Piggy’s got her drive back



Old pals Larry Stanley and John Ross came by the house yesterday and helped me put the engine, transmission and swingarm back in the frame. Then we broke open a 12-pack of Dos Equis and the three most interesting men in the world stood around eating sandwiches. We don’t always eat sandwiches, but when we do, we prefer Dos Equis with them. Stay hungry, my friends. Wait, that’s not right…


Here are the guys taking a break. We had the motor back in the frame at this point, the gearbox back in, and the swingarm was hanging on all-new pivot parts. We even remembered to loop my new final-drive belt around the swingarm.

I’ll have the wheels back on in a few days. They’re down at Ocean State Harley getting re-sneakered and balanced. This well-traveled veteran of the Blue Highways will really start to look like a motorcycle again.

Dunno how serious I’ll get about going through the primary case and the in-tank fuel works. What I really need to be doing is working on the old truck. If not, when the lawn greens up I’ll be vexing the bride when I roll the cab and chassis up to the front porch to be near a welding outlet. So this strikes me as more of a winter chore. I’ll pick away at the motorcycle as time allows and be happy enough to get her back on the road by Cinco de Mayo.

The motor needed bottom-end repairs that most machine shops aren’t set up to do. Not on Harley crank wheels, anyway. I was happy to find a local one that is set up for it, Johnson Engine Technology, Westerly, RI. It’s a father-son machinist team, Bob and Robert, respectively. They had my confidence at first impression. And when Bob diagnosed a problem with my transmission case without ever having seen the case, I was sold. I thought, you know what? After they rebuild the bottom end, they can reassemble my cam chest and rocker boxes, too. And it’ll get done in a real shop. I’d be doing it in the cat hair on the basement floor.


A chore long overdue. I dunked my brake caliper parts and a bucket of gizmos in the solvent sink at Conntech, courtesy of my friend Mike Connelly. Talk about smelly! (Not Mike, the solvent.) I had to let the parts off-gas on the front porch before bringing them in the house.


Futzing with calipers in the basement, ready for soap & water cleaning, then denatured alcohol, then reassembly with a dab of silicone grease here and there, new square seals, wipers, pads, and a quick coat of gloss black. Brakes are a good thing. One is never required to Go but you duz have to Stop, brother.


Front calipers went back on the bike yesterday. The new lines are in a box here, I haven’t run them yet.


The rear caliper will go on when I get the rear wheel back. The axle goes through that pivot hole.


Next, I need to take the gearset apart, clean it, inspect it, install new bearings and thrust washers. It gets ball bearings in the trap door, caged roller bearings under the unsplined gears. This is why you see masking tape and plastic wrap around the transmission case; the covers are off and I don’t want dirt getting in there. The gearset goes in from the side, shifter parts go in from the top, then the covers go back on.


I need to go through the fuel injection module, clean it, new seal kit, install new injectors, or send the old ones out to be cleaned and flow tested, haven’t decided yet.


Here are the bottom-end motor parts that needed attention.  Bob and Robert installed new bearings for me, lighter rods, trued and balanced the crank wheels and welded the pin to prevent scissoring.

About that long-distance transmission diagnosis: When I went to J.E.T. the first time to check it out, I told Bob how I had used up the motor out west and was treating it as an excuse to go through the whole bike and fix whatever else is worn out, or nearly so. He asked if the factory mainshaft bearing had spun in the case. I wasn’t aware they could spin. So I said, No, not to my knowledge.

Check when you get home, he said.

So I did. And it had.

The bearing had spun intermittently. Not a lot, but it had definitely started to remove metal. I might or might not have noticed during reassembly. That could have set me up for a bad day on the side of the road somewhere.

Rebuild a motorcycle from stem to stern, think you’ve got everything, then somewhere out around Timbukfukintu your brand new mainshaft bearing goes to work grinding up the transmission case. Hip Hip Hooray! 

The fix was: Bob (or Robert, maybe, not sure which) heated the case to operating temperature, measured the excess clearance in the bore and fit my new bearing with the appropriate shim stock. Now the inner race can spin away and do its job without transferring energy to the outer race.


Here’s the fresh motor coming home from J.E.T. about a week and a half ago. Dig it, I invented this hand truck that I can control just by mental energy. Here it is climbing the front step while I’m staring at it like Mandrake.


Here it is opening the screen door and letting itself in. I know what you’re thinking, that I had better patent this rig before somebody else does.


When it was crossing the dining room floor, the cat’s like, You didn’t invent this. That broke my concentration. Now I had to get Larry to come over and help me lug the motor down the basement stairs. Stupid cat.

I would have lugged the motor downstairs myself, but my starboard landing gear has been known to fold up without warning. Don’t smash your bones riding motorcycles, boys and girls. And if you do, don’t antagonize it, call Larry when you need motors lugged around.


Why fix a dent when they make cool stickers like this? Got the dent a couple of years ago while riding through a terrific rain storm in North Dakota. BANG! So to speak. Got hit with a rock, I thought, but there were no other vehicles around me to throw one up. Then I thought someone must be plinking at squirrels in a tree a mile away. Except nobody hunts squirrels in a blinding rain.

And nobody rides in one, I guess. After 400 miles of it I slept soaking wet on the ground that night in Minot, ND.

I’m ruling out the squirrel-gun-on-the-rainy-knoll theory, but the sticker is apropos nonetheless. We’ll just say the iron piggy took a bullet on the road west of Spokane. And I bit the bullet on not riding ever since.

But this is one of those First World problems, isn’t it? Woe is me, I don’t have a Harley to ride (sniff!)

Here she is last August, on her last legs. This was a little west of Spokane. We limped along in high-desert heat until she could limp no more. She gave up at the 70,000-mile mark and came back east on a truck, oh, the shame of it. (See “West to Seattle” and “Wee wee wee all the way home.”)

We made it to a lake where we could squat for a few days while awaiting a trailer ride to Seattle. I was hoping the engine noise was just a collapsed lifter. Talk about an easy on-the-road fix. It turned out to be a failed inner cam bearing that was pumping bits of metal through the whole motor. That was a lack of foresight on my part. The stock bearing is a well-known weak point in the cam chest. I should have swapped them out while I was in there for new chain tensioners at 30,000 miles. Live & learn.


Here I am in Gig Harbor, WA, getting ready to put the piggy on a truck headed home. Had to siphon the gas tank before the shipper would accept the beast.


But look at that piggy now. She started her Saturday weighing a mere 100 pounds, just a frame with a few wires hanging off. Many thanks to John and Larry for the brawny help on this phase. Stay tuned.

Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, February 12, 2012



About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 63, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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7 Responses to Piggy’s got her drive back

  1. Paul Parker says:

    When you eat sandwiches while drinking Dos Equis, do you eat them overhand?

  2. John C. says:

    Entertaining and interesting. I was hooked at the part about the Dos Equis men, and pulled all the way along. I hope she starts and rides (and stops) like a champ! Laughed at the part about the dolly and the cat. And liked all the chapters.

  3. Mari Nelson says:

    O.k. maybe climbing that mountain this summer would be a little rough after seeing those xrays…but Jan’s are pretty impressive too…just saying.

  4. Tarquino F. Flores says:

    Someday, I’ll have my own Harley…..
    Tony: have a great Valentine’s day. 😀

  5. Chris Whitney says:

    How nice to be doing that in the relative surgical cleanliness and organization of the basement shop, indoors. I’d love to have that on a larger scale to work on cars. For now the garage will suffice, I suppose. My good friend works on his wheels in the gravel driveway, so I count myself lucky.

    PS, are you sure you can ride Piggy back up the stairs when you are finished?

    • Tony says:

      Piggy will go out the back door on the skinny side, no crash bars fore or aft, no saddlebags, handlebars loose on the risers so I can detach & turn them sideways to get through the door. They’re 6 inches too wide otherwise. Yeah, working outdoors gets old, especially when there’s ice and snow underfoot. Have done motor jobs like that, clutches, lying under a vehicle on wet ice, more fun in your 30s, it gets old as we, uh… get old!

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