Ed Stevens passed down a number of things to his son, Harry. He gave him the nickname Butch, which has stuck to this day. He gave his boy a passion for motorcycles, particularly Harley-Davidson flatheads. Most importantly, he forged a deep bond with his son. “My dad was my best friend,” Stevens says. “We did everything together.”
Butch Stevens, lifelong Montgomery County resident and longtime machinist at Wolverine, has owned many motorcycles in his life – Hondas, Yamahas, a Ducati. His first bike was a Wards Riverside (sold by Montgomery Ward). Stevens, 10 years old at the time, couldn’t mount the bike from the ground, so he would climb on his porch to start it then “jump on it and ride.”
Despite having ridden a variety of motorcycles – “Most definitely I have spent more time on a bike than in a car,” he says – there is no doubt that Butch is a Harley man. “My dad was always into Harleys,” Stevens recalls.
The first bike he bought for himself was a Harley. He was 18 and had just graduated from Christiansburg High School. It was a 1948 Harley-Davidson WL flathead 45, and he’s had it ever since. The 45, which refers to the engine’s cubic inches, wasn’t pretty. It had rust on the chain, rust on the Sportster front end, and the seat wasn’t attached to the bike. “It would just fall off,” Stevens remembers. But it was a Harley. Just like his dad’s.
Soon after buying the bike, Stevens tore it apart and rebuilt it, cleaning up the rough spots and adding a sissy bar. It was a good thing he spent so many hours tinkering on Harleys with his father because not too long after that, Stevens rebuilt it for a second time. He was riding the bike, going around a corner, when the boot peg scrubbed the road. He and the bike went down, and it was time to rebuild this Harley.
This time Stevens decided to restore it as close to original as possible. At the time, he didn’t have the collection of 45 parts he does now so he couldn’t make a full restoration. For example, he used military fenders without sides to prevent mud clogging. But it looked good and rode even better. His father knew this because he loved to drive it. Butch let him use it as his daily ride to work at the Radford arsenal. John Franklin owns TLC Unlimited, a bike shop in Cambria, and used to work with Ed at the arsenal. “He loved riding that bike,” Franklin recalls.
About 20 years ago, Butch decided to take it apart and put it back together yet again, for a third time. This time his goal was a full original restoration with a few choice modifications – such as stainless steel rims and spokes. My dad said, ‘Don’t do it. You’ll never put it back together.’” It did take a long time – almost 10 years. At the time, he didn’t have the detached garage he has today, so he worked on it in his house.
“There’s something wives don’t like about having a motorcycle in the home,” he jokes. But his wife, Deedra, was patient, knowing how much the bike meant to him. “Now we’ve got everything in the garage,” she says, to which Butch queries: “Are you sure?” He steps away for a moment and returns with a saddlebag in hand.
Stevens completed the final restoration of the flathead just a few months before his father died. “He got to see it before he passed away. I thank the Lord for that.” Gene Glick, of C.G. Cycle in Blacksburg, got an up-close view of the work Stevens did on the bike, as he painted it for Stevens. “I think he did a great job,” Glick states.
Over the course of his life, Stevens has owned more than a dozen Harleys, including four flatheads, all of which he wishes he still had. Today, he’s building a 1958 flathead from parts ~ not the first time he has built a flathead from parts. He’s putting on a Sportster front end, just as the 1948 looked like when he originally acquired it right out of high school.
Since Stevens made his final restoration to the 1948, he hasn’t ridden it much. His everyday bike is a 1992 Harley Sportster. “I ride it to work every day, rain or shine.” He has a 1999 Ultra Classic 1450 (with twincam motor) which he and Deedra take out together, to church or just for a ride.
Nowadays, just looking at the old Harley is enough for Stephens. Especially the tag on the back that reads, “In memory of Edward Stevens, father and friend.”
By Karl H. Kazaks
Photos by Brandon Maxwell Photography♦ End