Rocky Baldonado’s ULH-powered VL

Hotter than a pistol

Like most of us, Rocky Baldonado’s love for motorcycles started when he was just a child. As far back as he could remember he wanted a Harley. “When I was six years old my dad would pick me up from school on his Harley. I could hear him pulling up. His bike was so loud. He’d pick me up, hand me my Harley beanie, and then we’d go eat chile rellenos at a joint called The Hungry Ox.”

At the age of 34, Rocky was ready for a bike of his own. There was no chance of walking into a dealership and purchasing one off the showroom floor—not for this guy. His dad and uncle built their motorcycles like any real enthusiast would, and Rocky knew they would show him the way. Buying one from the dealer took away from the years of fun ahead of him—years of experience he would never trade. First things first: the plan. As a collector of prewar bicycles from the ’30s, he had the perfect inspiration for his build. He fell in love with the Art Deco era of those bicycles, and motorcycles were no different.

Then the search for parts began. For about a year he meandered around swap meets and browsed online in search for original, or inspiring parts, and gathered ideas for his very first build. No doubt, meeting old-timers and seasoned riders, listening to their stories, and pursuing their bikes was inspiration in itself, but the real reward was the time he got to spend with his Uncle Ron.

It seems luck was on Rocky’s side. As difficult as it would be to find the parts at all, finding them locally would be near impossible. The first purchase he made was the motor, a 1937 Harley ULH Side Valve Flathead. He found it on Craigslist from a seller in Stockton. With a sale price of $6,000 he wasn’t sure he could come up with the money in a timely enough manner. Not only did the seller take payments over a three-month time frame while Rocky sold off personal possessions (including some of his prewar bicycle collection), but upon his final payment the seller drove the motor down himself and personally delivered it from the back of a U-Haul.

The frame came next, again a find on Craigslist. A 1932 Harley VL, found from a seller in Minnesota. The purchase was made, and as they tried to figure out the most cost effective way to ship such an item, the seller came up with a plan. The seller held onto the frame for roughly six months while awaiting a regular visit from a friend of his. That friend put the frame in his truck and delivered the item directly to Rocky’s door. As if that wasn’t enough luck, the front end he was searching for to perfectly match the frame, a 1932 Harley I-Beam, he finally found on eBay up in Santa Cruz. The seller wanted $1,500 originally. Rocky offered him $1,400 cash, to which the seller denied. The seller then amended the price to $1,800 and set it for sale. The front end didn’t sell, so the gentleman contacted Rocky and said, “For $1,400 it’s yours.” How do you suppose the delivery went? You guessed it. The seller hand delivered it himself on his way down the coast during a trip to Palm Springs.

Wanting to stick with period-correct parts, the search for the headlight was no easy task either. The Internet was his friend yet again—this time eBay UK—and he finally found just the right headlight and placed a bid for the auction. Rocky and his uncle then found a matching taillight. Unheard of by any means, both parts matched exactly and were by the same manufacturer. So Ron told Rocky he to win the bid for those lights. They were more than he wanted to spend, but they were well worth the cost. He was now the proud owner of a set of two early 1900s matching headlights and taillights. Some parts he purchased, and some they made there in his uncle’s shop. The major parts they fabricated were the air cleaner, exhaust, gas tank, oil tank (custom air-compressor heads), and the fenders. Of course some parts you just have to rummage for, and luckily Pat and Terry from 45’s Unlimited let the guys come over and do just that: rummage. His best find there was his Linkert carburetor.

Lastly came the name. Rocky was working in his uncle’s radiator shop during the summers as a kid. A story he always remembered was when he was about the age of 13. Uncle Ron had an Uncle Easty who came into the shop venting about his grandson (Rocky’s cousin) who stole his “Saturday Night Special.” Although he was clueless at that time that it was a gun—or even that there was a song by the same name—the story and name stuck. When it came time to put a name to his baby, the nostalgia set in. He remembered that day back at his uncle’s shop and knew right away that he would name his bike “Saturday Nite Special.”