Advertisement

Hagerstown machinist enjoys busman's holiday

Jason Sheets recently traveled to California to show off a restored 1931 Harley VL

June 30, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Jason Sheets traveled to California recently to show his modified 1931 Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the Born Free 5 show.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Jason Sheets spends a lot of time in his Jefferson Boulevard garage. A machinist by trade, he works full time for Central Precision in Boonsboro, but weekends and evenings are reserved for his own projects and customers.

“I can do machining and welding on anything, lawn mowers, engines, it doesn’t matter,” Sheets said.
Sheets also uses his skills as a custom car and motorcycle builder. He got his motorcycle license when he was 18.

He’s been doing work part time out of his shop for about 10 years and recently took a two-week road trip to California with his wife, Jen Sheets, to participate in the Born Free 5 show.

Sheets was one of 32 guest builders invited to the vintage chopper and classic motorcycle show, which was held Saturday in Silverado, Calif. 

“I think they saw a lot of my stuff on Instagram and contacted me. We actually met at a bike show in York, Pa., and they asked me if I wanted to be in it,” Sheets said.

Advertisement

“It means a big deal to me. I think it’s going to blow my mind. The bikes people ride there are supposed to be awesome,” Sheets said.

Sheets said he’s the only person from the East Coast invited, with most from California, several from the Midwest and one each from Canada, Japan and Sweden.

“Each year it gets a lot bigger. This is the fifth year. It started as a small grassroots thing. There were 15,000 people there last year,” said Sheets, who said Harley-Davidson is a major sponsor this year.

His entry is a 1931 Harley VL, which he spent eight months restoring. It was purchased from a Hagerstown man who bought it a long time ago in California.

“I usually try to throw something together each year. It keeps me busy in the wintertime,” Sheets.

He said he often starts with a pile of parts, with nothing bolted together except for the motor and the transmission.

About half the parts were missing from the 1931 Harley VL he’s hauling to California for the show.

Sheets said it was difficult to find parts for this particular motorcycle, so he had to make quite a few of those that were missing. He did just about everything on the bike except for the paint job, which a friend did in trade for machine work on his own hot rod.

Sheets and his father, who lives in Downsville, like to hunt for parts at swap meets and antique shops.

Reproduction parts are usually available online, as well, but not for this particular motorcycle.

Sheets did find a motorcycle enthusiast in England who was “very into this model” and was able to get some parts from him.

A lot of people cut up bikes to customize them, Sheets said, but he used the original holes on this one, so it could be restored to its original design. He modified it to make it lighter, slimmer and to make it look faster.

“This is very fun to ride. There’s a lot of stuff going on,” said Sheets, who noted it’s not a long-distance bike.

It took him lots of trial and error to figure out how to start the bike.

The gas tank has to be primed — half the tank is oil and the other half is gas. The left grip controls the distributor and the right grip the throttle.

There’s a hand shift and foot clutch, similar to a car.

“It’s very primitive. It’s a huge challenge. There’s hardly any information on this bike,” Sheets said.

“These things are temperamental. Knock wood, but it’s been running good,” Sheets said.

Requirements of participation include that the bike starts and drives.

“It’s been stressful getting the bike up and running for the show. Back in December, it seemed like I had a lot of time,” Sheets said.

He and his father had planned to drive to Texas in April in 1934 Fords they were working on. Instead, they had to cancel that trip, and Sheets also had to stop working on outside work in his shop to get the motorcycle up and running for the Born Free 5 show.

Sheets said his father always had been into antique cars and motorcycles, but said his own interest started with more current Harleys. He has since changed his tune and appreciates the simplicity of older motorcycles.

Sheets, 41, graduated from Middletown High School in 1990. He took welding classes through Hagerstown Community College at a vo-tech school and machining classes at HCC.

After high school, Sheets moved to Colorado, where he spent 10 years working in excavation and construction in Steamboat Springs and snowboarding. He worked on motorcycles as a hobby and realized he needed more training.

That meant going to the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix, which provided a welcomed climate change.

“The winters were really getting to me. I could only ride (motorcycles) a short amount of time,” Sheets said of Colorado.

He was intrigued by the machine shop at the institute. After moving back to Maryland and working in a Frederick bike shop for a year, he decided he was more interested in being a machinist.

Sheets Welding and Machine is at 1394 Jefferson Blvd., Hagerstown. 

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|