Dan McGaughey tragically lost his father but inherited his dream in a 1951 Harley-Davidson Panhead barn find
Words by Kali Kotoski
Photos by Chris Aizenberg/Lawless Lands Photography
Dan McGaughey’s father Everett was already a lifelong Harley-Davidson rider when in 1994 he came across an offer that he couldn’t refuse—a rare, almost entirely stock 1951 Harley-Davidson Panhead.
It was a relic of a bygone era, a part of Harley-Davidson history that spoke to a much simpler time in the American experience and one that, when first released, would have been a common sight to the young Everett, who was born in 1944.
How Everett came to be the owner of such a lasting piece of legendary iron is a bit of a mystery. Certain specific details are missing and have been lost over time as memories fade. But what is certain is that a friend – his friends called him ‘Mac’ – came to Everett in need of some money while Everett was keenly aware of the need to keep this precious part of motorcycle history intact and saved from the neglect of a scrapheap, or whittled off and sold piece by piece.
“I think the guy he bought it from, Dave was his name, just needed some quick cash after he found it,” said Dan. “My dad just loved motorcycles and was the type of guy that would help out a friend. It could have been a deal where the previous owner could buy it back if he wanted to, but I don’t know.”
Either way, Everett carefully set the bike aside at his truck autobody shop in the western Wisconsin village of Bruce, which was first settled as a logging camp and is about an hour from the Minnesota border and near the town of Ladysmith.
True to his word, Everett didn’t touch the bike at first as it naturally gathered dust while protected from the harsh midwestern winters, full of cold, salt and rust. Like a dutiful caretaker, the bike followed Everett everywhere he went as an entrepreneurial small business owner.
“The bike went from shop to shop, from shop to home, and then back to the shop again,” Dan explained with a laugh. “I swear there were over 15 times when my dad said he was going to finally restore it completely and get it running.”
It’s a very relatable sentiment for anybody that has ever worked with their hands, or who takes pride in fine craftsmanship and has aspirational plans of one day taking an iron out of the fire. But too often days are just not long enough and regular living gets in the way. Bills to pay. Kids to raise. Other adventures to pursue. Still, all with the hope of getting back to working on that one, or numerous, passion project that is meant to be the crown jewel—a culmination of knowledge and skill that leaves a legacy.
Unfortunately, Everett never got the chance, as his life was taken prematurely. Although he did certainly leave a legacy for his sons, Dan and Darrin and girlfriend Judy.
Everett passed away on November 6 at the age of 76 after testing positive for COVID-19. He was hospitalized and put on a ventilator and eventually his heart gave out, Dan explained.
“They did everything they could, but COVID is a bitch,” Dan said. “It sucks, man. This shit is real.”
He added that while his dad had underlying health conditions that lowered his chances of survival, he isn’t so much personally worried about the virus that has killed over 400,000 Americans and infected nearly 25 million. Rather, he is worried about spreading it to the most vulnerable. It is a terrible plague that has taken too many loved ones, leaving a grief-stricken nation that has caused people to reflect on the things that really matter, like family and loved ones and the simple joys of living.
“We lived in different states, so that was hard. But I called my dad as much as I could and we talked a lot,” Dan said.
Everett was Dan’s first parent to pass away and he has plenty of fond memories of the two of them riding to Sturgis and doing the things a son does with his father. Dan is service manager at Dillion Brothers Harley-Davidson in Omaha, Nebraska, carrying on the spirit of motorcycling as a career.
When asked how much his father influenced his decision to pursue a career in motorcycles, Dan shot back with an unequivocal “100 percent!” That notion surely resonates with any father that hopes to nurture and inspire their children with the hope that they will show interest in the same things that brought them enjoyment and satisfaction. It is also a familiar, yet deeply personal, story in the motorcycle universe and one that can’t be stressed enough. Fathers leave legacies in many intangible and, in this case, tangible ways.
After going through his dad’s belongings, which included a 1962 Harley-Davidson Panhead, a Shovelhead, a 1996 Electra Glide Ultra Classic and a 1998 Road King, Dan knew the 1951 Panhead was the most classic piece, but not the most sentimental.
“It is in great shape,” he said. “It is a little rougher than I remembered because it had been a few years since I saw it last. It is just a really cool piece. I don’t know how accurate it is, but I would say above 90 percent original.”
Dan first had the idea of getting it down to Nebraska to clean it up and get it running. But he quickly realized it would need a full restoration.
“Plus, I am worried about wrecking it, and personally I don’t want to ride it. My dad rode the ’98 Road King and that is what I want to ride for him,” he said proudly. “My dad just loved collecting bikes and they were always around when I was growing up.”
To honor his father, Dan is keeping a close guard on the machine while looking for a discerning buyer who actually appreciates what a classic motorcycle like this is meant for.
“I am looking to sell it. But only to someone that will restore it and ride it like it should be rode. I don’t want it thrown in a museum or something like that. That is not what my dad would want and that is not what I want,” he said, adding that nothing less would do his father’s memory justice.
Every bike has a story to tell beneath the metal and chrome. And for this rare ’51 Panhead, hopefully there will be many more stories to collect along its journey. If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that there is no time to wait or to delay, and dreams have to be pursued because the future is never as clear as it may seem.
Or as Dan said: “I still have the urge to say this was my old man’s dream, but I can’t anymore because he is gone. And my dream now is to see that bike restored and ridden.”