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.
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.”
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.