The Endless Highway

Accidental Rebuild

Article by: Scooter Tramp Scotty


It had been over a month since I’d come to stay with the girl whose trailer resided at a park in the Los Angeles suburbs. Brent, owner of Black Jack Cycles located just down the street, had allowed me to rewire my 1988 FLHT, rebuild its front end, install a new stereo, and more in his parking lot and for a while that place had become my full time job. That was over now and all that remained was the much smaller repair of installing a new charging system rotor into the primary chaincase. Little could anyone guess that this simple one hour job would turn itself into a complete engine rebuild. Again, I sat in the parking lot happy with the bike’s recent repairs and looking forward to some serious riding time. With the primary cover and compensator removed I stuck two allen wrenches into holes on either side of the rotor and went to pull it off of the engine’s main-shaft. These things are held by powerful magnets and require serious tugging. As I pulled, the entire shaft also began to move, until finally I heard the internal flywheels hit the engine’s inner case. That just wasn’t right. Brent got a small pick and removed the main bearing seal. We were now looking at one of the engine’s Timken main bearings; which should have been pressed tightly onto the main-shaft, but no longer was. Brent simply removed it with his fingers, looked at me and said, “Better yank that engine.”


“What!” I gaped in shock. “But the bearing’s still good, just no longer pressed to the shaft. Can’t I just put it back together and tighten everything up?” “Just pull the f#@ king engine,” Brent ordered. Of course he was right, there was no getting around it. For most, the motorcycle is a part of their life— possibly even a large part; but for the drifter it is the center of his. Everything revolves around that bike and when it stops so does his entire world. But this was not my first rodeo and as always, when presented with a serious mechanical problem, every waking moment of my day becomes solely dedicated to getting that machine back on the road. All who travel worry that their ride will break at some point, and all who travel will eventually have to deal such things. Having no home or town of my own, I was grateful that this problem had presented itself when a complete shop was available, and while in the company of good friends who were great mechanics as well. For all the years I’d called the road home, these things always seem to work themselves out. So it was again.


I began removing exhaust pipes, carburetor and the like. Pulling an evo engine isn’t really a big job and it wasn’t long before the motor was lifted from the frame and moved to a stand inside the shop. By day’s end I had the top-end pretty well apart. Still, I’m only a good shade tree wrench—not a real mechanic, and my slow, methodical and unsure movements guaranteed this job would drag into a couple of weeks. By evening I simply walked home to the trailer park, and by morning returned to the shop. The simplicity of these engines and my familiarity with them guaranteed I was able to perform most of the work. Still, there were things quite obviously beyond my capabilities. So, I watched and learned as Brent did the intricate stuff. After I split the cases, Brent installed new Timken bearings into the case. My crank was screwed and rather than rebuild it Brent went for one that was sitting on the bench. “This thing was rebuilt by my last mechanic. The guy’s totally anal so it’s probably perfect. That work for you?” he offered. Could I say no?


As would become the theme for this cobbled-fromspare- parts engine, Brent said, “Your old cone won’t work with this 1993 crank because the oil passages are different. I’ve got one in the garage at home. I’ll bring it tomorrow.” The original oil pump had light internal scratches and Brent thought a new one should be installed. For the rocker arms it was the same. New lifters are also a good idea for any rebuild. A call was placed to my entrepreneur buddy in Kansas who promptly shipped new S&S parts. When the bottom end was finally together I said, “Man, I hate to put the used up top end back on this nice new engine. Got 205,000 miles on it.” Brent walked into the back room then returned with a very pretty set of painted cylinders, heads and pistons. “I installed a big-bore kit for a customer sometime back and he left the old parts here. Only got 15,000 miles on them.” I looked. They were obviously close to new. “What do you want for them?” “I’ll take $150 plus your old parts.” Really? I wasn’t gonna beat him down on that price! I’d have felt like a dick for even trying.


For the new top end I popped the valve springs and installed Jims valve guide seals because Harley’s really suck. The cylinders got a hone job and new rings for a total of $30. When replacing or rebuilding a Harley Davidson engine it’s common practice to install new oil lines. Black Jack Cycles had a roll of fuel line on hand, but no oil line. Brent said, “Use the gas line man. It’ll work just fine.” I wasn’t really buying that one. “You sure?” “Oh yea,” Ted (Brent’s mechanic) chimed in. I was still skeptical however, and this banter of me grilling them and them assuring me went round and round for a while. Finally, with no real choice anyway, I gave in. Gas line it was. So began the tedious task of cutting and installing these new hoses. At the engine the lines make one final hard turn to slip onto the oil pump fittings and, although oil line had always worked fine, the fuel line just kinked. I showed the guys who scratched their heads for a while before coming up with the grand solution. For that spot only we’d use little metal elbow fittings to round the corner. Brent began scrounging the shop for fittings that I installed as he handed them over. In the end we were one fitting short. As everyone stood around scratching their head, Lucky (one of the shop’s hang-arounds) pulled the little metal pipe from his pocket and began unscrewing the pieces.


Sure enough, except for its brass color, that fitting matched the one installed next to it exactly. It was with a big smile that I began douching the thing with brake cleaner because I didn’t want the old motorcycle catching a buzz, getting lazy, or having cravings for ice cream while we were cruising the highway. Lucky screwed his pipe back together. It was shorter now. I now had 1999 cases, a 1993 crank, 1996 cylinders and heads, and a plethora of other miscellaneous and mismatched parts; but time would ultimately prove this cobbled together engine to be the best I’d ever had. Go figure. Brent had an unusual break-in procedure and I went with it. My personal experience is that a properly broken in engine lasts considerably longer. In the end I was asked to ante up $700; which I paid gladly. My time in the big city was over. I’d lived and worked in this place for almost two months now. It was time to move on.


As I rode the lonely, desert highway east, my mind wandered back over events of the recent months… At 415,000 miles (at that time) many of the old motorcycle’s larger components had simply worn out. I am technically a homeless person with no garage in which to perform major repairs, or steady job with which to pay exorbitant prices. One man had materialized to offer use of his knowledge, a complete shop, arsenal of new, used and rebuilt parts, and a friendship that would last for years to come. If there really are angels, could some of them be rough men who ride Harleys? Regardless of how you see it, and just as a100 times before, fate had once again supplied the mode and the means to keep one man’s journeys free and easy. Author;s note: because of the high cost to operate such a small shop in Southern California (the state makes it unbelievably hard on small business there) Brent eventually moved the shop into his garage where he now takes only select jobs.

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