Cars & Racing | 3 April 2017The Mystery of the Hidden Harley Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Everyone loves a mystery, right? Typically with barn finds, a couple questions might pop up how the machine ended up where it did. However, some barn finds turn out to be an elaborate mystery that may never be solved. One such gripping tale involves a fully-loaded, barely ridden 1957 Harley-Davidson FLH. The story is recounted in the book The Harley in the Barn. It tells of an hidden tomb for the bike, a secret the owner kept to his grave, and culminates with the surprising discovery of the machine by his heir. So turn the lights low, fire up a cigar, draw up a brandy, and settle back in your couch to hear the tale of “The Mystery of the Hidden Harley”. The Mystery of the Hidden Harley by Brad Bowling In the case of Steve Barber’s 1957 Harley-Davidson FLH, the traditional barn-find story takes a twist worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe thriller—in fact, it reads a lot like Poe’s 1846 short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.” Poe’s super-creepy tale of a nobleman who kills a deceptive friend by building a stone wall around him in his dungeon has scared many a high school sophomore, but we do not know if the Harley’s first owner drew inspiration from that plot or acted on his own. What is documented is that “Hank” was a successful Pittsburgh businessman when he bought a fully loaded ’57 FLH. As if having the “Cadillac of motorcycles” wasn’t enough, Hank fired a stream of dollars into the Harley dealership’s parts department, which hung every accessory imaginable on the big cruiser, including Harley’s King of the Highway package, a wide-whitewall Goodyear front tire, Big Bertha saddlebags, Super Soft DeLuxe Buddy seat, Guide DH-49 turn signal kit, lots of extra chrome, and some aftermarket pieces from Beck, Buco, and Superior. Hank’s free-spending lifestyle included a weekend home in the undeveloped mountains near Pittsburgh, which explains the Harley’s rear Goodyear Grasshopper—a knobby dirt bike tire not usually mounted on high-dollar cruisers. Out the door, Hank’s clack-and-pepper red ride was one of the most expensive Harley-Davidson products sold that year. Since very little information about the owner is available, it is possible Hank’s spending spree was an attempt to outgun a singer/movie star from Tupelo, Mississippi, who was the most famous Harley rider of that era—Elvis. Elvis Presley’s antiestablishment image had recently been bolstered by widely circulated photos of the hipster and his Black ’57 FLH; maybe Hank wanted to bring some two-wheeled rock ’n’ roll glamour to western Pennsylvania. This 1957 Harley-Davidson came out of its long, lonely storage looking just like this. The motive behind its secret entombment has been lost to history, but the bike is a museum piece the likes of which will never be found again. All we know about the original owner of this ’57 FLH comes from a few comments his niece/estate executor made, and from the contents of the bike’s saddlebags. The Harley brand cap tells us his name was Hank, his girlfriend or wife was Fay, and he felt manly enough to wear a pink-and-white satiny western-style shirt as he rode 247 miles. With such a magnificent machine in the garage, Hank and Fay (his wife or girlfriend) were ready for many thousands of miles of travel pleasure, but something changed their plans; just as the FLH’s odometer reached 247 miles—not even past the 74ci V-twin’s break-in distance—Hank’s attitude about his bike took on a dark and macabre tone. For reasons he took to the grave, Hank decided to permanently park his ’57 FLH. He wasn’t interested in selling it, but he decided to hide it in a place where no one would find it during his lifetime, and it is unknown whether Fay knew the bike’s final location. He prepared the bike for its entombment by packing the left saddlebag with his personal riding effects: a pink-and-white satin western-style riding shirt; a Harley-Davidson hat with his name painted on it; rain gear; hand cleaner; shop rags; and sunglasses. He put Fay’s travel togs in the right saddlebag and an Amoco gas station road atlas of Pennsylvania in the windshield bag. The strongest theory as to why Hank walled up his brand-new Harley lies with the transmission.When the Barber family purchased this pristine collector’s item in 1993, the bike had a stuck gear. Current owner Steve Barber wonders if that condition happened in 1957 and sent Hank over the edge, or if it was simply the result of being parked for 35-plus years. With the Hydra Glide prepped for a long road trip it would never take, Hank built around it an undetectable cedar-lined sarcophagus in his garage, where it sat in darkness for almost 35 years. There were no windows, but the air was climate-controlled. Unlike the victim in Poe’s nightmarish narrative, the bike was eventually rescued none the worse for wear. Hank’s niece inherited the property after his death and noticed the garage was slightly smaller than the original blueprints suggested. In 1993, her curiosity compelled her to investigate. Down came the secret wall, revealing the greatest archaeological surprise since King Tut was unearthed in 1922. Hank’s niece transported the bike back to her home in Connecticut and placed an ad for a like-new ’57 FLH in a local pennysaver newspaper. “A friend of my father’s called to tell him about the ad,” Steve Barber said, whose father Joe and mother Peg had been running The 74 Shop—a Harley restoration business—in Saugerties, New York, since 1973. “Everybody who saw the ad thought the bike had been restored—that there was no pristine original out there with so few miles. It just sounded too good to be true.” Even Elvis didn’t get this carried away. Hank had his dealer install everything Harley had in its catalog as well as aftermarket parts on his ’57 FLH. It was likely one of the most expensive bikes Harley sold that year. Once the Barbers showed serious interest in purchasing the bike, Hank’s niece/estate executor told them the bike’s unusual story. The seller did not know, however, what had caused her uncle to take leave of his senses and wall up a perfectly good motorcycle. Steve’s parents were blown away by the find. “Joe and I were overcome with joy at the sight of this brand-new 1957 Panhead,” Peg said. “It was better than we could have ever dreamed.” “It was so perfect and such a time capsule for that period,” Steve said, “that we decided not to try to crank it right away. It had one flaw, which is that it was stuck in gear. We’ve wondered if that happened back in 1957, causing Hank to get mad at the bike, or if the transmission stuck while it was put away.” By now, this 55-year-old Harley- Davidson should have spun that odometer at least once. Instead, it froze at 247 miles until Steve Barber fired it up and rode it 40 miles in 2010. Joe Barber passed away in 1996, and Peg ran The 74 Shop until 2006, when Steve took over the business. The ’57 enjoyed its new life as a pampered museum piece until June 2010, when Barber resuscitated the big V-twin. He cranked the bike at the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s Rhinebeck (New York) Grand National Super Meet before a huge crowd. It was the first time anyone outside Barber’s family and friends had heard the ’57 fire up since it was new. A few days after the Rhinebeck show, he drove it 40 miles. Barber’s plan is to take it out on rare occasions, but it will never see the thousands of miles Hank and Fay prepared it for. “It was the best 40 miles of riding I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was like riding 63 years into the past.” That’s not entirely true. If it were a real time machine, the young Barber could drive to rural Pennsylvania, find Hank working on his secret motorcycle tomb, and solve the mystery of the phantom bike. Buy From an Online Retailer Driving down a country road, a flash of chrome catches your eye as you pass an old farmstead. Next time you roll by, you slow down and focus on a shed behind the house. Could that be? Good lord, it is! Hard on the brakes, quick reverse, and pull in the drive. Yep, it’s a vintage Triumph Bonneville peering forlornly from beneath a tattered cover. You’ve just begun the journey that fuels the dreams of every motorcycle collector: the long-forgotten machine, re-discovered. The Harley in the Barn offers 40-plus tales of lost Nortons, hidden Hondas, dormant Indians, and busted BSAs, all squirreled away from prying eyes but found by lucky collectors just like you. Author Tom Cotter is not only a barn-find master, he’s also master of discovering the collectors with the best stories and the most outlandish finds. If you can’t pass a padlocked garage without wondering if there’s a great old bike stashed inside, this is your book. Hell, this is your life. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.