The Hog

I was in the crop spraying business when I was drafted into the Army in 1950 but knew I didn't want to get back into that field when I got out. I'd thought about a number of things but had settled on nothing in particular when I was discharged two years later. I had been sort of at loose ends for a couple weeks when a friend asked me to come help him in his automotive machine shop where most of his business was in building engines for race cars. I'd had some experience in that field so I fit right in. Hot rod street racing was a big thing in California until the police forced them to abandoned airfields where they raced against one another for a quarter mile. It had just begun to find its way to the Texas Panhandle and everyone wanted a special engine for Drag Racing, as it was called.

I knew that even a stock Harley Davidson with a 74cu in overhead valve engine could take even the best of the Ford V-8 but they were stripping weight off the cars and getting the weight down to where they were going pretty well. I had sold a Drake/Harley midget racer before going into the service but still had a spare engine in the barn at home. The Drake conversion kit had larger pistons and a longer stroke, giving it 90 cu in which was the maximum allowed in an overhead valve engine in midgets. The conversion also made the engine almost an inch taller than a stock Harley and it wouldn't fit in a regular frame. I solved that problem by using a 1936 model frame which was much lighter than the later ones. I could cut and weld some of the tubes to make room for the engine to fit.

It took me several months working on my motorcycle to get it ready to run and even though the gearing proved less than ideal, I took it to a drag race in a nearby town where it literally blew the competition away. I'd never ridden anything that would accelerate like it did. They didn't have any way to time the races so we just ran head to head and the first one across the finish line won.

About a month later I went to another race where there were two Harleys that had all the weight possible stripped off them and while they were about even with the cars running there, they still watched me storm away from them. They didn't realize that my engine was a good 20% larger and putting out far more horsepower. In those days, an engine that would produce one horsepower per cubic inch was a pretty strong engine but the 90 inch rig would crank out almost 110 horsepower on the dynamometer. This was in comparison to around 60 for a stock Harley with the 74 inch engine.

It was along about this point in time when British motorcycles like Triumph, BSA and Norton were finding their way into the US where the motorcycle business had been dominated by Harley Davidson with an occasional Indian showing up. Much to the chagrin of Harley Davidson, those British upstarts were proving to be just as fast with engines half the size of the big Harleys. About all the Harley riders could do was call the British imports "Limeys" or "Tea Sippers" in total disdain.

The newly formed American Hot Rod Association announced that the first National Drag Races would be held in Dodge City, Kansas and I sent in my registration. I was getting enough runs in to begin to feel comfortable on the bike and learning how to get the most out of it. I'd sent a few photos of it to a friend who was the editor of American Motorcyclists Magazine and just before I was going to leave, he asked what name I was going to call my bike. I hadn't even thought about a name for it so he told me that he'd give me $100 to paint "The Hog" on it. I didn't realize that was a name that British bike riders in California had begun to call Harleys and Harley Davidson hated it with a passion. They fought the name for a few years before they decided to capitalize on it by using as a short for the Harley Owners Group.

I had no more than unloaded the bike at Dodge City than some guy in a Harley jersey offered to whip my ass unless I covered that name with tape. I refused and ran it that way, winning the races going away. With all the new electronic timing, I became the first one to go under 10 seconds for the quarter mile (my time was 9.8 seconds) and my speed at the finish line was 135mph. Of course, there are any number of stock motorcycles that can beat those times today, but that was 50 years ago.

As I was getting ready to leave, a man wearing a Harley factory nametag approached me and asked, "How much do you want for that bike?"

More as a joke than anything, I tossed off a price of $3000. Now that was in a day when you could buy a brand new full dress Harley off the floor for about $900 or a British bike for around $600. He told me that he would be back and walked away. About ten minutes later he returned, handed me a check from a Harley dealer in Kansas City for $3000. Then he pushed the bike away and I never saw it again.

The first photo was while it was being built and the one with the name on the tank was the day before I left for Dodge City. A friend hopped on it for the shot and he sent it to me. Those are the only two photos I have of it and while my name and speeds were given in the two motorcycle magazines covering the event, the name was blanked out on the only two photos they ran of the bike.

The really ironic part was that I used the $3000 I got for The Hog to open a Triumph shop there.


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Copyright 2003 by Jim Foreman