Magazine writing: My barn-find Harley


When I found this old Harley-Davidson in a barn, I thought it would make a great story for one of the motorcycle magazines. I wrote this story and shipped it off and was surprised when it was rejected. I sent it to a couple of other magazines and they rejected it, too. I soon figured out why: Motorcycle magazines love “before and after” stories. They want to see the old unrestored bike, and then they want to see the bike all done over and like-new. I thought the fact the bike was still in the barn somewhere was interesting, but I guess the editors didn’t agree. The lesson: Stick to the formula, no matter how tired and hackneyed it may be.

Editors note: I just found an old photo of the bike, which I have inserted (12/01/2014).

I found it in a barn



You’ve seen it a million times. You page through your favorite motorcycle magazine and come to a dazzling spread on a beautiful antique Harley, restored and polished to perfection.  The story always says something like:

“This fine-looking 1948 Panhead has been carefully restored to better-than-new condition. Before the restoration, the only thing left of the original was a valve stem cap and a half-pint of gear oil.”

And then comes the worst part:

“The Panhead was found in an old barn.”

There are a lot of old barns in New England and I’ve looked through plenty of them, but I’ve never found an old motorcycle. Never an Indian, never an old Knucklehead, never even some interesting old parts. Nothing.

Nothing, that is, until two summers ago.

image002I was at a party at a house out in the country, about 50 miles from home. I was making small talk with the host, standing around in the front yard, when he brought up my favorite subject.

“You’ve got a Harley, right?” he asked. Then he nodded toward the barn that was hidden behind some pines a hundred yards away. “You know, I’m glad you’re here, because you might be able to tell me what I got out there in the barn.”

Oh, boy, I thought, maybe this is the big one. An old Harley, buried up to its passing lights in hay, complete and waiting for a little polish and some fresh gas. It was hard to keep from running ahead of the guy, but I wanted to act nonchalant.

It was dark in the barn and it took a bit for my eyes to adjust.

“It’s over here,” the guy said, squeezing himself past an old pickup that was parked near the door.

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