(Bob and Kenny) Harley – 74 Side Valve
It was the 3rd week of August 1948; I’d heard about this 74” for sale up in North Dakota. This friend of my living in a real small town of Heckla. He rode a late model Harley and flew small planes. I always loved motorcycles and airplanes, so we became good friends. I asked Bunnerd if he was sure of this Harley, as I didn’t want to go on another wild goose chase. He assured me it was true, that his brother knew of the motorcycle and had actually seen it in North Dakota, when he was picking up a tractor and a farmer told him of the Harley for sale and if he knew anyone that might be interested. The owner had been killed in Italy during the war and it sounded like a real good deal. He said I could probably buy it for $200 or less. He said it was on a farm out of Gwinner, North Dakota, so I asked my two buddies if they would like to take a ride up into North Dakota and maybe over into Minnesota. Their eyes lit up when I said Minnesota, they had always wanted to go to Minnesota, they had read that it had over 10,000 lakes. I told my buddies this could be a 2-3, even 4-day trip so we had better take along extra clothes and a good jacket, as the weather is known to change fast up in the Mid-West. I told the boys to keep their clothes in bags so it would be easier to tie onto the cycle. I tied my bag onto the front fender and onto the Springer fork. Bob and Kenny tied theirs onto the side of the luggage rack on top the saddlebags. We looked like a bunch of gypsies!
Come Monday morning off we rode. North Dakota is only an easy 10 miles north of Britton, all gravel roads so you only ride 35 to 50 M.P.H. We stopped in Forman, filled up with gas, regular was 2 1 cents per gallon. There are always lots of men around gas stations, so I asked about the motorcycle, no one had seen any around for a long time or heard of any for sale. One guy said to try Gwinner, he saw a motorcycle there 2-3 months ago, while he was looking for a hay stacker. So off for Gwinner we rode.
All gravel road to Gwinner which isn’t much of a town. Talked to a man running the grain elevator, they usually know a lot of farmers and hear a lot of bull. The guy’s name was Jack; he was about 40 years old. He said he heard about a Harley a few months ago. The farmer who told him said the poor fellow who owned the bike was killed in Italy. When we heard this we all got excited and I asked where might we find the farmer?’ He said he was from around Wyndmere, that’s only 25 to 3 5 miles away, so off we rode. We got to Wyndmere, it’s a pretty good size town for North Dakota, 1,000 to 2,000 people I would guess. We stopped at a Phillips gas station to fill up, asked the attendant if he’d ever heard of an old Harley for sale, the man had been killed during the war. He said he could have but if 1 was looking for a motorcycle, to ride up to Wahpeton, it’s a good size town that has a couple of motorcycle shops. Also, there’s Breckenridge, Minnesota, across the Red River. I’d heard a lot about the Red River; it would almost flood in the spring, when all the snow started to melt. The road out of Wyndmere was black top, man was that nice to ride on, one could go 50-60 M.P.H. We rode into Wahpeton, it was only 25 miles, and almost in front of our eyes we see this Indian Shop, so we stopped there, all excited. We’d never seen anything like this in our part of South Dakota. The owner talked to us; a really nice guy named Milt Slenton. He gave us his business card, tried to sell us a new Indian Chief, only $795, saddle bags and all, it even had a good size windshield. But I told Mr. Slenton I’d loved to buy a new Indian from him but I didn’t even have a good job, let alone any money. I asked him about the old Harley 74”, said he never heard about this one, we might try John Bendon. I asked who is he? He said everyone knows John, told us how to get to his place, so off we rode, told him we’d come back someday. Little did I realize that Fall I would come back and go to school there, Wahpeton State.
We found John’s place with a big barn out behind his house. The shop was closed, had a sign on the door, “John’s at work, call tomorrow. I met John when I went to school there, we became good friends. We’d ride all the roads all over North Dakota and Minnesota. John would get his hair cut for 25 cents at the Barber College. On weekends, John had a real good job on the Railroad, he’d never give that job up. He sold English bikes, Triumph BSA, and Arials. He was one of the few dealers that sold foreign bikes. We rode back onto Main St. and saw the V.F.W. Hall. I said if anyone would know of a man who got killed during the war in Italy, they would know!
So we went inside, it was a big, dark bar, there were a few people drinking at the bar. Old Bartender asked what you kids want? I told him our story, I told him I’d been in the Navy during World War II. He said, kid when you get a little older come back and see us, we’ll get you into the V.F.W. I thanked him, but said can you tell me anything about the man killed in Italy that had a Harley and now his family wanted to sell it? I found out later he’d been shell shocked, so what he said might not be much use. We started to go outside, he ran out to us and said, try old man Denton in Breckenridge, he runs the Harley store there. So, off we rode, just across the Red River, stopped at a Conaco station, asked where the Harley shop was and a nice kid told us how to get there.
The town was not very large, 2 to 3 thousand or so. We found the store, no problem, we all went into the store. Nice place, they had 56 Harleys, few parts. A young man asked if he could help us, so I told him our story. God only knows how many times I told that story. The young man said, I’ll go ask my dad, he knows everyone within 100 miles. His dad came out from the back of the store, he’d been working on an engine, his hands were real oily. A nice man, he’d heard of the fellow, poor guy got killed in Italy. Told us how to get out to the farm, it was about 10 to 12 miles into Minnesota, about 12 to 15 miles from Fergus Falls.
We found the farm, it was getting late in the day, we were hungry and tired. The farmer was out by a big work shed, looked like he was working on a John Deere. I rode over to him turned my Harley off, we all got off. I went over to this farmer, told him old man Denton had told us about him and he may know about this Harley for sale. He was a real nice man, talked with a heavy brawl. Said sure, I heard of this guy being killed in Italy, said the farmer that would really know would be “Old Man Hanson”. His farm was down by Elbow Lake, he said, get on Highway 54 to 55 turn west a few miles then get on Highway 9 going south. I wrote the directions down on an old piece of paper I had in my jacket. I always wore bomber jackets, still do.
About this time I said, I’m real hungry and tired. I asked any chance you got some work we could do for a meal and place to bed down for the night? He said, you boys look okay, you can sleep in the barn, but no smoking and you leave that motorcycle outside. We assured him none of us smoked, he said he could tell, that none of you boys smelled of smoke, he said you boys want a shot of good ol White Lightning, I said no thanks. He said I thought you had been in the Navy, didn’t you drink there? I said yes, but that was beer, I could tell he expected us to drink with him so we all said we’d try some. I remember my dad telling me if you’re around some big shots and they offer you a drink, take it. Put your tongue on the bottle and tip it like you’re drinking, people will never know the difference, so that’s what I did. I played like I was really enjoying the White Lightning. My buddies actually drank it, they looked like a couple of old drunks and boy were they sorry the next day, both had big heads.
After about half an hour of drinking, this farmer’s wife comes out to the barn, said aren’t you ever coming in to eat? About this time she noticed us 3, she asked you boys eat yet? I said no, but we were all real hungry, we offered to do some work. Old Lars said, too late to work, come on in and eat with us. So we ate a real good meal, boiled potatoes, big hamburger steak, green peas, and that homemade bread, it was wonderful! We all ate like horses. Old man Lars said, you boys don’t look like you ate for a week. We assured him we had but not since this morning. Lars’s wife, said you know you got to eat to stay healthy. After supper we all went out to the barn to sleep. Lars was a nice guy, told us, you boys look like nice kids, come back someday and see me. We all said we would. We had a real good night’s sleep. We must have lay on that hay talking until 11:00, Kenny had the only watch. We all fell asleep.
In the morning we woke to see the sun out, it looked like it was going to be a nice day. We got up, went over to the water trough and washed up, and dried off with our bandanas. Almost everyone carried bandanas in those days. We all went out behind the barn and took a good crap. Lars was nowhere around and we didn’t want to go into the house.
We loaded up the Harley and went down the road. We rode for about 10 miles on Highway 59, saw a sign that said 55, so I turned onto road 55 just a few miles saw a sign, highway 9, turned south, rode just a few miles and saw another sign, Elbow Lake, rode a few blocks, the town was really small. One gas station, so I pulled up, filled up the Harley with good old regular, 21 cents a gallon. It was getting around 50 miles to the gallon, so we didn’t spend much on gas. Real easy on a 45” right side tank with a nice oil stick to check the oil. All bikes should be this easy! I paid the guy in the station for the gas, and asked were we could get something to eat? He said best and only place in town is Old Alma’s place. First I asked the fellow if he knew of a farmer named Hansen. He said there’s lots of Hansen’s around Elbow Lake, but ask in the cafe.
So we rode to Alma’s Cafe, all 3 of us went in and sat down in a really nice booth. A really beautiful girl came over and asked, you boys want to see a menu or just order off the board? We looked up at the board, a big sign said, ham and eggs, 55 cents. We all ordered ham and eggs, boy was it good! None of us drank coffee at that time, we always ordered milk. The pretty girl came over, gave us the bill and asked what you boys doing? Kenny told her our story, I think he liked her. But who wouldn’t, she was young and such a beautiful blonde, we could hardly talk!, she said, what’s the matter boys, cat got your tongue? I finally said no, we just haven’t seen someone as beautiful as you in a long time. (Liar) She said you boys should stay awhile, get a job on a farm. There’s a big barn dance Saturday night at Larsen’ s farm. We said we’d love to but first we have to find this Harley, so I told her the story of trying to find that 37. I asked if she knew of a farmer named Hansen? She said there must be 10 Hansen’s around here.
Just then a man in the next booth said, which Hansen you looking for? I got up and told him our story of trying to find the Harley. He asked where you boys from? We told him. He said, you’re a long ways from home, aren’t there any motorcycles in South Dakota? I said yes, but I wanted to find this one, 1937, 44” Flat Head. He told us there’s an old man Runi Hansen, he’s got a farm about 3 miles out on old road 63, he said he’d seen a motorcycle there a few years ago. He had gone over to pick up some apples, for his wife, she wanted to make some apple pies and Hansen’s apples are supposed to be the best for making pies. We all thanked him and off we rode again, it was getting close to noon.
I told my buddies, we have got to find that Harley and we should head home tomorrow. Little did I realize we would be gone a few more days. We found the Hansen fann’s old mailbox out by the road, it said Hansen’ s, so we rode up to the farm. There was a girl out by what looked like a chicken house, we got off the Harley, walked over to the girl, she turned around, said what you boys doing, are you lost? Kenny popped up, no. I said, are all the girls around here beautiful? She must have been 16 or 17, she blushed and said all Norwegian girls are pretty. I said you’re right, all the girls we’ve seen last 40 to 50 miles are just beautiful! She talked with us for 15 minutes or so then I said, we just have to find the Harley, she said you already have a Harley, why don’t you just buy a car? Look at all the girls you could pick up if you had a car. I said lots of girls love to ride on motorcycles. She said I’d love to go for a ride. Just then a lady came out of the house, headed right for us. She was an old crab and said what are you boys doing bothering my girl? We told her we just stopped for some information. The girl’s name was Abc, she said mother, these boys seem like nice boys, they are only being nice to me. I tried to tell the lady our story of the Harley, she said I don’t like those old motorcycles or anyone that rides them. I’m sorry you feel that way, I said. But did you ever hear of a man having a Harley? He went off to war and was killed in Italy. She popped up, oh for heaven’s sake that’s Jim Larson, he was such a nice boy and those Germans killed him! Her daughter popped up mother, you don’t know if it was the Germans. Her mom said, well who else would do that to such a nice boy? She said to go see Bert Hansen, his farm is only 2 minutes up the road. We thanked her, told the girl thanks and hope we see her again someday, we never did.
We rode off for Bert Hansen’s farm about 2 miles, found the right mailbox that said Bert Hansen Farm. We rode up to the farm about half a mile off the road. I saw a man driving a Farmal Tractor over by the barn. So I rode over toward him. He stopped his tractor when he saw us and asked what you boys doing? I said we were looking for an old Harley. He got down from the tractor, said now what you looking for? I told him again. He said that old Harley had been his boy’s motorcycle and he was killed in Italy. I said yes we know, we were just looking to see if we can find it. He said I don’t like to talk about the war. I said I understood, I’d just like to find the Harley. I had on a t-shirt he could see my tattoos, come over closer he said you were in the Navy? You must have been real young, I said 17 when I went in. He said you don’t look much older now! Remember that was the summer of “49” I assured him I was 23, I don’t think he believed me. I asked again, can you tell me of the Harley? He said I probably could, just don’t know if 1 want to talk about it. I assured him I meant no harm or hard feelings. He said follow me.
As we walked over to a big old shed, he noticed I walked with a limp, said you got hurt in the war? I said no. He said then how did you hurt your leg? I said I’m sorry but that’s something I never talk about. He opened the shed door, it had a big lock on it and it looked rusty. He said you will be the only one in this shed since I found out my son was killed. I locked the shed up and told myself I’d never open that shed again. But you seem like a nice boy, then told my two buddies to stay outside, at least for now. I followed him into the shed, he reached up and pulled a cord, a light came on, now maybe I could see. He then reached over on the wall flipped a big light switch, the whole shed lit up. Mr. Hanson said, young man that’s the first time those lights have been on since I found out Jim had been killed. I told myself and everyone else, as long as I’m alive, I’d never open that shed again. He told me, I like you young man. What I’m about to show you, no one else will ever see. He pulled some heavy blankets off the motorcycle, must have had 4 or 5 blankets, see he said this is what you came to see. I almost passed out, what I saw was on of the most beautiful Harley’s in the worlds It was bright Fire Engine Red and the side of the fenders were painted a beautiful cream color. Also, on the side of the gas tank was a beautiful blue pin stripe. I said Mr. Hanson, that bike didn’t come from the factory with that paint job. He told me the red did but Jim had worked in a body and fender shop before going into the army. he painted the cram and a buddy of his pin stripped it. I looked the bike over real good, it had a beautiful Buddy seat on it, no windshield or bags. In a box covered up was a new windshield and a beautiful set of tan saddle bags. Mr. Hanson told me Jim was always going to put the shield and bags on, but he just loved that bike the way it was. he said Jim was about to put them on when he got his draft notice and a week later he was off to Texas for basic training. Then he was shipped overseas almost at once. He never had leave he told me Jim had been overseas little over 2 years and was due to come home on leave. Then I got word he had been killed. Mr. Hanson said, I’ve never been the same since. I told him maybe now that you showed me his motorcycle, thins will start to get better for you. we covered that beautiful Harley up. I didn’t even ask him if he would sell it. we walked out of the shed, he turned out the lights and locked that shed up. My buddies were waiting outside, they asked if they could see the Harley. Mr. Hanson said – NO-, this is the only man ever to see the Harley, as long as I’m alive no one will ever see it again. I asked Mr. Hanson what will become of it when you and your family pass on, I said not soon maybe 30 or 40 years down the road? He laughed and said I’m 76 now and if 1 can make another 10 years I’ll be happy. I said you’re a wonderful man, God will continue to take care of you and your family. I told him maybe you should think about leaving Jim’s Harley to a good Museum. He said maybe that sounds like a good idea. It was getting late, my buddies said let’s head for home, that sounds good I told them. We bid Mr. Hanson goodbye and I thanked him again. As I was walking over to my motorcycle, He could see I was limping. He shouted, I still say you got hurt in the Navy. I said nothing, we all got on my Harley and headed down the driveway. As I looked back, I could see Mr. Hanson wiping tears from his eyes. I thought to myself, what a wonderful old man.
We drove down the driveway in silence as I turned on to Highway 9 heading south, it was 6:00. We were all hungry so we stopped in a small town called Morris. We saw a small cafe, parked the Harley, and went inside. We had a wonderful meal of pork chops, mashed potatoes and ye, green peas, all for 65 cents each! I told my buddies we had better find a place to bed down for the night, tomorrow we can ride home. We went down by the stockyards, found an old barn with no one around, lots of hay and water nearby. I parked the Harley inside the barn, and made our beds in the hay, boy I was all tired out. I kept thinking of Mr. Hanson, what a wonderful old man. There are so many good people in this world. Why do we have just a few really bad people that cause all the big problems of the world? We fell asleep fast. Wasn’t long the sun was out, we all got up, went over to the water faucet and washed up. I always like to run a lot of water on my face, seems to wake me up fast.
We rode out of town, found Highway 25 going to Browns Valley. We stopped and ate, yes, at a small cafe with a big sign on the wall that read, bacon and eggs, 50 cents. Boy did we eat good, that milk tasted so good too!
I knew Browns Valley to Sisseton wasn’t very far and we’d be back on Highway 10, back to Britton before too long. We pulled into Britton at one o’clock, we had almost a whole day ahead of us. I took my buddies home then I rode down to the Drugstore to see my Sweetie Pie, Donna. Boy was I glad to see her! I had been gone three and a half days and it seemed like weeks, Donna was happy to see me too. I tried to talk to her but I could see she was real busy, her boss stuck his head out from the back room, he was an old crab. I don’t think he liked me, I know he did not like motorcycles. He always said I think they should outlaw them, I asked why? He replied, you’re dumb kid, they’re dangerous, don’t you know anything? I never said anything and I didn’t want Donna to lose her job.
The next day I went to work, crop spraying for Dan Augustine. he was a good pilot, I flew with him a lot. He had been in the Air Force, was a pilot. I heard years later he was killed while spraying. He flew under high line wires, hit an up draft that took him into the wire, his plane burned up. He always told me never, never fly under any wires, it’s dangerous! He made one big mistake and it cost him his life.
After working that day I went home and Donna asked me if I was going to tell her about my trip and did you find the Harley you were looking for? I said I just didn’t want to talk about it for a while, I’m sure she understood. In time I did tell her of our trip and the Harley. She also felt sorry for Mr. Hanson and said he must have really liked you to let just me see the Harley and no one else. I had found my dream. but I’d never have that beautiful Harley, and maybe no one else will either. It was truly a piece of art.
In September, Donna and I moved to Wapeton where I went to school and she worked in a Dry Cleaners for sixty-five cents an hour. I got one hundred and five dollars a month on the G.I. Bill. I loved that school!
We rode my “45” Harley home a couple times a month. One hundred miles of gravel roads and twenty-five miles of blacktop. We had planned on riding home for Thanksgiving. When we woke up a day before we were to leave and looked out the window of our small apartment, it had snowed, that killed our riding for the winter. We road to Britton with a couple who lived in a town by Aberdeen, I can’t remember the name of the town.. We had a week or two off and the fellow picked up up on his way back to school. Our Harley sat outside in the back yard all winter long. I did find an old cover to put over it, took out the battery and put it in our apartment.
It is now fifty-three years later, our four boys are grownup and have children of their own. I spent forty wonderful years in the Motorcycle business, mad many wonderful friends, I wouldn’t trade my last fifty-three years for anything else! I’m happy living out my life in Maple Valley with my wonderful wife Donna, our grandchildren, six girls and two boys. Our youngest grandchild is nineteen months old as I write this on January 24, two thousand and three, 1/24/03. Donna and I get to see her almost every day, Emily and Chickie, Russ’ girls live down the street two blocks away. We have a home in Arizona and we go down there a couple weeks each month from October to May. I am happy, have a motorcycle at both homes and life couldn’t be any better.
I was always going to go up into Minnesota and see Mr. Hanson, but I never made it. Oh, I still dream of that 1937, 74 inch side valve Harley in Minnesota and that beautiful young girl in the Cafe.