1948 Harley Panhead Clean Up & Generator Issues

After buying it as a rolling bascketcase, I have owned and ridden this 1948 Harley Panhead for almost a decade.

Project Crustoration 1948 Harley Panhead right side.

I bought this 1948 Harley, first year Panhead as a rolling basketcase and rebuilt it with some friends at Wheels Through Time museum about 6 or 7 years ago as the Project Crustoration in American Iron Magazine. At the time I thought it looked pretty cool. Funny how our tastes change over time. I still love the bike but not so much the look.

Project Crustoration – left side. It was mostly original and correct, even if we made it look dirty and worn.

In 2008 I rode the bike to Milwaukee, WI for Harley’s 105th anniversary. It was the first time I had ridden it at night, every night for almost a week. That is when I discovered an issue with the electrics. If I rode it during the day without lights the battery seemed OK, marginal but OK. When riding with lights on the battery would drain to the point where the bike would not run properly. I had one very memorable night riding back to my hotel room in pitch blackness after the Bruce Springsteen concert.  I figured it was the old battery. After that I parked the bike and eventually pulled the old battery. It sat for several years as I worked on and rode other bikes.

Cleaned up 1948 Harley Panhead ex-Crustoration Project

The bike has been sitting for 4 years before I installed a new battery and brought the bike back into service a few weeks ago. I spent several hours cleaning the bike up and de-crustorizing it. I swapped out the old seat and saddlebags that are now VERY hard and brittle. I added the new old stock brown leather hand-tooled items, which I like. And it has been running well on each of the 4 shakedown rides (10 – 50 miles each) until this morning. I have not been charging the battery in the garage to see how well it held up, and on this morning’s ride the generator light was one most of the ride regardless of what engine speeds. If the system is working properly the generator kicks in sufficient juice to run the bike’s electrics AND keep the battery charged. But not today. After a brief breakfast ride and something to eat I cut my 100 mile planned ride short, turned around and rode back home.

Once home I pulled the end cap off the generator to have a look inside and adjust the brush to increase output. Except, when I got the cap off I found moisture and rust inside, not a good sign. I also noted the adjustment was maxed out. I have a lot of passion for these old bikes and some mechanical skills, but I know very little about these generators. So I called Dale Walksler and described what I found. He was pretty sure the generator is pretty much worn out.

Because I am planning on riding this bike to Milwaukee for Harley’s 110th anniversary in a week he offered to overnight me a fresh rebuilt generator and a new relay. He’ll get it out to me Monday so I can have it Tuesday. That gives me three days to install and test the new generator before I have to be on the road to Milwaukee. Cutting it tight, but I am confident we can get it done. And much better to discover this issue at home than on the side of a road somewhere.

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