In 1946, the second World War was finally over. The United Nations held it's first meeting in London, and the former League of Nations was abolished. Frank Sinatra was crooning and swooning all the little bobby soxers, and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox to win the Worlds Series four games to three. The world was finally getting itself back together after a decade of war in Europe and in the Pacific. American service men and women were pouring back home in droves. Some, not content with falling back into their former lives after seeing action all over the globe, turned to motorcycling to give them the sense of adventure they had become accustomed to. The Harley-Davidson Motor Company experienced sales not seen since the start of the war. The top of the line motorcycle of the day was the first post-war year production model of the '46 FL Full Dresser. It was powered by the 74ci Knucklehead Motor that Harley had introduced back at the start of the war in 1941.
As a full Bagger, it came with every modern convenience of the day. A windscreen that featured the lower half clad in a rubberized canvas kept the rider somewhat dry, and full leather saddlebags held enough to make a vet able to ride from NY to LA with all gear he had become accustomed to carrying. Not all of the riders wanted to do long hauls. They became addicted to the new speeds they were previously unable to attain with the pre-war bikes and began chopping all the parts that added weight to the bikes. Hence, the chopper was born.
The idea at the time was to make the bike light and as easily maneuverable as possible. Comfort gave way to speed and handling. Guys wanted a bike they could take out and burn up the roads, and the chopper was just the rig to do it. Some were used at local county fair races, while others were ridden just for the thrill of it.
In 1974, Dan Henke, owner of Henke Cycle in Purling, New York, found this '46 Knucklehead as a basket case in upstate New York and picked it up for $400. Among the parts, Dan discovered most of the Bagger parts had been discarded and in their place were a slew of early '50s vintage chopper parts in pristine condition. He dragged the parts home and they sat in his garage for almost 30 years. Over the years that most of the basket case was collecting layers of dust, Dan had gotten the bike up and running in a few different incarnations. Dan is a full-time vintage and antique bike restorer as well as a National Deputy Judge for the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. Dan knows his vintage bikes and parts down to a science.
Anthony Rutledge of Southbury, Connecticut, had met Dan at a few vintage bike shows and convinced Dan to build a project for him. After pouring over the inventory of pristine vintage parts, Dan confirmed that the bike in question was at one time an example of an early '50s chopper project. It was agreed to have the bike restored to the way the chopper pilot had originally set it up.
Dan got right to work. Starting with the most important elements first, Dan completely re-built the 74ci motor and transmission. The cylinders were bored out to 0.60 inches over to take out the slop and new pistons were installed. Andrews S-Grind cams were added, and the stock flywheels were polished and balanced. The four-speed ratchet top tranny got an overhaul as well. Using the original polished cases, Andrews 244 ratio gears were added. They kept the original rocker clutch setup and the 8-Ball-handled jockey shifter that came with the find. Dan rebuilt the drum brake system so the beast would stop on a dime.
There was a small discussion as whether to convert the electrical system to 12 volt from the original 6-volt system, but it ended abruptly when both men thought why mess with a good thing. Dan rewound the 6-volt generator and kept it in use.
They kept the half-chromed original '46 Springer frontend, atop which still sat the vintage Hellings Hi-Rise Handlebars with the vintage Bates front drum brake lever mounted on the left side. Also saved was the 5-inch KD headlight and the vintage PK tunnel-style taillight. The black paint still shined on the English Banana Hi-Tunnel gas tank and the English ribbed rear fender as well as the original fantastic chroming on the horse shoe oil tank. The short black sissy bar was hand fabricated in the shop by Ernie Barkman and doubled as the struts for the rear fender.
New rubber was definitely needed for the 18-inch front and 16-inch rear stock chrome spoked wheels. They went with a 350x18-inch Avon Speedmaster for the front and a 500x16-inch Goodyear Super Eagle for the rear.
The last parts installed were the MCM Megaphone upswept exhaust pipes and the original Bates solo seat and P pad. Henke Cycles completed this rebuild in the record time of one month, not bad for a one man shop. Dan devoted all his waking hours exclusively to the project. When the bike was completed, Dan kicked her to life and the motor roared like a lion.
Anthony intends to ride the snot out of his newly refurbished find. "It's sat long enough. I have to make up for a lot of lost time and miles"
Dan Henke still has a load of work ahead of him, work that he loves, restoring vintage bikes to the way they were done back in the day. Using original '40s, '50s and '60s vintage parts, Dan Henke of Henke Cycle looks forward to keeping the original old-school choppers and bobbers all original. He doesn't have a website or an email address. "They didn't have computers back in the old days, and I don't have time to sit and type. I'm too busy restoring old bikes." Ya gotta love a guy that loves what he's doing.
|BUILD TIME||ONE MONTH|
|CYLINDERS||H-D 74CI BORED 0.60 INCHES OVER|
|PIPES||MCM UPSWEPT MEGAPHONES|
|YEAR/TYPE||FOUR-SPEED RATCHET TOP|
|CASE||STOCK '46 FL|
|GEARS||ANDREWS 244 RATIO|
|FRAME / SUSPENSION:|
|FRONT||18-INCH CHROME H-D STOCK SPOKER|
|REAR||16-INCH CHROME H-D STOCK SPOKER|
|FRONT||350X18-INCH AVON SPEEDMASTER|
|REAR||500X16-INCH GOODYEAR SUPER|
|FRONT||CHROME STOCK DRUM TYPE|
|REAR||CHROME STOCK DRUM TYPE|
|MOLDING||LEAD MOLDING DONE IN THE '50S|
|CHROME PLATING||ORIGINAL TO THE PERIOD|
|POLISHING||ORIGINAL TO THE PERIOD|
|BARS||VINTAGE HELLINGS HI-RISE|
|RISERS||STOCK GLIDE TYPE|
|ELECTRICAL||6 VOLT GENERATOR|
|FUEL TANK(S)||ENGLISH BANANA HI-TUNNEL|
|OIL TANK||CHROME HORSE SHOE|
|REAR FENDER||ENGLISH RIBBED TYPE|
|FENDER STRUTS||SISSY BAR|
|SEAT||BATES SOLO WITH P-PAD|
P.O. Box 24
Purling, NY 12470