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A Week in the Life of a '40U...

Karan Andrea | Published on 3/20/2021

A Week in the Life of a '40U
or… How the right mechanic can save you from yourself.

In October 2019, I bought a Harley Davidson 1940 Model U with the hopes of converting it to 12 volt, and setting it up so that I could compete with it in the Cross Country Chase, which was originally scheduled to run in September of 2021. Then COVID hit, the Chase and the Cannonball were both postponed, or something – no one really knew anything, because we were all at the mercy of the quarantine.

I did a lot of work to the ’40 over that time, but when it came time to try starting it, it just wouldn’t start and run consistently. At that point I knew I was well over my head, and needed to find someone who would feel sorry enough for me to help me get the bike set up and dialed in. After asking around, I connected with Willie Kiefert (Willie’s R&R Service, West Bend, WI). I am forever grateful to his wife, BettyJo for urging me to call and talk to him. He agreed to let me bring my bike in, and let me work side by side with him so that I could learn more of what I needed to know to ride and maintain this bike. We agreed on a date – he gave me a full week of his time – I rented a cargo van, and off I went... Lancaster, NY to West Bend, WI is 668 miles, 10-1/2 hours.

This is my ‘diary’ of the week at Willie’s R&R Service. Initially FaceBook posts that I have edited together.

Day 1:

Holy smoke show batman!! So much done on the bike today! Where do I even begin? Willie had already gone over the bike when I got there this morning. I dropped it off last night when I got in. Verified the battery was crap. He went through the wiring and made some suggestions on how to accomplish the same thing I was going for, in a much simpler way.

He got the twin leading shoe rear brake installed, and in so doing, corrected hardware and installation of the rear crash bar and luggage rack. Also had to do a little bit of massaging to get the brake linkage to hook up correctly.

He had me pull the carb, walked me through disassembling it, and I cleaned all the parts, blasted the float bowl, and we reassembled it together - less me, more him.

We reinstalled the carb, and Willie noticed that the support bracket was wrong, so he replaced that - more massaging of bolt holes.

Figure 1 We dug right in - took the rear wheel off to install the twin leading shoe brake.

Willie found the advance/retard cable, which I thought had been completely removed from the bike. It was only disconnected at the distributor, and had been ziptied underneath the frame. That will prove useful tomorrow.

In prepping for tomorrow, he tested the coil and plug wires. Coil was good, plug wires were bad. I knew they were. I just had a feeling those plug wires weren't right. So there is one big component in the ignition system that wasn't right. The crap battery is another. The gunky carb and float bowl setting also contributed. I am glad that we are making progress and actually finding concrete issues that - added up - would make the bike difficult to start.

Tomorrow, we sort out they electrical situation and tackle the electronic ignition.

I am tired, and happy, and I had the best time today. I learned a lot, I did a lot, and I can't wait to go back!

Figure 2 My post it sign - NO OIL. Can't be too careful. Another post it warns - DO NOT START.



Figure 3 The rear wheel getting its brakes massaged.


Figure 4 Rear wheel and brake all back on the bike.

Day 2:

Another crazy productive day. I finally tackled tappet adjustment successfully with Willie's coaching, while he made new plug wires. He set the timing on the bike and installed the electronic ignition. I switched from the V-Tronic that I had attempted to install, to an QuickStart 2000 ignition that Willie has used himself, and installed in many bikes with great results. It was far simpler to install, and easier for me to understand, so we went with it. 

We also fished the advance/retard cable back to where it belonged, and Willie routed it, added the brackets needed, and hooked it up.

Then Willie rerouted the wiring that was going to the battery box. I never liked how I had that done, but I couldn't come up with an alternative. When the coil was off, Willie pointed out that my frame is later, so we could mount a terminal board behind the coil, like pans and shovels have, and we could relocate the wiring to there. I loved the idea, so he had an old board that I media blasted and painted. Relined it and put new posts in it. He went to town wiring it in while I was working on the tappets and doing other stuff.

New battery went in, a little restyling in the battery box to snug the smaller battery in, and a little mod on the battery cover to prevent it from slicing the power wire - that would suck...

At the end of the day, everything worked, no smoke show. Calling it a win!

We have a list of stuff to take care of tomorrow, and with luck, we should be able to start the bike. Fingers crossed.


Figure 5 Electronic ignition top view.


Figure 6 Ignition in and tappets adjusted.

Figure 7 Grip off, checking and lubing the advance/retard cable.


Figure 8 The terminal box we added to simplify the wiring to the battery. After this, some of the wires ended up getting relocated or eliminated, so it is even cleaner.


Figure 9 We installed a terminal box behind the coil and put the rogue wiring  connections there instead of where I had them. Much better.


Figure 10 The terminal box allowed a cleaner battery box situation.

Day 3:

Day 3, part 1. We started by knocking out some little stuff with the end goal of starting the bike. Oil, check primary and drive chains, blast sparkplugs and gap them - all that stuff... By mid-morning, we were ready to gas up and start the bike.

This of course was totally Willie Kiefert's department. He got the beast started, adjusted the carb, and took the little red smoke show down the road. He was pleased with the bike. Said it ran and shifted good, and starts easily. Which brings us to…

Day 3, part 2. Willie was just getting ready to show me how to start the bike when it blew the main fuse. Sooooo.... Lesson delayed, we rolled the bitchy little thing back into the shop, back on the lift, up in the air, and spent the rest of the day chasing rogue electrons. We found a couple surprise parasitic drains - one was the USB adapter I was using to power my phone/GPS. Once we found it, that was an easy fix. I just have to set it up so that I can easily unplug the adapter when I park the bike. That is no big deal.

The other was the turn signal module. That was surprising. We will have to call the manufacturer tomorrow - their tech line was closed by the time we figured it out. It should be zero draw, so hopefully the one I have is defective, and they will send me another one. That is also a simple fix.

The last issue we have is with the regulator. Willie called Cycle Electric to see if they had the generator I needed on the shelf there. They did, but their UPS pickup was, according to the person he spoke with, in about 20 minutes, and he still had to helicoil it before he sent it out. He said he would try his best to get it out to us UPS Red that day. If we are lucky, there should be a new one at the shop mid-morning tomorrow, and we can swap that out. I am hoping we do get it, because I do not want to do that swap by myself at home. I put the first one in and it was simply not fun. Especially considering I didn’t have the heated shop I have now, so I was working on the bike in my living room with no lift or floor jack.

But… all in all another really productive day! I have never actually seen that bike move under power, so that was cool.

Tomorrow is another day, and hopefully we will get to the point where I can at least learn / try to start the bike myself.

Figure 11 The empty cavity where the old generator was, and the replacement is going.

Day 4:

There is a dude at Cycle Electric who deserves a bonus today. He was able to get my replacement generator together, packed and overnighted to us yesterday. It showed up in UPS this morning, and we had the old one out and the new one on by noon.

Willie moved the power wire from my turn signal module to a different ignition position to eliminate the power draw. I didn't have a problem with the module when I put it on my shovels because it was in line with the turn signals, which are on an accessory position. So I didn't think about that when I wired this one in. Simple fix.

Once we got the new generator in and the module wires moved - no more power draw!

On the test ride yesterday, Willie felt like the rear brake might be glazed, so we pulled that back apart and scuffed the drum and pads. Hopefully that will create a bit more stopping power. In the process of reinstalling the rear wheel, he took a closer look at my chain. It was pretty well shot, so off it came, and he put a spanky new one on.

Buttoned up the battery box and dash, and rolled the bike outside for the final tweak. The kickstand kept the bike too upright, so every time I would try to kick it, it felt like the bike was going to tip over to the right. Actually it wasn’t a feeling – the bike would jerk precariously to the right. I am nervous enough about learning to kick this bike, but when it wants to fall on top of me while I am trying to kick it, that is not the best feeling in the world. Willie got his torch out and bent the kickstand back to where it belonged, so now the bike sits the way it should, and I can stand on the kicker and the bike stays put.

Tomorrow, a final test ride and then hopefully I can start getting the hang of kicking the bike. It will be my last day here, so we will load up the little red smoke show, and I will be east bound and down.


Day 5:

This morning I woke up with a splitting headache - guess I was pretty tired from the week. I packed up, checked out and headed over to Willie's. We loaded up the flattie, and had a bit of a chat. I had a couple final questions, and I wanted to take some notes. I didn’t honestly feel like trying to kick the bike when my head was pounding, which is unfortunate, but I will figure it out. The good part is that now, I know the bike is dialed in, and it will start and run. So it is up to me to learn to start it.

This was probably one of the best weeks of my life, which either says a great deal about how much fun I had, or indicates how lame my life is! Totally kidding. I was actually a little weepy because I didn't want to leave, but it was time to go east bound and down. Long day to cap off a long week of work. I got home to NY just before 1 a.m. Here are a couple final shots of the now finished smoke show just before we pulled her off the lift.

Figure 12 All set to go in the van.


Figure 13 Just waiting for her big exit.

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