Friday, April 10, 2009


My pal Dan Pereyra, whose 'almost mine' 1915 Indian was featured here last May, has an almost-one-family from new Harley '45', which has traveled a long way to be with him here in CA.
His uncle Hector (above), a Seventh Day Adventist minister in Paysandu, Uruguay, bought the 1947 Harley-Davidson with sidecar as a new machine. His vision, perhaps clouded by his desire to own a motorcycle, was to use the outfit as his church bus, ferrying parishoners from their homes to his church on Sundays. His congregation must have been small indeed! As rugged as the Harley was, it led a rough existence on the difficult terrain and and rutted dirt roads of rural Uruguay. Eight months later, after several breakdowns which stranded his flock, he thought better of his 'church bus', and sold the outfit.
The new owner was a photographer, a Sr. Marshalles in the town of Colonia Suiza, and the bike passed out of the Pereyra family. Marshalles likely needed a truck for his equipment - such was the life of the Harley - not a pleasure machine but a workhorse. Three-wheelers, while more stable than a motorcycle on lousy roads, have their handling quirks, and within a week the Harley had thrown its new owner into a ditch and overturned. While neither was badly hurt, the man decided he would never ride it again, and brought it back to the bank which financed his purchase.

It so happened that Dan's father Claudio (left), then 21 and a bachelor, had an account at the same bank, and noted the year-old Harley for sale. He decided to purchase the machine, ignorant of the fact that his own brother Hector, who lived over 100 miles away, had owned the machine originally. Apparently the outfit suited him better than the previous two owners, as he kept it for the next 15 years, becoming the 'family car' when he married and had children. It was ridden through dusty roads in the warm months and muddy tracks when it rained, through flooded streams and over the ever-present rocks and rugged terrain. Claudio had a construction business, and when not hauling children, used the Harley as his 'work truck', carrying lumber, stones, sand, tools, and cement to his job sites. While the bike was often seriously overloaded, under-maintained, and a long way from the nearest dealer, the Harley was a tough beast and kept on going. The sidecar chassis broke away from the motorcycle once, sending Dan's pregnant mother, like an errant torpedo, into a ditch! When the roads became really muddy, travel slowed to a crawl as mud had to be continually cleared from beneath the fenders, otherwise the wheels would jam up. Fording deep and fast-flowing winter streams was often necessary, sometimes with the help of a truck and a rope; Claudio 'rode' the outfit through the water while in tow, and occasionally the bike (and rider) would be completely swamped. It was a simple matter to remove the points and spark plugs to dry, kick the engine through to remove any ingested water, and be on his way. A helpful pusher was once rewarded with a muffler full of steamy water when the bike fired up after such a crossing.

The Harley was the only transport Dan knew until age 7, but the machine was sold to a laborer employed by his father, Sr. Cabeza, when the family decided to make a fresh start in the US. The fellow was loyal to the family; he locked the Harley away and promised that the father could buy it back should he return to Uruguay.
18 years later, Dan and his brother Alfredo made a trip to see their birthplace, and managed to track down the laborer in hope of returning the bike to the Pereyra family for the third time; amazingly the bike was still locked up at his home, but had suffered from 18 years on a dirt floor and partial exposure to the elements. And perhaps, Dan's rosy image of his childhood transport was given a rude dose of reality when confronted with a dirty and rusty old motorcycle! Nonetheless, Dan felt the machine was family itself, and offered the laborer $300; there had been many previous offers, but he would only sell to Dan's father!

Luckily Dan's parents made a trip to Uruguay not long afterwards, and Dan sent enough money to buy and ship the bike to California. All went according to plan, until Uruguayan Customs found that the title for the Harley was still in the photographer's name, from 1948! It took 4 1/2 years to find the widow of the man, and she willingly signed over the document; thus the bike was finally brought to the US.

Dan spent eighteen months restoring the outfit, finding that spares for the '45' were plentiful, but the sidecar was a very rare thing indeed, and worn and missing fittings were almost impossible to replace. By luck, he found everything he needed, usually from old dealer's stock, and vendors who had no idea what the parts were.

Dan's biggest problem now; he has two sons, and can't decide which one will carry on the family attachment to the old Harley.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I have discovered your beautifull blog ; the articles and the photos are great and very interesting for me ; I am a french enthusiast and the old machines are a passion for me ; actually, with my wife, we have a Salmson 2300S and a little motorcycle who need a complete restoration (Triump Tiger Cub t20) ; in the future, i hope buy a Velocette because i have always loved these motorcycles.

My other passion is watercolors and drawings about old cars, motorcycles, boats,... ; Le Mans is also a great inspiration of course because we leave in this city.

I send you the adress of my blog and you can discover my work.

I thank you for your interest.
Best regards

Jean-Marie Guivarc'h

Anonymous said...

Great story about Dan's bike.I haven't seen him since the mid nineties.Still selling chips? Los Altos area?

Anonymous said...


I really like your blog, I try sometimes to work in the same way, with a close spirit, well I hope some anyway, I did a few words about your work, hope you'll appreciate it

excuse my french


Anonymous said...

Hello Paul:

You have an informative website, and thanks for sharing. I wonder if you could help me identify an old frame I acquired. It is quite rusted, and my only plans for it is to sit in the front of my shop as a conversation piece. I believe it might be a late 20's Cleveland, but I'm certanly no expert. It's a frame(inline four I'd say) with a springer front end and wheel.
I wanted to ask before I would send along some pics, if you're willing.

Thanks for your time,


Anonymous said...

Mr d'Orleans!

Just a note to offer praise at your feet from a humble 'lurker' out here in data space.

I have enjoyed countless hours immersed in your Vintagent information and images. Just wonderful , for me, a long time old bike junky. when I die I don't want to go to heaven, I want to go to the digital files of the Vintagent.

thank you!

thank you!

thank you!

Paul in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

first congratulation for your excellent website! I put a link at our german website
Our site is only for old minibikes from HONDA, you know them in US as Minitrail CT, ST, Monkey and so on...

We produce a print magazine since 10 years. It is not a commercial site, it is a part of our hobbies.

Thanks lot. And hope it is ok that I place this link.

Best regards
Thomas Beeskow

R.Dress said...

Hey Paul,

Thanks for sharing this story. It's wonderful to think how a bike can became a vital member of a family; A center piece for life to flourish on and around it. I wish Dan all the best with this bike. Looks great in these last two shots!


Conchscooter said...

As always an excellent detective story putting people and motorcycles "in the frame." Now I have to start wondering to whom shall I bequeath my 2007 Bonneville? It seems so new....