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The UL File Is Now Open, Episode 1

Purchase, Pegs and Paint

By Bandit with photos from the Redhead

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It all started in the center of an odd South Dakota winter, 2022 and a hunt for a running Knucklehead engine. I found myself talking to several knowledgeable brothers in the industry and the price for Knucklehead engines climbed spectacularly. Hell, shit, piss, way beyond spectacular.

While, discussing some vintage parts with Steve Massicot at Paughco, he mentioned an old employee who needed funds and had a UL for sale. A complete bobber, although the running aspect was in question. I remembered George Christie’s classic flathead with fatbobs. We rode to the Yuma River run in the early ‘70s.

Then Steve sent me some shots of another Steve’s 1948 UL, which I later discovered is most likely a 74 cubic inch flathead. In 1948 all of the U models were 74s. The UL was the high-compression solo-twin, the U being medium compression and the US the medium compression side-car model. Many came with aluminum heads, and they were available as an add-on. There were only 970 ULs built in 1948, the last year of the big flatheads. As a comparison, over 4,000 EL Panheads were built in 1948 and almost 8,000 FLs. About the same for Knuckleheads the previous year.

The shots revealed a lot, like no front brake, however the driveline was complete, the bike was a classic from the rebuilt stock springer and custom made extra-wide highbars. I was intrigued by the classic style, and the previous owner, builder, Steve Hannah was 6’4”. It seemed to fit him is a classic David Mann sorta way. I don’t own a flathead, which also intrigued me.

Steve still restores bikes for Ron Paugh’s masterful collection. He cleaned up the stock Knucklehead frame, rebuilt the star-hubs and transmission. According to Steve Massicot, the owner didn’t like the sound of the engine and found the valves out of adjustment. He dialed it in and rode it from Carson City to Virginia City, but was still concerned and never rode it again.

As you know, I’m nuts and believe I can fix anything. Most bikers can, so I cut a deal, but UL Steve wanted cash. I robbed a bank, and the redhead and I watched the weather closely, made rough arrangements, because you never know. There seemed to be a slight opening in the waves of snow and bitter cold making a habit of rolling over Wyoming while heading north. We took a gamble and decided to peel out at 4:00 a.m. to dodge a snowy front heading into South Dakota in January.

The cracked compass said due west for 1200 miles or 18 hours. Leaving early, when it’s 20 degrees may mean it was clear, but the roads were slick and icy. We blazed out of the black hills trying to study iffy road conditions under the lingering darkness and then over the vast and unrelenting Continental Divide three times.

We have designed a short cut through Wyoming. It cuts from the northeastern corner southwest through Muddy Gap to Interstate 80 in Rawlins where it became a meandering straight shot out of Wyoming into Utah and from there into Nevada where we stopped for the night in Wendover right on the border. That night was a story into itself between sloppy casinos, bad casino restaurant help, one Wendover restaurant, a Mexican take-out joint and a Best Western Motel.

The next morning, we faced a nearly straight shot for 6 hours or 424 miles into Carson City and the Supreme Paughco Headquarters. I’ve known Ron Paugh for over 50 years. He’s one of the supreme backbones of our industry, supportive and inspirational. Last year he was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He’s run Paughco through all the good times and the bad and always had the precision vintage parts we needed.

Ron was bending pipes in the shop where he lives now, which is massive, but he took a break and gave us a tour. His line of parts never stops growing.

We arrived right on the dot of 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon the estimated ETA and followed Steve Massicot over to Steve Hannah’s house a couple of miles away.

Hannah is a biker to the bone. He was suspicious, had to have cash and still had the long hair and oily Levi’s he’s been wearing for 40 years. His house was more of a garage as we moved through tarps leading into the back of his home and one room full of motorcycles after another. The UL sat in the center of one dusty room with a partially finished ceiling. It was a jewel in the middle of a myriad of semi-finished projects.

We rolled it out into the hazy afternoon sun for inspection. UL Steve was sure the left case was cracked and would lead to doom. He was also confident the bike would run with a new battery and some high-test fuel. I liked the classic cut of his jib and could tell the old flathead had been built with care, but the flat black Sportster gas tank needed to be painted. I saw a couple of minor elements I would correct, but I slipped him the briefcase and we loaded the ’48 in the back of the van for the trip home.

Like most of us, the first thing we dive into is a list of improvements. I extended the rear tank mounting tabs on the Sportster tank and brazed the cracks. I worked with Jason Mook of Deadwood Custom Cycles to chase and clean the petcock threads and find a painter.

He works with a couple of guys, and one is Greg Robley in Boulder Canyon, not far away. You would think flat colors would be a breeze compared to high gloss, but that’s not the case. Greg is a painter as a hobby. He works construction at the Homestake Mine. “I’ve never been down into the caverns,” Greg said. That’s where the scientists are endeavoring to study neutrinos another break-through element in matter.

As it turns out Greg wanted me to go with gloss black, because adding the matt and lining it up with the gloss scallops was a delicate chore. He found an imperfection in the first round and was forced to paint it twice.

I’ve added a quart of Mobil One motorcycle 20-50 oil and started to kick it. I ordered a Knucklehead manual that includes the big side-valve models up to 1947 because Knucklehead were replaced by the famous Panhead line in 1948.

I started to read about adjusting the valves, which is straight-forward. I read about the timing and oil pump adjustments. Why is it that the manual says see (8) on image 68, but it doesn’t exist?

The gas cap was Charlie's notion. He sent it to Don Laing, who is a masterful tattoo artist at Jack Rudy's shop. Don engraved it--too Cool!
The gas cap was Charlie's notion. He sent it to Don Laing, who is a masterful tattoo artist at Jack Rudy's shop. Don engraved it--too Cool!

I’ll probably call Lee Clemens, who is sorta retired from Departure Bike Works and pick his brain about tuning the flathead.

I immediately wanted to replace the classic upsweeps with a two-into-one exhaust system, and I scored some parts from Paughco. I know it would make the bike run better and give it some back pressure. But the more I look at the bike, the more the upsweeps are classic and cool. I’m still grappling with that mod.

Even in the dead of winter, I could sneak into the garage and weld barbells.
Even in the dead of winter, I could sneak into the garage and weld barbells.

There’s a current issue hanging around my neck like a sailor’s albatross. My shop is not complete in Boulder Canyon. The UL is stuffed in a small garage in Deadwood with access to limited tools and equipment. Hell, I don’t have a milkcrate to hoist the bike onto.

I try to tell myself, “Patience my son…” The shop could be finished in three weeks.

But I don’t ever give up or give in. I continued to fill in the blanks. I went on the search for a battery. Check my battery article with Lowbrow.

It took a while, but I discovered the Mighty Max 12-volt, 100 cranking amps battery for about $25 bucks. Amazing. Let’s see how it hangs. I took out Steve’s fake case and padded the Mighty Max into place and was able to finish it off. For some odd reason Steve wired the bike so the lights work even if the ignition is off. Not a great notion. Too easy to leave the lights on and drain the battery.

I may correct that, but I also wanted to match the foot pegs with a set of stock rubber pegs. I started asking guys I know about used H-D pegs. For years, with all the custom shit, the first thing guys removed from stock bikes was their stock rubber pegs and replaced them with chrome-billet shit. Then they encountered extreme vibration and looked for cool custom shit with chrome and rubber cushions. Some of the cool custom rubber shit didn’t last.

Anyway, the old, tough stock shit piled up in builders’ garages, tossed in the corner. Ebay seemed to be the source for stock shit, and I purchase two sets of pegs and one set of peg extensions. Let’s see what arrives and when.

In the next episode, I will bring you a report on the starting procedures and what we found. I might also show you what I have in mind for exhaust mods. Hang on.


She makes Hal's Bandana look fantastic. Click for action.
She makes Hal's Bandana look fantastic. Click for action.

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