Reading through the spec sheet and background info that Caleb Owens, owner of Cro Customs Inc. in Culver City, California, provided for this amazing Panhead, the first thing that came into my mind were the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time.”
I’d get it one piece at a time
And it wouldn’t cost me a dime
You’ll know it’s me when I come through your town
I’m gonna ride around in style
I’m gonna drive everybody wild
‘Cause I’ll have the only one there is around.
With a quick look one might spot Caleb’s latest build and say, “Oooh a black Harley.” And while black may be the color of choice for the average Harley owner, those who know a thing or two about details and design will greatly appreciate the amount of thought, skill, and work that went into this black beauty. “At first glance it’s just a nice black bike, but at further inspection you see lots of details,” Caleb tells us. “It’s a bike you need to take your time with. I didn’t want one piece to dominate the bike, I wanted the bike to be organic, everything related, with the details speaking as another part of a bigger statement.”
It takes a special type of person to spend years procuring a collection of parts knowing what to keep and what to trade. It takes an artist however to know when and how to properly use those collected parts in a project. Caleb is one of those people. “I found the ’56 FL Panhead engine five or so years ago via some connections and ran it in an earlier project before completely rebuilding it,” Caleb says. After putting some good miles on that bike, Caleb pulled the engine and completely went through it and rebuilt it to just a tad more than 74 ci. The engine features ’56 cases, ’48 cylinders and heads, and some of Custom Cycle Engineering’s early finned Panhead covers. The powerplant was then dropped into a ’55-57 frame that Caleb received in lieu of payment for work on one of his friend’s bikes. To back up the engine, Caleb used a ’49 jockey top trans, which was in a basket case roller that came from another one of his friends.
“It takes a special type of person to spend years procuring a collection of parts knowing what to keep and what to trade. It takes an artist however to know when and how to properly use those collected parts in a project. Caleb is one of those people.”
Caleb used a reel-to-reel dictation microphone from the ’40s as a brake light and mounted it between the sissybar.
Caleb used a reel-to-reel dictation microphone from the ’40s as a brake light and mounted
The only suspension for the bike is a late-’40s springer Caleb traded a snare drum for. Rather than just slapping the springer on and calling it a day, Caleb relied on his tools and ingenuity to heavily modify the frontend to fit the overall profile of the bike. “The rear legs are original, and the front leg casting is original as well. However, I narrowed it and built the rest via some re-pop and swap meet parts and finished it off with shaved rockers,” Caleb states. The end result is a low-slung and snug fit around the 23-inch Speedway rim with spool hub.
“I originally found the gas tank at a swap meet, then I chopped it, narrowed it, and handmade the mounts,” Caleb says. The small details are what make this bike stand out among those who know and appreciate what they are looking at. And the mounts alone are worth spending a few minutes admiring, as they aren’t just straight tabs welded to the tank or frame, but feature smooth arches and subtle grooves.
Caleb typically builds his bikes for one reason only: to be ridden. And while this Pan serves that purpose, he wanted to make a point with this project. “I’ve always built more purposeful bikes—bikes meant to be ridden. A show bike was never ‘my thing.’ I’d rather be riding than sitting at a show staring at my bike,” Caleb states. “That being said, I felt it was time to build my version of a show bike, and this is it. I take it to shows, sure, but its purpose is to be ridden. I wanted it to be a bit deceptive.”
When answering our question about what was the hardest part of the build, Caleb responds with, “Restraint. Knowing what not to do and knowing when to say, ‘Ok that is too much.’ Everything is handmade, all the components are either handmade or heavily modified via free-form machining and elbow grease.”
While ol’ Johnny Cash’s one-piece-at-a-time black Caddy might have looked like a rolling monstrosity when it all came together, Caleb’s one-piece-at-a-time Pan is a slim beauty that would make any man jealous. We wouldn’t expect anything less from a skilled bike builder who knows exactly what to do with a collection of parts.HB
Caleb covered the S&S Super B carb with the top from a ’40s Ice-O-Mat ice crusher. The air cleaner cover, rocker covers, and a few other components were given some extra details by gun engraving artist Mark Cooper.
Caleb covered the S&S Super B carb with the top from a ’40s Ice-O-Mat ice crusher. The air
The hand-turned Walnut shifter knob features a glazed-in photo of Caleb’s dad circa 1946.