Hydra-Glide development

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badger34
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Hydra-Glide development

#1

Post by badger34 » Sat Nov 30, 2019 5:53 pm

On this day in 1945 my grandfather and three other H-D Exp Dept men were in New Mexico and took in the sights at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. They were on a long distance test trip dubbed "The Hydra-Glide Test Trip" as recalled by one of four men who Herb Wagner interviewed for his H-D 1930-1941 Revolutionary Motorcycles book. I have record of the date by having passed down to me a Carlsbad Caverns souvenir booklet and dated guide service receipt that my grandfather brought back with him. I also have several small photos from this trip that were in one of my grandparent's photo albums. In my conversations with Herb Wagner we confirmed that he also has possession of a couple of duplicate photos from this trip through his interview source. These items combined with my grandfather's H-D MoCo history spurs my interest in dates and events pertaining to development of the Hydra-Glide.

A second Hydra-Glide development item correlates the November 1945 time period and that is the final photo found in Jerry Hatfield's Inside H-D book which shows a Hydra-Glide styling exercise mock-up with a late November 1945 processing date attributed to it. It would be interesting to know when Brooks Stevens Design was brought in on the project for additional help in the development timing.

So I'm wondering if anyone here might have any further knowledge of this topic? I have looked into information on Ben Benson of Winnipeg Canada and his development of a hydraulic fork assembly. There are those who say he is the Hydra-Glide originator and sealed a deal with the MoCo on his patent rights but I have yet to find any hard evidence of such. The January 1948 date of his patent application and the subsequent December 1950 approval are dated too late for me to believe this since the MoCo would have been in production with the Hydra-Glide by summer of 1948. From advertising and dealer order information was the new model Hydra-Glide for 1949 available at model year introduction, or was it a mid-year or late release?

I will appreciate any further information.



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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#2

Post by RUBONE » Sat Nov 30, 2019 8:57 pm

All the introduction info I have for '49 shows it coming with the "New Hydra-Glide fork" at the beginning of the season, no delays. The "Enthusiast", "American Motorcycling", factory order forms, sales literature, all tout the new fork as a great new feature, with the Streamline styling secondary to it. The "Enthusiast" intro is in the October issue (by then dealers should have already received their demonstrators and initial stock orders were being filled), "American Motorcycling" in November.

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#3

Post by badger34 » Sat Nov 30, 2019 10:55 pm

Thank you Robbie! I was kind of counting on your knowledge and impressive literature collection in regard to the introduction info. Good to know that the Hydra-Glide fork was being touted early for 1949 model production.

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#4

Post by RooDog » Sun Dec 01, 2019 1:21 am

I am not at all surprised that the hydraulic telescoping fork was developed by an outside genius and then cabbaged up by the MoCo, much like the Softail frame, and belt drives, The factory even pirates names like FatBob, and WideGlide from the aftermarket chopper crowd, but then, we all know this is true....
Hell, even the foot shift and mousetrap was a backyard garage creation, and Little John's 5 speed tranny too....
....RooDog.........

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#5

Post by RUBONE » Sun Dec 01, 2019 1:42 am

BMWs were using hydraulic forks since '35. The Brits shortly after. Foot gearchange was common everywhere except the US by the late '30s. H-D was very conservative, and late to the game always. And the Brits invented the softail frame decades before anyone in the US tried it. Hell, H-D had a softail concept in their lightweights in the early '60s. H-D was never an innovator, they were good a refining stuff over time, but they were cautious, and stingy! Look familiar??

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#6

Post by lpd1snipe » Sun Dec 01, 2019 3:14 am

I was always under the impression from my father that Harley D copied the 'Vard" front end that was introduced in 1946 in Pasadena California. They made landing gear components for WWII aircraft. They were produced until the early 1950s and were made for Harleys and Indians. He had one on his 1947 Knucklehead along with a B&H shifter with a "mousetrap" type setup that Harley also copied I'm sure. If I ever find the picture again I'll copied and post it for everyone.

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#7

Post by RUBONE » Sun Dec 01, 2019 4:47 am

The Vard itself was merely a copy of others...

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#8

Post by RooDog » Sun Dec 01, 2019 5:46 am


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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#9

Post by RUBONE » Sun Dec 01, 2019 6:29 am

Vincent used a pivoting rear section in the '30s, and they weren't the first...
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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#10

Post by badger34 » Sun Dec 01, 2019 5:10 pm

And off on tangents we go.

So I should have asked, has anyone seen anything relating to Hydra-Glide development prior to the November 1945 dates? I must say that in one of the photos I have from that 1945 test trip my grandfather is pictured seated on a cycle with a prototype front fork assy that does not ressemble a Vard, Benson or the eventual Hydra-Glide.

Here is a photo of the Ben Benson hydraulic front fork for those who have not seen one.
Image

As for H-D borrowed or bought engineering you can find many instances dating all the way back to the 1904 loop frame design and Milwaukee's Joseph Merkel. H-D had a long standing practice of testing and evaluating it's competitors product.

And lastly as for the 1980's Softail design it was an issue of H-D having been caught lagging behind in their own development efforts that lead them to purchase the patents and rights to Bill Davis' work. Little known history from Jim Haubert at the following link. http://www.jim-haubert.com/id17.html

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#11

Post by hplhd » Mon Dec 02, 2019 10:51 am

badger34, I enjoy your posts so much. I just love reading the history of the time your granpa was at the plant. Between you and Robbie it never gets boring going down "memory lane" :)

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#12

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Mon Dec 02, 2019 11:40 am

badger34 wrote:
Sat Nov 30, 2019 5:53 pm
From advertising and dealer order information was the new model Hydra-Glide for 1949 available at model year introduction, or was it a mid-year or late release?

I agree with Robbie: beginning of the season. There were at least two order blanks for 49 models and both mention hydraulic (or Hydra-Glide) fork although they also indicate the spring fork was available.

The 49 prototype Pan had a Glide front end. The engine appears to have been a 48 and Palmer says it was a 48EL. Not easy to read the SN in his book but he may be right about the year because I have a photo of it from another publication and it looks like 48.
Eric

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#13

Post by RooDog » Mon Dec 02, 2019 2:35 pm

Let us not forget that Palmer's book many pre-production, prototype, concept photographs which contain many, many details that never made it into that year's production models.
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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#14

Post by badger34 » Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:54 pm

Thanks for the kind reply hplhd. A dozen years ago just before my grandmother passed on I got really interested in my family's Milwaukee motorcycle history and ever since then I've been researching not only my family's past but also the H-D Motor Company and Wisconsin's early motorcycling scene. Five members of my family worked at Juneau Ave beginning in and during the mid-30's, a great grandfather, my G'pa Joe, his cousin Joe, my G'ma Anne and her cousin Mary. Two other family members were Milwaukee motor patrol officers post WWII.

My G'pa Joe's 41 year career at H-D I would say was exceptional, at least 30 years in experimental before he retired. Unfortunately he passed young just 5 years after retiring and I never had the opportunity to have an adult conversation with him about his career and early experiences. Everything I know I've learned in the last dozen years by researching items he left, along with countless hours of reading books, old newspapers & trade magazines. I've been rewarded many times with new discoveries of his extensive motorcycling activities.

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Re: Hydra-Glide development

#15

Post by Frankenstein » Tue Dec 03, 2019 1:39 am

This has nothing to add to the fork conversation, but does relate some HD "history".
Cruising down the Blue Ridge Parkway in the early '70's on my Bobber 80 BTSV, I'd stopped at a scenic overlook to enjoy the view. A older man struck up a conversation about my bike and HD's in general. He had been an engineer at Harley for some years, don't remember specifics at to his job now, or a name, if one was ever given.
But we talked about parts coming out the back door, carbs in lunch boxes, flywheels on a string around a guy's neck under his coat, that kind of stuff.
Well apparently one guy was going for the whole banana. He had a frame, but couldn't smuggle it out under his coat. He took it up to an upper floor of the factory, and gave it a toss over the side to the ground below. Unfortunately for him, it took a bad bounce when it hit the pavement below, it flew back up on the rebound and right through Bill Harley's office window!
That bounce put a crimp in the back door smuggling, for awhile at least.
Don't know if the frame was tweaked or not!
At least, that's the story as it was told to me
DD

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