Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Davenport, Iowa Antique Show and Swap Meet

Written by  November 30, 2004

Are you in need of a headlight bracket for your 1965 Royal Enfield Interceptor? How about a cat eye dash for your 1946 Harley Knucklehead or a set of seat springs for your 1924 Deluxe Henderson K model? Antique motorcycle collectors and enthusiasts travel to Davenport, Iowa, each year during the Labor Day holiday to buy or sell everything from complete motorcycles to nuts, bolts, and springs; or to just show off their bikes.

This year’s event was the 33rd annual meet and was sponsored by the Chief Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. The Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds location provided space for as many as 750 vendors. The 2004 festivities included vintage dirt track racing Friday evening, technical seminars conducted by Erwin “Smitty” Smith and Ron Lancaster, a ladies tour and craft fair, a field meet and games, a banquet, and, of course, an antique motorcycle show. The price of admission was, as always, a voluntary donation at the gate.

The bike show included antiques from many countries and time periods; all in mint condition. As I strolled among these beautiful machines, one particular display caught my eye. It was a 1924 Harley-Davidson racing bike. I was pleased that the owner, Marion Bochenek, Jr., took the time to tell me about his pride and joy.

CC: Please tell me about the history of your motorcycle.
Junior: I bought it from John Dudlak. He was a friend from the same neighborhood I grew up in. He died at the age of 89. My parents had known him all their lives. They came from the same area of Hegewisch, Illinois; a suburb of Chicago. My dad started out with motorcycles when he was 18 and sold his last one in 1953. It was a 1936 ULH 80 cubic inch Flathead. My first bike was a 1948 Harley-Davidson FLH Panhead. I bought it from a truck driver who was asking $300 for it. I talked him down to $250. Ever since starting to ride, I spent a lot of time at John’s house. He had this racer and lots of other bikes. John used to race at South Bend and Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He also raced at Cincinnati, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He always wanted to race for the factory, but he never got that opportunity. He had to quit school at the age of 14 and help support his family.

CC: What kind of tracks were those?
Junior: John raced mostly on dirt. I don’t know if he ever raced on board tracks. I remember sitting at his kitchen table listening to his stories. The man would go back in time, and he’d be sitting in a chair and going through the motions of throwing his bike into a turn and twisting the throttle. Doris, his wife, would holler at him to calm down, but I just couldn’t get enough of it. I always begged him to make sure I would get his bikes if he ever parted with them. But everyone who knew about the bikes would keep pestering him, and he would never sell any of them. Toward the end of his life, he agreed to sell all of his bikes to me, and I still have all of them to this day.

CC: How many bikes did John sell to you?
Junior: In addition to this racer there was a 1925 JD that he used to ride to work and a 1923 Harley with a sidecar. There were a couple of 1927 spare motors and enough parts to put a '27 together. There were miscellaneous parts of all sorts. What’s hard to find is the sheet metal. It’s getting to the point where reproduction stuff is available, but it’s not the same as original. It is helpful to collectors.

CC: Has your bike been competitive in past shows here?
Junior: My bike scored 91 points out of 100 the first time I showed it here at Davenport. That was good for a Junior 1st Place award which I considered quite an honor. For a Senior award, you have to score at least 95 points. The judges wanted it to be the original color, and I won’t paint it that color because that’s not the color it was when I was 16 years old. When I painted it, I kept it the same color John had it.

CC: I understand the judges here are very particular.
Junior: Well, they try to do their best for originality. My view of originality with regard to antiques is to just leave them alone and only correct what has to be so that it won’t deteriorate any more. They allow us to put new rubber on. There is a company that makes new tires with the original design for bikes of all years. That’s what I had to do because the old tires were deteriorating from dry rot. Some guys will make up new exhaust pipes in the old style. I kept the pipes that were on this bike, but I replaced them because they were dented.

CC: How does the bike run?
Junior: It runs fine, but I don’t ride it any more. These bikes have to run in order to be judged. For a bike with no transmission, you just have to demonstrate that it has fire and compression. You don’t have to put gas in and start it. In its day, the bike was capable of 100 mph.

CC: What size is the motor?
Junior: It’s 61 cubic inches. They call it a pocket valve. The head and the cylinder is all cast as one piece, and you time it with the rear cylinder as number one. You can take the valve seats out and lap them in your hand. You compress the spring, pull the pin out of the valve stem, take the valve out, and lap it in. Lapping involves applying an abrasive paste to the valve and seat and rubbing them together to eliminate high spots for a more precision fit to eliminate compression loss and gas leaks. This was done in the pits to get ready for the next race. The racers were hard-core back then. There is very little suspension on the bike. The drive system uses a jack shaft between the motor and the rear wheel. There’s no transmission, so the races were started with the bikes circling the track like the Indy 500. They couldn’t stop without killing the engine. Some guys installed a compression release, but I haven’t done that with this bike. With this bike the rider uses a leather strap fastened to his wrist to ground out the magneto.

CC: It’s definitely a unique machine. How long have you been entering it in this show?
Junior: I’ve been coming here since the late 80s. I missed one year due to a motorcycle accident that left me with a rod in my left leg. It was important to me to display it this year because it’s the 50th anniversary of the AMCA. Everyone’s proud of what they have, and sometimes we get a little jealous of each other. You never have enough. No man has enough toys.

CC: Do you enter a lot of other shows?
Junior: I would like to, but my son is disabled and needs a lot of care. My wife has a bad back and can’t lift him, so it’s difficult for me to get away. I would like to make a trade with someone who is a collector or has a museum. I hope to trade for an antique bike that I could ride on the street. This bike should be on permanent display somewhere, because I have a lot of artifacts that go with it. I’d like to see it in a museum. I have a framed display back here with newspaper clippings of several of John’s races. I have his AMA membership card and racing license. His leather pants and spats are over 80 years old. My display includes the helmet and goggles John wore when he raced. He painted the helmet white so people could pick him out in a pack. The only thing I’m missing is his jersey. I had one, but the moths got to it.

CC: If you were going to sell the bike what would you ask for it?
Junior: I feel that it’s worth more with the artifacts. I saw a guy asking $500 for just a helmet like this. I would be happy with 50 grand for the bike. I don’t want to let it go unless I have money in hand or a trade in hand. I would like to trade it for an Indian four cylinder. That should be about equal value. That would be something I could ride on the street.

CC: If someone is interested, how can you be reached?
Junior: I don’t have e-mail, but my phone number is 708-891-2539 in Calumet City, Illinois.

CC: Junior, you obviously know your machine inside and out. Thanks for your time.

After the bike show, the next item on my agenda was the swap meet. If you are going to this event, be sure to take comfortable shoes, because you will do lots of walking. There are rows and rows of vendor spaces where just about any item related to motorcycles can be traded for or bought. Rat bikes, pristine antiques, and everything in between are available. Browsers are treated to a constant parade of rare motorcycles. A few years ago I saw four 1971 Harley Super Glides riding in a pack. Just one of those is a rare sight anywhere else. This year I noticed an orange 1965 Honda Sport 50. It brought back some memories, since my first motorcycle was identical in appearance, but two years newer.

The Davenport meet is one of my never-miss events. Since it is scheduled on the same weekend as the Thunder in the Sand Rally at Conesville, Iowa, it affords me the opportunity to attend two terrific events with one trip and visit some good friends as well. If you find antique motorcycles interesting, it’s well worth the trip.

Story and photos by Stripe