depends entirely on the surface material as well as the nature of the soil.)

Be careful of pressure washers. They can remove paint.

Let’s see what Kyle comes up with in his second report. The major factors in any project include desire, tools, resources and drive. There are thousands of cool project lanquishing in garages all over the country. We are so fortunate that we live in a country (maybe not California in the near future) where you can take on most any project and build an award-winning scooter.

Between, google, Jay Leno and many YouTube videos you can find anything about anything and the resources to get it done. You can ship the engine to an expert for a rebuild, while you restore the chassis. You can find a painter to make it shine again and you can take care of the final assembly. You can find a guy who has been building bikes for 50 years, like Larry Settles, who will be glad to wire your creation if wiring intimidates you.

Just don’t give up, resources, tools, vintage parts and info abound.

With Hagerty Insurance
With Hagerty Insurance

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