DESERT RATS
By Jim Inman
Over the years an antique motorcycle collector will hear many legends and rumors about old motorcycles that are said to be rusting away in a barn somewhere or one that was just found in factory new condition in the basement of an old hardware store.
You may have heard the legend of the two nearly complete, unmodified, Harley pan heads that were pulled from a desert dump. Well here they are, the fossilized remains of two 1955 FL Pan heads!  The serial numbers are just three digits apart. Never separated, these bikes survived side-by-side, in good times and bad, for almost 50 years. They were salvaged from a desert scrap pile where they had been dumped after their service in the Middle East. Following the first Gulf War in 1991, a technical advisor and factory rep for an American military contractor (We' ll call him the Tank Guy) liberated the big twins from where they had been unceremoniously dumped with a payloader.
 The Harley-Davidson big twin is arguably the most commonly modified machine in the world. These two examples are unmodified from original condition.  Unmodified but well dented, they would be easy restorations.  The motor cases are in perfect condition and the frames appear to be unbent.  Believe me, beautiful restorations have blossomed from more humble beginnings than these.
To restorers and judges of antique motorcycles, these bikes serve as perfect examples to verify the factory correct finishes of chrome, parkerization, cadmium plating, or paint for a proper restoration.  True pan head fanatics have been known to go into a trance like state when examining rats.
Both motorcycles are equipped with sirens, even though they are basically civilian models.  Police model, rigid-frame pan heads would have had different oil tanks, batteries, generators and voltage regulators. 1955 pan heads featured an improved  D-ring to help seal the rocker arm cover gaskets from oil leakage. These D-rings had six screws when the bikes were delivered, but because there was still some oil leakage from the rockerbox gaskets, the D-rings were drilled for twelve screws when the 55 models were serviced at the dealers.
These bikes retain the six screw D-ring configuration as well as the very rare 1954/55 carburetor support that was usually replaced too.  It appears that these bikes were never returned to a dealer for service. The Tank Guy was told that the bikes have less than 4,000 miles on them.  The kickstands are not worn flat on the bottom and that reflects low mileage, but dismantling of the speedometers will be needed to determine the actual mileage. For now the exact mileage remains a mystery. Unmodified but abused, the machines radiate an aura of dignity.  True survivors, they have finally made it back to a dealership for a little R&R!
Presently, the Desert Rats reside at the showroom of Wisconsin Harley-Davidson/Buell in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, just 30 miles from Milwaukee, where they started their journey.  The public can get a good look at them there. Like Venus DeMilo, they are broken but beautiful.
Stop by and pay your respects.
 
 

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