It was a glorious, sunny summer day in Orangeville recently as a procession of immaculate motorcycles rumbled into the parking lot of the Col. Fitzgerald branch of the Royal Canadian Legion for a show ‘n shine.
It was all that was expected. There were custom choppers with brilliantly colored tanks and forks polished to a mirror-like finish.
There were touring bikes that oozed opulence with their plush seats and glistening batwing fairings.
This was a show ‘n shine in every sense of the word.
Then, in the midst of all this grandeur, two drab green, relatively nondescript old bikes motored on to the scene. At first impression, they seemed out of place; like hobos crashing the debutantes’ ball.
Yet, no frowns greeted their arrival. In fact, there was a subtle air of reverence.
For this was a pair of 1943 Harley Davidson WLCs. These were road warriors in every sense of the word.
The WLCs came into existence during World War Two, when Canada’s military motorcycle needs could no longer be met by its traditional British suppliers; Norton, BSA and Indian.
“I’m a fan of the Canadian military,” said Todd Husen when asked why he sought out and purchased one of only 6,000 ‘43 WLC models ever manufactured for the Canadian Army in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Harley Davidson. “The bike also brings out the nostalgia,” said Huson.
There are features, or lack thereof, of the WLC that symbolize the common sense deployed by the Canadian military during the war; something that’s been overshadowed in history by the courage and fortitude exhibited by Canadians as they soldiered through Juno Beach, the Netherlands and other campaigns.
For one thing, the WLCs did not come equipped with submachine gun brackets, rifle scabbards and ammo boxes that were common on the WLA, the WLC’s counterpart deployed by the American military.
(Anyone who thinks it’s remotely plausible for someone to simultaneously drive a motorcycle and shoot a submachine gun has been watching too many Rambo movies).
“The Canadians were smart enough to realize you couldn’t ride a bike and shoot a gun at the same time,” figured Kevin Robinson of Grand Valley, who inherited his WLC from an uncle who purchased it at a war surplus store in Toronto in 1960.
Some WLAs even came with windshields. While the driver would be protected from road debris and bugs, he would be subjected to a deadly barrage of glass shards if a bullet blasted the shield apart.
As far as mechanics are concerned, the WLC also made some sensible departures from the WLA.
For one thing, the front and rear wheels of the WLC were interchangeable.
While lack of a thinner front wheel might have made steering more difficult, it made perfect sense in a combat situation where spare parts were at a premium.
Other differences included rubber oil and gas lines and an auxiliary clutch hand lever on the handlebars.
The throttle was on the left handlebar with ignition timing on the right. “At least they could shoot a pistol every once in a while,” pointed out Robinson, speaking under the assumption that the majority of riders were right handed.
Besides the standard headlight, Huson’s WLC had a smaller light on the front fender with a narrower illumination; designed for night driving and making the bike less of a target for snipers and Luftwaffe planes flying overhead.
At the show ‘n shine, these bikes might not have looked pretty, but their significance outshone the rest.
As well, this was the Legion, where the Harley Davidson WLC truly belonged.
Written by Dan Pelton