[UPDATE March 1, 2023: Just a couple of days later, Matt Walksler and Wheels Through Time have successfully gotten the ‘39 Rustoration project running! You’ll get to see and hear it in this video, but before you do, Walksler gives a terrific and informative history lesson on just what makes this particular bike so special.
It was the end of some things (like those rectangular floorboards), as well as the beginning of others (like that iconic beehive taillight). It was also a time for a single-year oddity in the form of locating neutral between second and third gears instead of its usual place, between first and second.
By the end of the video, you get to see the almost rapturous look on Walksler’s face as he gets it running and takes it for a short jaunt around the outside of the WTT workshop. Take a look, take a listen, and enjoy.]
Original piece follows.
Wheels Through Time has been hard at work on its ‘39 Rustoration project for some time and it’s getting closer and closer to completion. If you haven’t been following along, the bike is a 1939 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead from Indiana that, at one point, was in a fire and was completely disassembled in 1975. Thankfully, miraculously, the parts stayed together all these decades and it’s now coming back to life in Matt Walksler’s shop.
Although he hasn’t gone deep into the history of this bike in the videos so far, Walksler was crystal clear about wanting to keep the exterior patina on this bike in its present condition. Opinions will, of course, vary—but his feeling is that when a bike has lived a life, it makes sense to show it off, not try to hide it behind a better-than-showroom-fresh restoration.
When we last checked in on the ‘39 Rustoration, it was missing its cylinder heads, pushrods, exhaust, and a few other pieces here and there. In this video, we get to see the cylinder heads, pushrods, exhaust, and recovered seat go back on—along with the carburetor and accessory air cleaner.
Although Walksler chose to keep the exterior patina, all the mechanical bits are getting a full restoration as needed. Things like making sure the bores look good and have nice crosshatching, new valve seats, and so on are all being carefully ticked off the list, while the outside stays as crusty as makes sense for this build.
Interestingly, Walksler also says he thinks this could end up being the most correct bike that he’s put together so far, just because all the right parts came together at the right time. From new-old stock items to things he was able to source through his various connections, there are lots of rare parts that he’s brought together to make the ‘39 Rustoration a runner. Where that wasn’t possible—such as with the muffler on the exhaust—he was able to get an extremely good replica that he talks about a bit in this video. (The fishtail on the end, as well as the rest of the exhaust, are OEM Harley parts, though.)
There’s a particularly charming moment when he’s installing the pushrods on this engine, after he’s got the heads back in place. He pulls a screwdriver out and shows off the special divot his dad modified it with, just for the exact task of getting the pushrods into place on these engines. It’s not just bikes that tell stories—sometimes, it’s your tools, too.