Bike of the Month
1934 Harley-Davidson RLD
By Rodd Lighthouse
In the fall of 2011, I received a phone call from my father about an old Harley-Davidson in Yerington. The lady that owned it called her old school teacher because she was aware that he had an old Indian and thought he may have an idea of what the bike was worth. Her old teacher, Mashall Hyne, was that father of Ray Hyne, who was an acquaintance of my father. My dad had helped Ray with some other antique bike stuff, so Ray knew that he was into old bikes. Prior to informing my father of the bike, Ray did a little research and found out that bike was a 1934 Harley-Davison RLD, a high compression, 45 cubic inch, flathead model. Knowing that I wanted an older bike, Dad called me and soon a trip was coordinated to head to Yerington to check out the old Harley.
Upon arriving in Yerington, we met with Ray and the owner before we headed off to the storage shed. When the door was opened, I saw a rusty pile of partially disassembled motorcycle. I didn't really know what I was looking at. The old H-D looked rough, I could not tell if it was complete, and I didn't think I was capable of bringing it back to life. After some hemming and hawing, I made an offer of $2,000, which I though was too much. The owner politely declined my offer, but we exchanged contact information.
Heading back home with Dad, I came to the realization that I may have screwed up my opportunity to own an old flathead Harley. I could not quit thinking about the '34. After a short time, I called the owner and shared my thoughts with her and told her how much I would like to have the H-D. I assured her that I was not buying the bike to part it out, but rather make it operational and ride it. At the end of our conversation, she said that she would give me the first opportunity to buy the bike when she decided to sell it.
Months went by and I still could not get the rusty pile off my mind. Eventually, I called the owner and she informed that she still had the bike and that I was still going to have first crack at it. She also informed that she moved the bike to another location, as shed on private property, and that there was another party interested in purchasing it. Unfortunately, she still had a deep emotional attachment to the bike and was not ready to part with it. This same scenario went on for a couple of years, and the offer kept getting higher. Finally, a deal was struck in the fall of 2013, and Dad and I went to Yerington the day after Christmas to get my newest prize. To this day, I have never paid more money for a motorcycle, but I was stoked that it was mine and could not wait to get home to start working on it.
When I finally started working on the old '34, I came to the realization that they are rare, only 260 RLD's were made in 1934, and parts are hard to find if not impossible. It takes a lot of patience to work on a depression era motorcycle and one must constantly search eBay for parts and follow all of their leads. Fortunately, most of the engine parts that wear out are interchangeable with later model 45's, and there is a gent that specializes in 1929 to 1936 Harley 45's that reproduces a good selection of parts, but some parts are still unobtanium. Anyway, I started gathering parts (spokes, springer bushings, wiring harness, battery, pistons, piston rings, valves, valve springs, gaskets, ignition coil, points, condenser, tires, inner tubes, brake shoes, and miscellaneous hardware), and working on getting it going. I decided I was not going to restore the bike, but I did restore the wheels and had the seat reupholstered. Jim Meadows supplied the parts and rebuilt the carburetor (thank you, Jimmy). Another friend bored and sized the cylinders. A local machine shop made the almost unobtainable rear brake shell.
It took about 2 1/2 years to piece everything together to see if it would run. Jim Meadows offered to teach me the finer techniques of starting an antique bike and after four or five kicks we got a couple of pops and after a few more, the '34 was billowing smoke and spraying the curb with black oil. I was pumped and couldn't wait to take it for a ride. Since the bike has such poor brakes, it took a bit to get used to coordinating all of my motions so I was able to stop the bike in an acceptable amount of time, but it was a blast to ride.
Since I have gotten it going, I have had a few seizing and oiling issues, and the motor has been apart a couple of times. It now has plenty of piston clearance and I think I have solved the oiling problems. I think I'm finally ready to log some miles and am looking forward to it.