Knocking’ The Dust Off

What To Do Before You Dive Into A Project

Article And Photos By: Daniel Donley

Originally Published In The December 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

It’s nice to have a project for the long cold winters we have here in the Midwest. My projects are typically bike builds for customers or friends. But what if you’re looking for a project or just recently purchased one? You will want to find out as much information about it as possible. What’s been done to it? Do you have any of the receipts for repairs? How long has it been sitting? Did it run? What is wrong with it? With the answers to all of these questions it will help you put together a plan to make all your chopper dreams come true. So, for this month’s tech I am going to get my good friend Paul’s 1968 Shovelhead up and running that has been sitting for many years. This shovelhead has been in his family for many years. Now, it is his turn to make his chopper dreams come true by turning it into a sweet little hot rod bobber that he can burn up the roads on next summer. With all the collected information from Paul I put together a plan to make all of what he wants happen. First off, we have to see what we are working with and get this ol’ girl up and running. A quick walk around shows that the bike has been sitting for quite some time. For starters I check the condition of the battery. It is dead as it can possibly be. Has absolutely no acid in its veins, so I’m gonna call this a junk battery and set it off to the side. On a lot of older Harley’s, the oil in the oil tank will typically bleed off into the engine after sitting. So a quick check of our oil level that shows that is not the issue here. If the scenario was the other way around and the oil tank was bone dry, you ask yourself why would someone drain the oil? This is typically not the case so what you will have to do here is get a fresh battery, pull the spark plugs and crank the girl over until the oil tank fills back up with oil, because you are pumping it back up out of the engine.

Another good indicator of what you are working with on an unknown project is the condition of the spark plugs, are they brand new? If so, this could indicate that someone has already been here trying to get it running which could potentially mean there are other issues. Black as coal and oil soaked, could mean the top end is getting worn out. A nice tan color, typically means a sweet running engine. In the case of our Shovelhead the plugs were a touch black, which means running a little rich and I am OK with that. I cleaned them up really quick in the glass bead cabinet, checked the spark plug gap and put a little anti-seize on the threads and put them right back in. Now, let’s what the inside of the gas tank looks like. A quick twist of the gas cap revealed the inside of the tank was not rusty at all. Which is great, but the gas that was in it was the worst I have ever seen. This would definitely need cleaned out. Also gives me an indication that the inside of the carburetor looks probably just about the same. I remove the carburetor and sure enough it was as dirty as it could possibly be, full of the same nasty fuel that was in the gas tank. I completely disassembled the carburetor and let disassembled the carburetor and let it soak in the parts washer for about an hour. Then began cleaning, all the passages, all the jets, I had to do this a few times. It just seemed like the ol’ carburetor just sucked up all that old nasty gas into its pores. With a few new gaskets in hand I reassembled the carburetor, we should be good to go here now. I also installed an auxiliary fuel tank. We will not be using the tank that is currently on the bike so there is no sense in cleaning it out.

Now we are getting close to getting this thing fired up. I installed a random good shop battery. This bike being a 1968 has a generator and a mechanical voltage regulator. So I need to polarize and or flash the generator, so I can verify once running that it is up to par. Simply put, polarizing or flashing the field coils puts magnetism inside the field coils of the generator so that charging can get started. How do you do this you ask? With the battery installed you make a jumper wire from the positive side of the battery and touch it to the A post on the generator for a SPLIT second, you will see a small spark. Now your generator is polarized and ready to charge. Now we are ready to get this baby fired up. Key on, got power. I bumped the starter button really quick to see if everything was going to work and I’ll be damned this thing fired to life then immediately settled to a nice rumpty, rump idle. With a little bit of adjusting to the carb the ol’ Shovelhead was running as she should. Asking questions and finding out the history on your new found project can go a long way on helping you determine what you actually need to do to get it up and running. It also lets you know what you are working with. Knowledge is key and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also pay attention to the obvious right in front of you.


A quick check on the battery showed voltage was less than half of what it should be and there was no acid in its veins. Definitely a junk battery.


Check the oil level in the oil tank and it was good, it also lets me know that I have a very good oil pump on the engine. Because it has not let the oil bleed down into the engine.


The spark plugs that I removed from the engine were in good condition. I just cleaned them, check gap and put some anti seize on the threads. ALWAYS use anti seize on spark plug threads.


The fuel from the gas tank was the worst I have ever seen. I literally stained the inside of this bowl.


The fuel in the tank was bad so naturally the fuel in the carb is going to be the same. I disassembled and cleaned the carb to get rid of all of the gunk. Installed a new gasket while I was at it.


I never would have guessed the ol S&S Super B carburetor would have cleaned up this good. I have never used one of these carburetor’s before but I can tell you they work very well.


I installed a good known shop battery to help bring the bike to life.


Auxiliary fuel tank hooked up with some fresh gas and ready to go.


With the battery now in the system it is time to polarize the generator, by running a jumper wire from the positive terminal of the battery and a quick touch to the A terminal on the generator polarization is complete.


Fresh gas, clean plugs we should be good to go. I flipped the switch we got power! I bumped the starter button and the ol’ Shovelhead came to life! I checked the voltage at the battery to verify that the charging system was working and it was. I put a jack underneath the bike to raise the rear tire off of the lift table. I pulled in the clutch and put the bike into first gear and left the clutch out, shifted and accelerating through all 4 gears and everything functioned as it should. It seems we are working with some good stuff here. Now on to the next step, to make Paul’s hot rod bobbers dreams come true. If there is something that you would like to see me do a Tech article on please call or email me with your idea! If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at the shop anytime 419-576-6812.