Motorcycle: Work and War - Work
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 23:17:11 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the words "Harley-Davidson" and "workhorse" were almost synonymous. Surprising though it may seem now, much of America's road network scarcely existed until President Roosevelt's job-creation programmes of the Depression years. Even the celebrated Route 66 dates from only 1926 (and was almost obliterated by Interstate 40 after 1985). Any affordable, rugged machine able to cope with rough terrain had something going for it, and Milwaukee's finest certainly met that bill. Harleys have offered mobility in every walk of American life, from painters to policemen. The company saw this potential early - Arthur Davidson attended the annual meeting of the Rural Mail Carriers of America as early as 1909, coming away with a pocketful of sales. It is with the police, however, especially the Highway Patrol, that Milwaukee twins are best associated.
Literally thousands of Harleys have joined America's police forces since they first went into uniform in 1908. Until recently, it was believed that the first police Harley went to Pittsburgh in 1909, although the distinction actually goes to Detroit one year earlier. Indeed, Harley-Davidsons have been popular across the globe, and Milwaukee twins have often been prominent in newsreel footage of presidential cavalcades in countries as far-flung as Burma and Guatemala. By 1915, Juneau Avenue was also producing "rapid response" sidecar outfits equipped with fire extinguishers and first-aid kits. A decade later, Harley motorcycles were in use by more than 2,500 American police forces, some of which quickly saw the public-relations benefits of organizing their riders into display teams. By the 1930s, police-model special equipment included radios (initially only one-way; two-way arrived 1948), although some squads made riders buy their own police lights and sirens.
The same period also welcomed two definitive Harley-Davidson workhorses. The archetypal side-valve V-twin Model D, introduced in 1929, became the Model W in 1937 and continued in production until 1951. Although crude and slow - its 22-or-so-bhp, 45-inch engine generated around 65mph (105kph) - it was rugged, dependable and easy to fix - ideal for cash-strapped Depression America. The American military version, known as the WLA - the "A" stood for "Army" - represented the bulk of Milwaukee's contribution to the Second World War. Though the majority of WL production during the war years was earmarked for military use, some also went to police forces and other strategic or security operations.
The Servi-Car, introduced for 1932, was the Model D's three-wheeled sister ship, and enjoyed an even longer production run - until 1974. The model's capacious boot (trunk) made it as popular with trade and delivery men as it was with local police forces. This unique three-wheeler remained in service, even in metropolitan San Francisco, into the 1990s. One clever and user-friendly Servi-Car touch was the adoption of the same 42in (1,070mm) wheelbase as the typical car — so inexperienced riders would not need to forge their own ruts in mud and snow.
So enduring was the Servi-Car's appeal that for a period during the late 1970s and early 1980s it was the only Milwaukee machine serving many American police forces.
The later Shovelhead years were not happy ones for Harley-Davidson's law-enforcing pretensions. Quality-control problems and general performance issues caused many forces to look elsewhere. For around a decade, even the California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) found itself powered by Italian Moto Guzzi V-twin and Japanese Kawasaki four-cylinder machines. It was not until the arrival of the Evolution engine in 1984 that Harley could again supply machinery that met CHiPs' requirements. Since then, Harley's principal police models have been the FLHT-P Electra-Glide and FXRP PursuitGlide.
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