Boulangerie Essays 62400 Shifter/Throttle

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1937 Harley-Davidson UMG Police Bike

To anyone who knows Harley-Davidsons from the 1930s, there are several obvious things wrong with the bike pictured here.

For starters, this 1937 flathead, 74-cubic-inch “U” model has its hand-shifter located on the right side of the gas tank—the opposite of Harley practice and the same side typically used by its rival, Indian.

Then there’s the lack of an ignition distributor between the cylinders. Everybody knows that Harleys came with distributors, while Indian was better known for its magneto ignition—just like you’ll find on this machine. 

Plus, there’s the color—a shade of red that is highly reminiscent of that other American motorcycle manufacturer.

In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you might think this bike represents somebody’s attempt to turn a Harley U model into an Indian Chief.

And you’d be right.

But you’d probably never guess who was responsible for this crime against truth, justice and the Harley way. As it turns out, the guilty party was Harley-Davidson itself. Which makes the story of this one-of-a-kind motorcycle, owned by Dale Walksler, curator of the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, absolutely fascinating.

Walksler notes that, back in the ’30s, Harley and Indian were in fierce competition to corner the market for police motorcycles. These fleet sales were an important segment for both companies, and one of the big prizes was the New York City Police Department, which bought lots of motorcycles back then.

Being in the Northeast, New York had traditionally purchased its patrol machines from Indian, which was located only about 150 miles away in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“Harley really wanted to crack that market,” says Walksler. “But New York was always Indian-oriented, and it was a very political issue.

“Now, this is more speculation than anything I’ve seen in writing, but to be able to bid on the New York police contract, I would imagine they were handed a set of specifications that the bike had to be built to. And it’s likely those specifications were written based on the Indians they had been buying, so they would have required right-hand shift,  left-hand throttle, magneto ignition and a foot clutch that was ‘heel to go’ (rock the lever backward to engage), the way Indian did it, rather than ‘toe to go’ (rock the lever forward to engage), the way Harley did it.”

That kind of uniformity would have made a lot of sense for a city agency buying motorcycles to be used by an entire police force. You wouldn’t want an officer getting aboard a motorcycle where all the controls were completely different from the bike he rode yesterday.

It’s even possible that the specifications would have stipulated the bike’s color. After all, policemen on the beat all wore the same uniform—why shouldn’t their motorcycles?

Both Harley and Indian had dealt with such issues before in trying to land fleet contracts. And both companies had developed kits to adapt their machines to the control layout used by the competition. But in this case, Harley-Davidson set out to build exactly what the customer wanted, from the ground up. And thus was born the Harley UMG, a bike that combined the company’s existing big-twin (U) engine with magneto-generator (MG) ignition.

It was, for all practical purposes, an Indian Chief replica, or at least, as close a replica as Harley could build.

Period photographs show that Harley achieved some success in its efforts to supply motorcycles to the New York Police Department. Images show Harley UMGs in use, and one photo even shows Indian and Harley machines side by side.

But the number of UMGs Harley actually produced has always been something of a mystery. The official Harley-Davidson word on the subject, contained in “The Legend Begins,” a compilation of documents from the first nine decades of the company’s existence, lists production at 150 in 1937, 141 in 1938 and 82 in 1939. However, Walksler thinks those numbers may be optimistic.

“I think those were based on projected sales,” he says, “not actual orders or production.”

Walksler, who has spent decades finding and preserving unique American motorcycles, bases that opinion on the extreme rarity of UMGs today.

“In all the years that I’ve been collecting,” he says, “I had seen only one set of UMG engine cases, and that was a brand-new, never-used set that I found in Kansas. Then there was a set that showed up on Ebay. And once, I found a left engine case and built a bike around it.

“That’s everything I knew of until five years ago, when I found a complete UMG engine at the AMCA meet in Eustis,” he says. “I remember that it was a real rainy day, and the engine was lying under a tarp. I lifted the tarp and saw this flathead motor. Then I spun it around and saw the UMG serial number. I asked the owner, ‘What do you want for this thing?’ Then I covered it right back up.”

Walksler bought the engine on the spot, and he says he’s never seen another since.

“So besides this engine, in all the years I’ve been messing with this stuff, I’ve only seen components,” says Walksler, although he notes that one allegedly complete UMG showed up briefly on Ebay early this year, posted by a seller in Croatia. But the bike, which was painted silver, didn’t sell and hasn’t resurfaced.

“That rarity leads me to believe they didn’t really build that many. Other people have different opinions as to why they don’t exist—maybe they were scrapped. But that’s a pretty low survival rate—perhaps three sets of cases and one complete engine out of three or four hundred original bikes. I think it’s more likely that the actual production run was much smaller.”

Once Walksler had the UMG engine, he and his son, Matt, went right to work finding the rest of the parts to build a complete bike.

“The frame and fork were regular production parts, so they were easy,” Walksler says, “but the gas tanks aren’t, because of the right-hand shift. I had the correct left tank (one without the brackets for attaching a shifter), but I needed the right-side tank (with the shifter brackets), and I was able to find one from Bill Morris at Bill’s Old Bike Barn in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.”

Just as hard to track down was the linkage for the right-side shifter. Walksler says that the linkage mechanism was never listed in Harley’s parts catalogs, but that he found one through Jeff Coffman of Jeff’s American Classics in Dundee, Oregon.

“He told me, ‘I think I’ve got one of those things,’ so I asked him to ship it to me,” Walksler recalls. “It turns out his was made for an overhead-valve machine, which meant it was slightly different from the flathead version, so we had to figure out the geometry of all the pivot points.”

As he got further into the project, Walksler realized that he already owned one of the UMG’s unique pieces: the foot-clutch lever designed to work in the opposite direction of Harley’s standard practice, engaging when the rider pressed down on the heel portion.

“I had that part for 30 years,” he says. “I saw it someplace and didn’t know what it was, so I bought it. I never knew what it went to until we started working on this bike, and I discovered that it was designed for the backward clutch linkage of the UMG.” 

The final piece Walksler had to track down was the casting that mounts the magneto ignition system on the engine.

“The magneto itself isn’t impossible to find, because it was used on other bikes,” he explains. “But the carrier that holds the magneto is such a rare part. Eventually, I found one through my friend, Barry Brown, in Canada.”

The carrier on Walksler’s machine is made with an “EX” casting mark that indicates it came from Harley-Davidson’s experimental department, which usually produced pieces just for prototypes or factory racebikes. And he suspects that same experimental mark may have been on the mag carrier for every UMG ever made.

“They probably never made this as a true production piece,” he says.

The build project took place in the shop at the Wheels Through Time Museum, and it became the subject of a series of videos posted on the museum website. So if you want to see a truly rare American machine brought back to life right before your eyes, just go to the video section of and search for “UMG.”

And if you want to see the completed motorcycle, well, a run down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Maggie Valley, North Carolina, home of Wheels Through Time, seems in order.—Bill Wood

The Wheels Through Time Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. For more information, call (828) 926-6266.

Похоже, ты облажался, приятель. - Но сейчас только без четверти. Двухцветный посмотрел на часы Беккера. Его лицо казалось растерянным. - Обычно я напиваюсь только к четырем! - Он опять засмеялся.

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