I currently own a 1972 Harley Davidson FLH Shovelhead that I picked up for a steal off of Craigslist.
The story here is that this is actually my second early 70’s Shovelhead. The first (a 1973) I bought in college, painstakingly restored, and very regrettably sold in order to provide capital for a small business I was trying to start (boy was that a bad idea!). In my memory, those were the “good ‘ole days,” full of risk-taking and youthful over-ambitiousness.
I basically had no money, so I really had no business buying a basket-case motorcycle. That term, “basket-case” is thrown around liberally when it comes to any non-running motorcycle, but as the name implies, a true basket-case is essentially “a pile of parts, sometimes stored in baskets.” In my case, I exchanged emails with a guy off Craigslist and since I had no car, I agreed to buy what he had for $1,500 site unseen (unbelievable). If I remember correctly, I might have even borrowed the money from my girlfriend at the time and paid her back in installments. Seriously, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I had no business buying that bike.
Anyways, the Craigslist guy showed up at my place with four or five of those large cardboard moving boxes sitting in the bed of his truck. Inside were engine cases, flywheels, cylinders, pistons, rocker boxes, etc. all completely disassembled. To my somewhat untrained eye, it looked like a complete Shovelhead minus the frame. So, there it was, my first Harley Davidson, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Besides the money issue, there were several other major factors stacked against the success of my endeavor. First, at the time, I was at best a novice mechanic (I had a Yamaha Virago that I did basic maintenance on). Second, I lived in a one-room apartment, so I really had no good place to store it and work on it. Finally, my tools consisted predominantly of wrenches and sockets that I had picked up at the local Ace Hardware, because it was the only hardware store in walking distance.
That said, I saw this pile of parts as an opportunity to learn everything about “my bike” from the ground up. Fast forward a little bit, and I had built a PVC work-shed on the small fenced patio outside my apartment to provide an enclosed outdoor work space. I built a mini paint booth from an old set of shelves and developed many relationships with local shops owners. I spent so much time at one small shop in particular that they allowed me to work there on weekends – not for money (since they couldn’t afford to hire me), but for storage space, access to specialty tools, and dealer prices on parts. I remember sitting there late one night lacing the spokes on a wheel.
Long story short, I finished the Harley and it ended up being a beautiful custom. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture. This all happened in the early days of pagers and cell phones and things just didn’t get as well documented as they do now.
Anyways, if you can’t tell by my story above, I loved that bike, and I think until last November the regret over selling it weighed heavy on my heart. I told my fiance (now wife) the story above, and she suggested I buy another project (she is the best!). To me, the only logical thing to do was to replace the Shovelhead. Shovelhead for Shovelhead 🙂
So, I started shopping and ultimately found the ’72 FLH. The purchase met all the buying criteria I outlined in my post regarding how to purchase a vintage bike (I learned a few lessons from last time), and I couldn’t be happier. I now spend a good portion of my weekends and free time working on the Shovel and since you have read this far, I am going to assume you are on this journey too. HappyWrench.com is going to feature the work done on the Shovel. Micro-projects will get turned into posts, and you will see the bike grow and change as things get done.
Thanks for reading friends and PLEASE PLEASE share your own stories. If you want, you can even submit your own post about your own projects, and I will publish it on the site. I would love to hear more stories about people over-coming the odds to build their dream bike. Happy Wrenching people!
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