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#10 Bill Page

Augusta, KS

1915 Harley Davidson

By Bill Page
It was the spring of 2014, my friend Kelly Modlin was preparing his motorcycle for the 2014 Cannonball. To keep him company, I started following him around on my old Knucklehead. As we put miles on his old bike and visited with people along the way, I started to slowly contract this addiction, or sickness, called vintage motorcycles. For some the fix might be 35 year old bikes, for others it might be 50 year old bikes. But for those of us who have it bad, the only fix is very, very old and the older, the better.
When the 2016 Cannonball was announced that it would run from Atlantic City, New Jersey to San Diego, California and that required entry was to be at least a 100 year old bike, challenge accepted. Now I just needed to round up enough parts to build a 1915 Harley Davidson that would endure a journey like that. Why did I choose this bike? Well, it was easy. My drug of choice has always been Harley Davidson and the 1915 was an awesome looking machine with the seat position lowered and the square cornered tank.
Kelly called my bike the “Johnny Cash Special” because I really did build it one piece at a time. If you’ll get the tune in your mind it would sound something like this; first came the engine, single cylinder model 11b and then I got a frame. Found me a front end then I bought some wheels. Then came the fenders, handlebars, seat and finally a tranny.
Piece of cake, now just put it all together and ride it, right? Well ride it I did, but every time I rode it something either broke, came loose and just wasn’t working right. Yea, it would start up just fine, ride around the block and 3 miles to town, but whenever I tried to put major miles on it I would uncover problems that would arise from heat, vibration and age. Some hiccups were not things you would put on a checklist, like the lifter pin problem. The lifter pin on a single cylinder is different than on a twin, none are re-pops so you have to make them. The most common to use would be either drill rod or drill stock. On a long ride they have to be just right, if they’re too soft then ends would mash but if they’re too hard the ends would chip off, both cases affecting the valve operation. The cam on a single doesn’t have a long duration so when the intake valve opens you need every bit of opening you can get. Other problems we had to tackle were: valve pockets, exhaust valve sticking, and the stock HX carburetor not being big enough to sustain long rides at a constant speed. Early on I would take rides with my motorcycle club and I couldn’t get the bike to go over 35 mph, at best. It just wouldn’t pull hills or maintain speed. It was not only frustrating for me but for my friends as well because they would hang back with me while others rode on.
After a full year of riding and experimenting with this motorcycle it seemed as though all the bugs had been worked out, it was time to go to Atlantic City. At the riders meeting the night before the start of the race we were told that days 2 and 3 would be 2 of the 3 hardest days of the ride, oh boy! I only had enough parts to rebuild the engine two times so I thought that come the fourth day I might be riding in the truck.
The first day of the race was the shortest day at only 156 miles, the farthest I had ridden the bike thus far was 70 miles so I didn’t know what to expect. We ended up finishing that first day with no issues other than a sore bottom! The second day was 360 miles through the hills of Pennsylvania with 4,000 feet elevation changes. This was the day that took out nearly 1/3 of the riders in the 2016 Cannonball. 108 riders started on day 1, I believe only 52 started on day 3. The 1915 “Johnny Cash Special” not only completed all 360 miles that day but went on to run 13 of 15 days with a perfect score. 3,175 miles total. The day we rode through Carlsbad, California towards the finish line my heart was pounding, I had a huge smile on my face and if you looked real close you probably could’ve seen a tear in my eye. 2 years of hard work and dedication to a cause had come to an end. We finished in 24th place, only 52 riders finished that day with enough miles to go on record as finishing. This was far beyond my expectations, the entire field of 100 year old bikes performed beyond anyone’s expectations.
We were a team and it takes a team effort from family and friends to make this journey. My friend, Eric Erickson, spent countless hours helping me prepare for this race, without him I don’t believe I would have even made the start. My son Billy, even with 2 new babies at home sacrificed 3 weeks to go along with me and work on the bike night after night alongside Eric. My friends Kelly and Ellen Waddell rode many miles at 35 mph early on, (which was not easy on Kelly if you know what I mean!) and Kelly Modlin, who I have ridden with a lot in preparation for the next Cannonball as well.
Over the next few issues I am going to preview the 2018 Cannonball. I will let you know how our bikes are coming along as well as the other Sunflower Chapter entrants and keep you informed of any news about the upcoming event. As of right now, all we know is that it will start in Portland, Maine and end in Portland, Oregon with a day of rest in Deadwood, South Dakota. 3,800 miles total. Riders who have been accepted in the field for 2018 from our chapter are: Kelly Modlin, this will be his 4th Cannonball and was a big influence for getting me involved in the event. Billy Page, my crew chief from the 2016 race will be riding his own 1916 Harley. And Terry Richardson, this will be his 3rd Cannonball.
Oh, and I will be riding the ole “Johnny Cash Special”
Till next time, we’re gone.