February 1, 2014

Tennessee State Police Motorcycle “Yellow Jackets” On Harley Panheads!

Originally posted on Riding Vintage.

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In the 1950’s, traffic fatalities were on the rise as drag racing became prevalent among teens across the nation.  Many police departments formed special units to help curb this trend and motorcycles were a logical choice for patrolman needing a fast and maneuverable vehicle.  These police squads were often just called Traffic Enforcement or Motorcycle Units, but some cities chose more colorful names, like the Pittsburgh Hot Rod Squad.

Tennessee State Police Commissioner, G. Hilton Butler, took this one step further when he formed his unit named the “Yellow Jackets”.  The name was given to the group after an officer related a story to Butler about a raid on a “Goodtime house” in Nashville.  During the raid, one of the men inside referred to the police as “Yellow Jackets”.  Butler liked the name so much, he not only used it for the unit, but also ordered special uniforms and motorcycles to go along with it.  The motorcycles were Harley-Davidson Duo-Glides, powered by panhead engines.  They were painted bright yellow with additional yellow jacket decals added to the windshields along with the normal police markings.  The officers wore black leather motorcycle boots, black pants with a yellow stripe, a yellow shirt with black pocket flaps/shoulder straps and a black tie or ascot.  They also received custom died yellow motorcycle jackets with black trim.

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Even with all this attention to custom outfitting the hand selected group, they were only in operation for 6 months in 1958.  The uniforms and motorcycles were very popular with the police officers and future motorcycle units copied them in the following years.  Pictured below are two patrolman on 1963 Duo-Glides with similar uniforms and paint schemes, but they toned down the yellow just a bit…

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Filed under Classic Harley History, History, Panhead Jim's Blog by PanheadJim

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