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Jack and his Panhead

By Sam Burns with images from Sam Burns

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This story is about a kid named Jack. Jack graduated from high school the summer following the Tet Offensive and he knew boys who made the ultimate sacrifice. The war weighed heavily on his mind, but it was also the government, shit in schools and the lack of freedom of choice that added to Jack's hot-headed thinking.

Jack got a summer job working construction for a couple of old Seabees. It was the hardest work he ever encountered. The brothers were fair but tough.

Even with the idea of getting a better job following a couple of years of Industrial Arts training, he remained pissed off about not having any real say in his immediate future. He was a hot-headed kid with an ax to grind.

His friends, who he attended Junior College with, suddenly turned-on Jack. Even though they worked at the same job every day, Jack was excluded from their circle.

There was a small house across the alley from where Jack grew up. One day while working in his garage he heard a Harley fire up. It sounded powerful and surreal, like a locomotive on fire. The guys who lived across the alley were building a chopper in their one-car garage. Jack was hooked. It became all he could think about. It was the dream that kept him going. If only.

Jack decided to go to school where he and his past friends had planned for the last two years. They treated him like shit and all his anger at things didn’t help. Their instructor embarrassed Jack in front of his old friends on the very first day. As it turned out, shit would get much worse.

The school was in an oil field town, bordered by a huge refinery on the east side. On the first day, he got up and opened his dorm room door and the stench was overwhelming. No more early morning deep breathing exercises for him. His old friends took great joy in making him feel unwelcome and uncomfortable.

The old two-story dorm was like a ‘50s old strip motel, where the unit doors all opened to the outside. Each room shared a bathroom with the other. The thermostat was in the other room where his old pals kept the place like a meat locker. Jack grew up in an old house with three bedrooms, one bath, and an old swamp cooler that only really dropped the temp down after dark.

He was miserable and his old buddies played their radio loud day and night. Jack could have eaten nails. The dorm manager was an asshole and gave Jack plenty of gaff. Jack's instructor was worse and gave him a rash of shit every chance he got.

Jack was too hard-headed to give in and each day turned into a struggle. He went outside after his suite mates were asleep and ran. He ran all the way to the lake and back night after night. The jocks all lived on the second story of the old building, and he became friends with a track star who lived just above him. It was the only respite Jack had and he was grateful for his newfound friend.

The school was a small old county junior college and though physical ed was required, it was held across town at the YMCA. Jack had no car. He was at the mercy of one of his past friends for whom he had to pay gas money for a lift. Jack took to running across town to P.E. class. With the hard work from the summer and his running, Jack got into shape rapidly, for the first time in his life.

Jack's folks had an apartment they rented to a Marine who transferred to the Navy/Marine Reserve Center in Jack's hometown. The staff sergeant came to visit Jack one day at the school. They drove around town and checked the place out and found a ‘53 Panhead for sale at a car lot. Jack was stoked and couldn't wait to get back to that motorcycle.

Jack discovered Big Daddy Roth's Chopper Magazine and would read them over and over. The guys back home, across the alley used slugs to extend their glide front forks and Jack dreamt of machining one-piece extended fork tubes, but of course, he had neither the means nor the knowledge to do so.

What Jack could do was run a couple of miles to see that Pan, and he did. Then bike was gone. Jack inquired inside the dumpy little office and the guy said that he owned the bike and had moved it back to his storehouse. He claimed the engine had a fresh rebuild and then was rarely ever ridden. He told Jack to come back the next day. He would bring the bike back.

The next day couldn't arrive quickly enough but he gladly ran back over to the car lot. True to his salesman’s word, the red Harley was there. It was stock and had a tank shift. The man told Jack to ride over to an empty lot and practice. He assured him it would come natural to him quickly.

This would be his first Harley. The bike ran like a top. Its paint was faded, and the chrome had lost its gleam, but to Jack, it was a thing of true beauty. He rode around a while and then rode back to his dorm.

Jack didn't want to leave the bike out in the parking lot, so he parked just outside his room. His friend upstairs had his small Honda parked there and he figured it would be cool. The dorm manager had a fucking fit. The athlete upstairs came down to his defense. The dorm manager made it clear to get that damn thing out of there. Jack got a taste of biker prejudice. The shit just kept adding up and he would encounter more problems with the prick.

Things kind of went downhill from there. He had suffered through two semesters and frankly was a terrible student. He rode and chased girls most of the time and trained every chance he got. He and his instructor had words, and one day it finally came to a head. Kicked out of school, he could not attend again anywhere for at least a year. He took to the Marines and a tour in the shit, but he returned to the states and his beloved Panhead.

He rode it stock but was constantly planning what to do in his head. Riding and planning invigorated him. Stock parts were unceremoniously stripped off and thrown in a pile out back. Though he never got around to making fork tubes, he did buy a set of six- overs and gaiters for the wide glide. Of course, a Bates headlight had to be mounted. A 21-inch was laced onto the stock star hub with Buchannan spokes, and he kept the front brake as well.

He didn't turn down the lower legs and after riding in too many rain storms, he set up a polished English-style aluminum front fender. Rather than bob the rear fender or use the stock front fender reversed, he opted for a flat fender and sissy bar.

His friend Crow made the rail for him and Bob painted the tanks, fender, and frame gloss black. A Bates solo seat and p-pad were mounted. He used the stock risers and bolted on a set of buckhorn bars with a stock internal throttle.

Everyone ran upsweeps or drag pipes but Jack decided to go with shotgun pipes and custom mufflers. The tranny on the bike was shot so he rebuilt it with Andrews gears. The engine was good, but he installed a Sifton cam and upgraded the entire valve train. Barnett plates were installed and a new primary and drive chain as well. While doing this he geared it up for a little better highway cruising.

Jack rode alone for the most part in the beginning, but after a while, he would meet local bikers and outriders from other towns while on runs. His bike was no show bike, but it was solid and reliable and in Jack's eyes it was great. It was a real trip when Easyriders Magazine came out. More and more custom parts became available and after long trips for parts, he was lucky to encounter a new reliable custom shop come to town.

Jack finally realized the "choice" he had longed for. He was free now and coming to terms with his demons and foul temper through the Panhead. He learned the code, respect, and what brotherhood was all about. He would never be without friends again and life was just pretty damn sweet.
--Sam Burns 


The 5-Ball Vest that breathes! Pit Crew vest with Brown Trim...
The 5-Ball Vest that breathes! Pit Crew vest with Brown Trim...

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