Tag Archives: Harley-Davidson

A Mysterious Little Car at the Syd Chaplin Airdrome

  • The little car and driver identified as Wally Timm, air show and movie pilot.

Although his elder half-brother Sydney had achieved more success on stage in their native England in the dawning years of the 20th century, by 1919, “The Little Tramp”, Charlie Chaplin, was firmly established as America’s first superstar moving picture comic. Syd had forsaken acting to handle his business affairs and was able to obtain Charlie’s first million dollar contract in early 1916. But in her book, “Syd Chaplin: A Biography” published in 2010, Lisa K. Stein quotes him as saying “I was always extremely interested in aviation; from it’s earliest inception I have collected newspaper cuttings”. Charlie’s enormous success enabled him to pursue his passion.

  • Frank Clark in the same car 

He formed the Syd Chaplin Air Line in partnership with Emory Rogers, a World War I veteran pilot and began regular flights between Santa Monica and William Wrigley’s Catalina Island on July 12, 1919. At the time, he was also leasing “the largest flying-field in California” and called it the Chaplin Airdrome. It is there where we believe our two photos were taken.

It appears that the car was equipped with a Harley Davidson engine and transmission but beyond that, we have no information about it’s builder or mechanical specifications. We invite you to share anything you might know about it, Billy Rahn or the the driver seen above. You’ll find an earlier post about some similar tiny specials on The Old Motor. Photos courtesy of The San Diego Air & Space Museum.

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Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Auto photos 1921 - 1942 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Servicar Service at a Union Oil Gas Station, Los Angeles, California, c.1932

This spiffy Harley-Davidson Servi-Car looks like it was brand new when it was photographed at the Union Oil service station at 4004 Wilshire Boulevard in 1932. A memo issued by H-D on November 9, 1931 describes their new model as “intended primarily for the use by garages and service stations in the pickup and delivery of customer’s cars”, and that appears to be what is going on here. The tube frame work on the front wheel was connected to a quickly detachable hitch that allowed the trike to be towed, as you can see in one of our earlier posts.

The market for them slowly dried up as time went by and fewer service stations and car dealers offered pickup and delivery of customer’s cars. The wild deco design on the gas tank may very well be a factory paint scheme, as the company used this type of layout at the time on certain models. Take a look at the Steve McQeen 1931 H-D VL, which shares a similar graphic configuration. You can find out much more about these rare machines at the D45 Homepage and see many more service station posts on The Old Motor. Photo by Dick Whittington Studios courtesy of the Huntington Library.

Posted in Gasoline stations, Motorcycle photos | Tagged , , , , |

The Royale Treatment and an Early Harley-Davidson Servi-Car

The lucky owner of this impressive Reo Royale was the recipient of the kind of service that we can only imagine today. This 1931 photograph appears to depict the return of the big sedan from a service appointment to the owner’s substantial Pasadena home, dubbed “Villa Alegre” or “joyous country house”. Indeed, we think that both the car and the house are two very good reasons for the man who owned them to be quite happy. Near as we can tell, the rider and the Harley-Davidson Servi-Car on the tow bar come from a Reo dealership on Fair Oaks Avenue, also in Pasadena. Route 66 passes along a section of Fair Oaks Avenue as it heads toward South Pasadena.


Back in those days, it was not uncommon for an automobile agency to pick up a busy customer’s car at his home or business and return it when they had completed the work. To do this, employees would run out to where the car was located on a trike, hook on to the car (in this case with a clamp-on bumper hitch) and drive back to the shop with the motorcycle in tow. The process was reversed for delivery. Newly purchased cars were also sometimes delivered to a customer in a similar manner. Below are a few pages from a 1932 Servi-Car brochure which describe this intended use in more detail and shows towing equipment somewhat different from the set up in our photos.


Most Servi-Cars were powered by the Harley 45 cubic inch V-twin, but this one appears to have one of the H-D 30.5 cubic inch single cylinder powerplants installed. Our research also tells us that the Servi-Car debuted in 1932, yet this one carries a 1931 tag leading us to believe that it was a very early model. We invite our readers to tell us what they might know about this smaller engine and it’s use in the Harley utility vehicle.

Photographs courtesy of the Huntington Library. Servi-Car brochure pages courtesy of DM45Homepage.com

Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942, Garages and Dealerships, Motorcycle photos | Tagged , , , , , , |