All those discovering, maintaining, and preserving American motorcycle history deserve a very special place in all bikers’ heart. Dale Walksler is since 1993 the founder/curator/restorer (with crew) of the Wheels Through Time Museum, home of world’s premier collection of rare American Vintage Motorycles located in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC. Being at the helm of an important not for profit museum is a labor of love requiring much more work than most people are willing to do. Inspiration from his parents as role models, courage, passion, perseverance and respect for motorcycle history support his unwavering efforts to restore about 14 machines every year. These efforts must be known by all of you, and what a better way than to open my digital space to Dale where he is narrating just for you the story of his 1936 VEL restoration.
“Over my lifetime, I’ve been fortunate to have a father that has been as supportive of me as Bernie. He’s been a true inspiration in my life, guiding me through my youth and playing a strong part in instilling the values that I have today. He’s been behind me in everything I do, whether it was my purchase of my “basketcase” motorcycle, taking on a Harley Dealership in my early 20s, or building a museum where some of the most fascinating and important American motorcycles . Through all of my decisions in life, he’s offered his unwavering support and encouragement, helping me to become the person I am today.
A few years back I got the idea to build a tribute bike for Bernie. I’d just finished building my 1946 Knucklehead “Time Machine” in memory of my mother, and I couldn’t think of a better inspiration to build the next WTT custom than him. Although he’s never ridden a motorcycle (he’s 76 years old and is a real estate broker in the Chicago area), he’s always gotten a big thrill out of the machines I create.
It all started at the Davenport Antique Motorcycle of America swap meet held Labor Day weekend every year. This show is a must for us, and we’re always on the hunt for parts for many of the ongoing projects here at the museum. After finding rare bits and pieces all weekend, we were about ready to pack up the truck and head home. On my last lap through the meet, I came across an old Harley VL frame, that’d been highly modified in order to fit a knucklehead engine. Not seeing things like this too often, I decided it’d be a great start for what would become my tribute bike for Bernie.
Over the next few months we would break ground on building the chassis, which would be quite a bit different than your average HD, yet still rely on using almost all harley-davidson parts and hardware. Out of the museum and into the shop came a perfect chrome Harley springer front end. Years back, I’d found a very rare set of Hellings and Stellings angled handlebar risers and bars, which also went into the pile. Aiming to make this machine one that really catches the eye, I gathered as many oddball, rarely used, and accessory parts as I could find.
Whoever modified the frame was a talented and skilled individual. All of the welds and brazing work was fantastic, and after mounting a mock-up knucklehead motor, we knew everything would fit correctly. I built up an early Harley Davidson big-twin 4-speed transmission, laced up a set of 19″ rims to a cherry set of VL hubs, mounted a set of rare Beck tires from the 1930s, and in no time, had it on wheels.
After a few months, the bike was ready for a motor. I’ve been collecting old Knucklehead and VL parts for decades, and I for this bikes powerplant, I decided to use none other than a ’36 knucklehead motor. Most folks I’d talked to couldn’t fathom building a custom out of Harley’s first year production OHV motor, but my goal was to build a machine for Bernie unlike any other, so the ’36 it was. Using all genuine HD parts, I rebuilt the “open-rocker” motor, complete with early “notched cam cover” and very rare 4-fin cylinders. Within a few days of finishing it, we had it mounted in the bike and the drive line hooked up.
Our next major step in taking on the VEL (a combination of a VL frame and EL motor), was deciding on sheet metal. We knew the fenders would be bobbed, and after a little deliberation, we came up with a perfect flared rear fender out of a knucklehead front fender. The front fender wouldn’t be so easy, as we needed something really different that’d set it apart from others. After much handiwork by our painter John Dills, we combine pieces from 7 different fenders to make the one of a kind front.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the whole build was making the gas/oil tanks. Since VL tanks and Knucklehead tanks are so much different, and due to the modification of the frame to fit the bigger and taller Knucklehead engine, the fuel tanks would have to be totally custom. Starting with a flat sheet of metal and a few ideas, we poured over 100 hours into making them. The tanks combined over 80 parts, from old style filler bungs and caps, to ’37 oil lines for the right side tank (oil tank), to the unique hand made “in the tank shifter”. All topped off with a custom set of Harley 1936-39 nameplates (the were decals). In total, 2 Johns, a Jason, a Myron, 2 Brians, a Matt and a Dale put in time on these tanks, and they came out better than we’d imagine.
After getting the sheet metal painted by John Dills, and custom striped by our friend Mark Peters, we were on our way to final assembly. Taking so much time to make sure the fit and finish of every single part was perfect really paid off. Once the paint was finished, things came together very nicely.
After it was “ready to run”, I headed up to my friend Gerald Rineharts shop for the exhaust. Using an old megaphone tip (with a cool, old-timey cutout), Gerald bent up a custom set of one-off Rinehart headers to mate to the megaphone. After a few clamps and maybe another hour in the shop, this one would be ready to roll.
For the initial start up, my son Matt, John the Painter, and friend Myron were on hand for the occasion. The bike came together much better than we ever expected, and after adding a little gas and a battery she was ready to start. Three kicks with the choke on, flip on the key, and on the very first kick the engine roared to life for the first time in decades. A job well done.
Since we finished it, I’ve had more fun that you can imagine on this bike. Everywhere it goes it turns a head, with its unique style and lopey sound. Bernie was just as proud as I was, and although he hasn’t ridden it, gets as much a thrill out of hearing it run than I do riding it down the road” Dale Walskler, Wheels Through Time Museum.
Specifications. Name of bike: The VEL. Owner: Dale Walksler. Year/Make: 1936 Harley-Davidson EL. Fabrication: Dale Walksler, John Dills, Myron Pace. Assembly: Dale Walksler. Build time: 1.5 years. Engine: 1936 H-D 61c.i. (1000c.c.) Model EL Knucklehead. Cases: 1936 Harley-Davidson. Rods: Stock Harley-Davidson. Pistons: +.020 Ross Racing Pistons. Cylinders: Harley-Davidson early 4-fin. Heads: Open Rocker 1936 Harley-Davidson. Cam: Harley-Davidson Lightening Cam. Ignition: Stock 6-volt generator/points. Carb: Linkert M-5. Pipes: Gerald Rhinehart Special Header w/ old time cut-out megaphone muffler. Air Cleaner: ’36 Harley-Davidson. Transmission: Harley-Davidson 4-speed. Primary: Half-Open Narrow H-D Primary. Clutch: Early Narrow H-D. Frame: Harley-Davidson 1936 VL Frame. Forks: Original Harley-Davidson In-line Springer. Front wheel: 19″ H-D w/ VL Hub. Rear wheel: 19″ H-D w/ VL Hub. Front Tire (size and make): Beck Sport King 19×3.85. Rear Tire (size and make): Beck Sport King 19×3.85. Front Brake: Harley-Davidson. Rear Brake: Harley-Davidson. Fuel Tank: Custom w/ in-tank shifter. Oil Tank: Custom w/ ’37 45″ Banjo Oil Lines. Fenders: Front: Bobbed H-D Rear: Bobbed H-D Front. Handlebars: Hellings & Stellings. Risers: Hellings & Stellings. Headlight: Original Chrome H-D Cycleray. Taillight: H-D Accessory Lights under the seat. Hand Controls: Harley-Davidson. Grips: Friction Tape. Foot Controls: Modified H-D. Pegs: Beck Lighted Pegs. Electrical: Stock 6-vol. Generator/points. Painter: John Dills – Dills Paint Works. Color: Cream/Tan/Green/Copper. Graphics: Striped by Mark Peters. Polishing: Gary’s Pro-Plating & Polishing, Decatur, GA. Seat: A little one. Stock open rocker 1936 Knucklehead in ’36 VL frame. Early auto amp meter, custom toolbox, barn-find ’36-’39 cast nameplates on tank, integrated rear break, shortened original VL battery box, dual ride-control, 520 narrow rear chain & custom sprockets, plenty of cables.
Favorite aspect of bike: Rides like a Crocker. Special thanks to: My dad for being my inspiration. Moe, Matt, John, Brian, Brian, & Jason