The Basket Case

June 7, 2012

All Posts, News

At some point almost every biker of a certain age who once had some dollars to burn bought a basket case – a bike that was cheap because it was thoroughly broken.

They usually never ran but trying to rebuild them was a good way to learn all about Harleys – from flywheels to candy coats and from lacing wheels to registrations. At the worst they were a big waste of money and a couple of years of frustration. At their best they were the last bike you were ever going to have to buy because you learned how to do everything to it and by the time you were done you had a complete set of tools.

Last April 18, a logger in British Columbia named Peter Mark found the ultimate basket case. Its was a rusted, partially disassembled, 2004 FXSTB Night Train in a foam-insulated cargo container. One of the forks was missing. The wire wheels were rusted but the rubber still looked pretty good. The bike also had a Japanese plate. It was part of the first wave of debris from the March 2011 Japanese earthquake. It had floated eastward 4,000 miles in just over 13 months.

The Title

Mark is not a Harley guy so he did not keep the bike. He does know Japanese when he sees it however and quickly understood that this basket case was miraculous. He contacted the Japanese Consulate in Vancouver who told him that “Some Japanese people may not want to receive or reunite with their lost objects because they remind them of the tragedy.” Next he contacted every Japanese reporter he could find. Using the license plate number they tracked down the bike’s owner.

That owner turned out to be 29-year-old Ikuo Yokoyama. The Night Train was only a small part of what he had lost, starting with three members of his family and his home, but he was still happy to learn about his bike. “I’m very thankful that it came back,” Yokoyama told Japanese television. “I’d like to thank the man that found my bike in person but because it’s hard to do that I would like to thank him here and now.”

The story quickly grew larger than a couple of guys on opposite sides of an ocean and a basket case. Mark gave the bike to a man named Ralph Tieleman who trucked the bike to Trev Deeley Motorcycles in Vancouver. Last month they contacted a bike builder named Ralph Tieleman. He contacted Harley-Davidson corporate. The Motor Company told Tieleman that Harley would completely restore the bike for free and ship it back to its owner for free. That gesture became a feel good story in both Canada and Japan. The Japan Daily Press called the restoration offer an example of the “American way.”

The Mourning

But, by then Yokoyama had begun to have second thoughts. Last week, Bill Davidson who runs the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, announced that Yokoyama doesn’t want his bike restored.

Yokoyama told Harley that he wants his old bike left as it is and put on permanent display at the museum as a memorial to the 30,000 people who died in the big quake and the tsunami that followed. Davidson said the museum would honor Yokoyam’s request.

Which, if you ever get there and wonder why, is how the basket case wound up in the Harley-Davidson Museum.


, , ,

27 Responses to “The Basket Case”

  1. Woodly Says:

    I had a basket case, rolling basket case all the way. It was cheap one day deal and I should have kept saving my money. A 60 panhead Swingarm with later shocks that were too short so it sat almost on the ground. The way I like to describe it is you counted the parts that were still good, there was less of them. The low end of the motor was good, the frame was good ( not bent ) I think the cam was good,the clutch was pretty good, the heads were okay and the front star hub although bent funny so it made it tough to lace the wheel had good bearing surfaces.
    I drove it home and drove it around that day ( when I could get it started ) and drove it into my buddy’s garage to take it apart . On the way up his driveway into his garage the chain fell off because the star hub bearings and swing arm bearings were so wiped out. Probably one of the best parts on the bike was a nice big twin springer fork which I gave to a friend who was building an old flathead.

  2. Charles cole Says:

    TM wanting a basket case I was in the usarmy with a guy named bill midlar.from NY state who had one shipped to OK. he put it together and rode it home so its my turn anyone got a case for me?

  3. Kevin LeConte Says:

    This is such a touching story. Even I was not aware of the whole story mentioned here. I just assumed altogether different story. Thanks for the facts!!

  4. Snow Says:

    Swampy, was that shop your talking about in chilly Gentilly?

  5. swampy Says:

    I was wondering what in the hell became of the Night Train’s front left fork. Then I remembered what strange things the ocean can do after living and working offshore for many years; I’m suprised it looks as good as it does. Of course one can only imagine what internal engine damage is done due to the salt water. When I was a teen-age kid my first basket cases were Triumps. The first was a ’63 pre-unit flat track bike someone had pulled the rake alot straighter and it came with a flat sportster fiberglass racing tank. Imagine how fun that thing was on the street. It would soon teach me about Triumph’s valve guides and hooking up scavenger pump lines correctly. Next was a 69 Triumph Bonneville that I fixed and rode stock for a while before chopping it. Bolt on hardtail, 6″ over front-end, lost the leaking ass amals for a set of Mikunis and added a Joe Hunt magneto; at seventeen, I thought I was the shit. There is a local chapter of a certain club in “Lousyana” (La.) that had a motorcycle shop at the time. I would ride to their shop, baby faced and all to bug them for parts and advice(one of the members even painted a nice black and orange flame job on my peanut tank for 30 bucks. They always acted like I was bugging them saying things like “boy, what is it that you want now?” when I would pull up. Although, I think they got a kick out of me because they would be smiling and took time for me. Then in 1977 at the ripe old age of 18 I finally got the money for a used Harley-Davidson, although, it was far from a basket case. A stock complete 1968 FLH that I gave $1995.00 and a six-pack of Budweiser for. I wasted no time in stripping off any unwanted parts. I found a “horse shoe” style oil tank and mount for the swingarm frame, some “medium-high” ape hangers and a wide solo seat with a p-pad suppository on top of the rear fender for chicks – lol. The motor was fine with a added set of drag pipes, Sifton 414 “side kick” cam and the Bendix carb jetted just right(that Bendix carb never gave me a bit of trouble). I’ve always not been worth a shit at wiring and this would prove true when my wiring harness decided to burn like a canon fuse in the middle of a bridge over a major river one night. Once I was riding to Lake Charles, La. and was about only 120 miles into the trip. All of a sudden my motor began to “lug” down. Oh crap!, my first thought was that my lower-end was trying to seize. I immediately swung to the shoulder of the road pulling in my clutch at the same time and Shutting my motor down. I cleared the transmission back to netural, although, the bike would not roll. It didn’t take 30 seconds to realize my steel mechanical brake line was too close to the front cylinder header making the brake fluid get too hot and expand engading the rear brake. I pulled the line away from the pipe about 5/8 of an inch, let it cool for several minutes, and bled the brake line just a little for safetys sake. I rode that shovel head 11 more years and although she was far from a “basket case”, when I got her, she was a great teacher. the

  6. Dante Says:

    When I was in high school one of my older buddies dumped his scrambler so I bought it, tore it apart more, got some used parts and right around the time his road rash was almost gone he stopped by to help me finish putting it back together.

    After a couple hours it was done even though there were enough extra parts to start a hardware store. After some discussion, we decided that he should very slowly and carefully ride it to the end of the block and return.

    I guess I should have been clearer on the “return” part of the half block trip…

    Apparently there is a bolt that keeps the front brake from turning with the wheel…

    He’s still pissed at me.

  7. Pig Says:

    The first thing that I did when I got out of the Corps in ’96 was to get good and drunk. After I sobered up (four years later) and kicked that little blonde time and money vampire I was running around with to the curb, I went bike shopping. I looked at a bunch of them until I came across this ’84 Soft Tail Standard. She was mine from the first time sat in the saddle. She was old and greasy (which is right up my alley) and nothing like the shiny late model springers, soft tails and road kings my friends and family rode. I was so hooked that I paid asking price (way too much) for her without even attempting to talk the guy down and took her home. My younger brother would be an idiot savant when it comes to anything mechanical except that he’s no idiot. We spent a lot of hours in the garage working on my new purchase; me trying to get involved as much as I could, him throwing shit at me and cussing my retard-like ignorance of anything with moving parts.

    As you know, 1984 was the first year of the Evolution engine and the last year that both the kick start and electronic ignition was available. She had a four speed tranny and didn’t even come close to being able to match the speed and power of the guys I rode with but I rode her rain or shine until the top end went out on the trip back home from Laughlin. It took me 6 quarts of oil to get her back the 700 miles home and when we would stop for gas, I had to piss outside because my pants were dripping oil so bad that the Stop-and-Robs wouldn’t let me in to use the head. I’ll always regret not just doing a top end on her but I got convinced that while I had her apart, it was the perfect time to stretch and rake the frame, put in a brand new engine, make her a hard tail, etc. Well, right in the middle of the whole project, my brother got a job and up and moved across the country and, while he’s damn near a genius when it comes to mechanics, what I know about wrenchin’ you could write on a postage stamp with a dull crayon. As is too often the case, time passed by, life took my money, and eventually I had to sell her (as a basket case) when I got married and my first kid was on deck. I have had several bikes since then and am now riding an ’07 Street Glide (which I love), but I can tell you nothing has ever come close to the pride I felt and the love that I had for that old FXST. Getting out of the Marines was the biggest mistake of my life; chopping and having to get rid of my first bike was the second. You live and learn I guess. C’est la vie.

  8. IrishDragon Says:


    Great story thanks for sharing man.


  9. sled tramp Says:

    Back in 1973,I was just starting to ride.A fire occured on my FX and I needed to do a lot of work.Being a young and dumb-but well intentioned-idgit,I blissfully proceeded to cut and snip the entirety of the wiring harness under the fatbobs off.
    My mentors were in disbelief and rather pissed at me.After all the rest of the high quality work was done (Krylon,duct taped seat etc)a very helpful member of the Oakland chapter came by and dropped off a seven wire diagram to me for which I’m eternally grateful.So, in a way…I created my own basket case.But hell, at the end of it,I knew a whole hellava lot more about my bike than I had.

  10. neverwaz Says:

    My first Harley and only basket case was a ’60 pan. In ’82 there was still plenty of shops that dealt with pans and knuckles, lucky for me since I didn’t have club brothers to help out when I fucked up the wiring harness or the star hub lol. I still have my basket case but only ride it around town once in a while, finding good parts that aren’t imported shit replicas is work. The fatboy needs oil and tires and I don’t ride with a big tool roll either and it keeps me riding. Rebel’s right everything starts with a motorcycle. Great take on this Rebel, thanks for the backstory on it.

  11. Hose-a 1% Says:

    Rebel as usual you’re right on with your comment about it all starts with a bike.My first was a 49 pan along time ago.I’ve had pans flat heads,shovels.evos and now i’ve got to where I don’t like wrenching anymore and prefer to ride.Now I ride a street glide.Don’t have to do much wrenching any more.Which I find enjoyable listening to tunes while riding in the rain is a little more tolerable.Every now and then I still enjoy getting into helping out working on the older bikes.When I had my older bikes I knew every nut and bolt on them.Now I change the oil and ride.Times have changed,but it all goes back to one thing riding.Keep your knees in the breeze and keep yelling at the dumb asses in the cages it’s good therapy.
    Hose-a 1%er Pagan’s M.C. retired F.T.F.

  12. Men of War MC Says:

    Beautiful story man. Wonderful stuff.

    MWMC, Veterans.

  13. Caretaker Says:

    I ain’t that old,but I ain’t that young,either… I ride a shovel and yes I built it. I carry spare parts and bailing wire in my bags just in case. I actually have done a whst the hell is wrong now rebuild on the side of the road. Many times. But i’ll trust that old beat down shovel over my (yes) wude glide any day. I built my shovel. The wide glide was mostly a question of “do I really need this” removal of useless crap. And i’m in my 30’s. My daughters are being raised the same way and my 4yr old already knows her tools. Guess i’m keeping the tradition alivee

  14. Snow Says:

    Love your articles, nice to read an unbiased, factual side for a change, please keep up the great work. Ahhh yes, motorcycles, women and tequila, all good in the right circumstances, lol. ride safe…….

  15. Rebel Says:

    Dear Sled,

    Maybe this is an old guy thing but I still think it begins with a bike that you feel like you can really control, whether it is cruising on an interstate or lying in pieces on your garage floor. I am the world’s worst mechanic but I have a pretty good idea of what all the pieces look like. My basket case taught me my limitations.


  16. Rebel Says:

    Dear Snow,

    Glad you liked it. Thanks.

    Everything starts with a motorcycle. Before club politics and whatever you have to do (legal or technically illegal) to get by and the police comes a motorcycle: Preferably as minimal as possible and painted black. Remember four speed trannies and mechanical rear brakes?

    I once heard a service writer tell a guy he should never try to change his own oil because he might seriously damage his motor if he tried.

    You have a good weekend, too.

  17. Snow Says:

    Damn Rebel, you’ve been on a tear lately, great articles as always. My second Harley was a 61 pan with a Paugcho wide springer on a Santee hardtail and Joe Hunt Magneto. It went together in my bedroom, I didn’t have a steady female friend back then, lol. I put a Jammer foot clutch, slap stick set up on her with no front brake of course. Most of the grey on my head came from that bike, lol, kick ass ride. Sadly the 2000 fatboy I now ride isn’t anywhere as much fun. Most guys I see these days don’t even change their own oil much less have a manual to fix it, truly sad for the lifestyle…. Oh sherides, I scream lots too, lol…Have a great weekend all…

  18. sled tramp Says:

    It was common for a bike to be at least partially disassembled-and the owner hadn’t a clue why there was an extra piston lying about when he was done-or a bunch of milk cartons and a roller to be bought relatively cheaply in the 70’s.I clearly remember one of my mentors tossing a baggy of herbs and a factory manual on the floor,”There’s the Bible,let us know what ya need”.
    Today,it’s very rare to meet someone with an old shovel or pan (you can have knuckles,no thanks) that knows every inch inside and out of his sled.That made half the bike in his garage with his brothers lending a loving hand.Guys that could ride in,get parts,strip down and fix it in the parking lot are a lost breed.More’s the pity as much of the soul of being a biker was that relationship one had with his sled.

  19. Erudite Hillbilly Says:

    sherides Says: ‘It’s been a longtime since I first heard anyone refer to a basket case bike. I guess that does make me a “biker of a certain age”’

    It’s funny as I always tell people about how as a kid (late 70s) I remember “bikers” and how they all seemed to ride “basket cases”. I have memories of going over to the houses of my mom’s friends where bikes were being built and/or worked on in living rooms; either on, in, or from those old “milk crate” baskets. I don’t think I’d ever seen a new Harley until the late 80s when an uncle won a lawsuit and bought a Sportster. Much respect to anyone out there who has ever gone the basket case route, especially if they had to put up with their ol’ lady for doing it in the front room.

  20. whitefxrp Says:

    Respect to Yokoyama,the people inbetween,the MOC,if Yokoyama needs parts I got for his next bike,he can have them for free,I also shout at cagers all the time

  21. Rebel Says:

    Dear Sherides,

    I yell all the time on my bike. I engage careless motorists in loud conversations on the freeway at 80. I am very chatty when I ride.


  22. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    Simple story, very moving (and odd). Japanese bikes are not cool but Japanese people are. As are Canadian people.

    YYZ Skinhead

  23. sherides Says:

    It’s been a longtime since I first heard anyone refer to a basket case bike. I guess that does make me a “biker of a certain age”

    I had not heard this story before.

    That’s great that Harley offered to restore the bike.
    It’s more touching that Yokoyama decided against it.

    I wonder though, did HD offer him a new bike instead? (or a deeply discounted price on a new one)

    If ever there was a guy who needed to fire up a bike, hit the road, and at some point yell like no one has heard before, I think it’s him.

    (or maybe I am the only one who has a tendency to yell at the world while I am riding my bike)

  24. JAMES Says:

    Fantastic article REBEL, and pretty touching also.

  25. observer Says:

    Rebel: You write some great stuff. Your sense of the deeper meanings of words, and the “timing” in your arrangement of ideas could make a good read of a meatloaf recipe. The general sensationalism of biker issues brings a volume of its own that fits well with your loose and potent style, making all your articles something more than merely “interesting” or entertaining. This one though is special, and the worth of the story is more than a match for even your gifts of presentation. It’s beautiful. Thanks.

  26. Caretaker Says:

    I agree with erudite… This is a very touching story.


  27. Erudite Hillbilly Says:

    I’ve never heard the whole story on this, just the brief little news blurbs. That is awesome and very touching (and I’m not be a smarta$$, I’m almost tearing up here.) I appreciate you sharing this because now we know “the rest of the story” as the ol’ radio dude was say.

Leave a Reply