Burn It Down



Article And Photos By: Alex Scott

Melted tire stuck to burnt wheels, charred frontend stripped with rust, and a scolded engine detached and disassembled. There could be, perhaps, no other scene that Doug Balko could stumble upon that would better inspire a ground-up build on a half-century old bike. But, out of tragedy and a bit of bad luck, came the opportunity for Doug to realize one of his dreams, one that thousands of bikers share, a chance to completely restore a 1949 Harley Panhead.

The bike was originally owned by Doug’s friend and coworker, Mike. A fire tore through the shop of one of Mike’s friends, and unfortunately, was razed to the ground. The Pan just happened to be there and was badly damaged. Seeing no other alternative, Mike locked it away in a shed behind his house. The bike’s hiatus was longer than expected, and spent the next 20 years undisturbed. Doug and Mike both work together at NASA and after nearly 15 years of talking about it, Doug finally bought the bike and decided to raise this Pan from the ashes once again.

Doug and Mike both got into riding at a young age. Doug started out on dirt bikes and at age fifteen he got his license and a road bike. His first Harley came at age twenty-two: a 1976 Super Glide. From then on out it was only Harleys for Doug. Mike has had his share of bikes from BMWs to Harleys as well.

When Doug went to pick up the Panhead, he said it was like walking through a motorcycle museum. Now that he had the old Pan, he was finally able to start the build on the vintage bike; literally from the ground up. Doug brought the bike’s remains in a box back to his house to survey the damage, but the autopsy was not looking too good. The ’49 powdercoated frame was still in good condition, but not much else. The engine and tranny were completely disassembled and he began to scrape burnt rubber off the metal.


Despite the glum outlook, Doug started right away to get the bike back in flight. First, was to put the engine back together. Working on weekends and after work, he began the project in his garage in Pasadena, Texas. Parts weren’t easy to come by and scouring swap meets and Web sites soon turned into a daily routine. Doug hunted down some of the pieces he was looking for at the J&O swap meet. He says Rob Osborn, of Osborn Cycles, was very knowledge and beneficial in helping him find the parts he needed for this build. The Phase 3, 2” drive belts, new controls and a new suicide shift all came from Osborn Cycles.

Parts were coming from everywhere. Doug rebuilt a carburetor he bought on eBay, as well as the front wheel. He found a stock DNA Springer frontend, and the rear wheel came from V-Twin Cycles. Like a man possessed, Doug finished the build in just under 5 months. Finishing touches came from a can of flat black spray paint and some pinstriping found on eBay. The paint was going to be temporary; a quick job most bikers could relate with to get the bike on the road! Doug got so many compliments when riding around with that $5 paint job, he decided to keep it. And how could you blame him.

The bike already had the Morris magneto, which Doug sent out and waited patiently, as that was the last missing piece of the puzzle. He says the grand moment was when this sleeping beauty roared to life , and it sounded like a Texas thunderstorm. Doug’s wife, Jimisu, came running out of the garage to watch the culmination of the hard work, passion, and the love that went into the bike. Doug immediately rode it to work to show his buddy Mike, who was very helpful during the build, what had become of the old bike. Mike was impressed, to say the least, and was glad it went to a good home.

The bike is a not-so-quiet reflection of its trials and tribulations. With red pinstripes and flat black paint resembling the flames and soot that tried to destroy it, this Panhead rose like a phoenix from the ashes, and who better to send it up and away then a NASA man himself.


Burn It Down ‘49 Pan Tech Sheet

Owner: Doug Balko

City: Pasadena, TX

Fabrication by: Doug Balko

Year: 1949

Model: FL

Time: 5 Months

Value: Priceless


Year: 1949

Model: Pan/Shovel

builder: Doug Balko

ignition: Morris Magneto

displacement: 86” S&S Stroker

pistons: S&S heads: ‘66 Shovel

cam(s): Sifton 440

carb: S&S Super E

air cleaner: Bobber

exhaust: CCI

primary: 2” Phase 3 Belt


Year: 1949 Ratchet Top

Make: HD

shifting: Jockey


Year: 1949 Wishbone

Make: HD

rake: Stock

stretch: Stock

Front end

type: Springer

builder: DNA

extension: Stock


Front wheel:

size: 21”

tire: Avon

brakes: Huh?

rear wheel:

size: 16”

tire: Avon

brakes: Drum


painter: Doug Balko

color: Flat Black

type: Rattle Can

chroming: None

Graphics: Doug Balko

Molding: None


bars: Drag Specialties

risers: DNA

hand controls: Drag Specialties

Gas tank(s): HD 3.5 Gallons

Front Fender: None

rear Fender: 5” Flat

seat: Bates

Foot controls: J&P Cycle

oil tank: Spun Aluminum

Mirrors: None

headlight: J&P Cycle

taillight: Sparto

speedo: None

photographer: Alex Scott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.