GOSHEN, CT – It’s not uncommon when a motorcycle falls into disuse for an owner to regretfully park it in a corner of the garage to collect dust or shut it away in a shed to deteriorate under a tarp. Fond memories and affection often prevent the owner from being sensible and selling the motorcycle, which makes the fate of a 2003 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom so satisfying.
The Sportster is a 100th anniversary model with bold limited-edition tins numbered “123 of 200” that were made for sale. The gas tank and fenders have yellow-blending-into-orange flames and are over vivid red, making it an attention-getter. More on the tins later.
Skip Bligh of Goshen purchased the bike new from Yankee Harley-Davidson in Bristol for $15,423, then added another $5,000 in chrome accessories, an aftermarket exhaust system and more. Over 18 years of ownership, he put about 8,200 miles on the Sportster.
When spinal surgeries ultimately forced him to give up motorcycle riding, he showed wisdom. Two years ago, he sold the Sportster. “I hadn’t ridden it for like seven years,” he said, providing an explanation as to why the bike’s odometer shows such minuscule mileage.
The buyer was Mark Wasdo, owner of the Goshen eatery AJ’s Steak and Pizza. A life-long rider who owned a Honda CB550 when attending Naugatuck High School, Wasdo bought it to supplement his 1981 Harley-Davidson FXWG Wide Glide with a “Shovelhead” motor. “He was always after me to buy it,” said Wasdo last week, referring to Bligh and the Sportster.
As was the case with Bligh, Wasdo also let the Sportster sit. “I never rode it,” he said.
And he won’t be able to ride it in the future, either.
On the morning of April 22, with the help of a five-man crew, Wasdo had the Sportster hoisted to a ledge above the bar at his restaurant. It is now on permanent display for customers to gawk at, enjoy and to ponder its history.
It took a scissor lift, scaffolding and planks to create a runway to the ledge to get the bike airborne and properly situated in front of a U.S. flag. “We started at 7 a.m. Saturday and they had it up by 10,” Wasdo said, adding that the staging was installed the night before and after the restaurant closed.
The crew consisted on Doug Follert, Eli Harnett, Mat Wheeler, Mark Kobylenski and Todd Nivolo.
Displaying the Sportster wasn’t done on a whim. AJ’s has long welcomed riders. Founded by Wasdo in 1996, it was originally located on Route 4 west of the rotary in Goshen’s center. Wasdo used to ride his Shovelhead to work and he’d use it as a lure to get riders to come in. “I’d park it in front of the restaurant,” he said.
AJ’s moved to new building on Route 4 east of the rotary in 2016 and Wasdo had the architect put a wide shelf above the bar. “I drew this up on a place mat,” he said, recalling the design process. While there were thoughts of maybe putting a Christmas tree or Halloween skeleton above the bar to mark holidays, Wasdo said, “I never put anything up there.”
That is until the Sportster met its lofty, high-profile fate.
What neither Wasdo nor Bligh knew about the Sportster was the story behind the numbered tins with the custom paint scheme. They both assumed that it arrived at Yankee Harley-Davidson from the factory that way. That wasn’t the case.
Yankee Harley-Davidson co-owner Mike Keehan told RIDE-CT that every year up until a dozen or so years ago, Harley-Davidson would routinely outsource a few custom tin designs for several models and commission limited-production runs. The exotic designs would be showcased at a company gathering of dealers, who could then order the examples that they liked. They could also order them from a catalog.
The finished tins were shipped to dealers, who then took a model that had come from the factory and replaced its tins. Keehan said the motorcycles with the numbered tins were then sold at a premium of anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000, depending on the model. The dealership retained the factory tins for sale as well.
Wasdo said customers have been noticing the Sportster on display at AJ’s. “It’s a good conversation piece for sure,” he said. It’s not unlike the much rarer and more valuable 1920 Indian Scout “motocycle” enclosed in glass at eye level behind the bar at the White Horse Country Pub & Restaurant in New Preston.
What is satisfying is that the Sportster (and the Scout) are being preserved. “Fifty years from now, I’m not going to be here, but the bike’s going to be here,” Wasdo said of the Sportster.
Its original owner is pleased, too. “I’m glad he did that. It’s neat,” said Bligh.
(Photos courtesy of AJ’s Steak and Pizza and by Bud Wilkinson)
(A version of this column ran in the “Republican-American” newspaper on April 29, 2023.)