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1916 Indian Powerplus

Let’s start with a bit of history… on America’s first motorcycle company.

In 1897, George M. Hendee founded a bicycle production company called Hendee Manufacturing. Hendee Manufacturing would eventually come to be called the Indian Motocycle Company (without the “r”), shortened to simply “Indian” and became Hendee’s primary brand name due to a need for recognition in foreign markets as an American product.

1916 Indian Powerplus

In 1901, bicycle manufacturer, racing promoter, and former bicycle racing champion George Hendee hired Oscar Hedstrom to build gasoline engine-powered bikes to pace bicycle races. The machine he created proved to be powerful and reliable, establishing the company’s reputation for outstanding performance. Later that year the company’s first factory was established in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts.  The first Indian Motorcycle was sold to a retail customer in 1902, and later that year an Indian Motorcycle won an endurance race from Boston to New York City in its public racing debut.

This activity predates Harley-Davidson by two years.

Indian Motocycles Porcelain Signage

I’m not disparaging or trying to exploit Native Americans. The “wokerati” will undoubtedly object and fan the flames of hysteria on the signage reference, but the first half of the 1900s is when Indian Motocycle featured depictions of Native Americans on their products, signage and in their advertisements.

In 1916, co-founder George Hendee resigned as company president.  It was the same year that the United States was embroiled in a conflict with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, as he repeatedly made raids into the U.S.  It was also the first year of a new 61ci (990cc) ‘flat head’ (Gustafson side-valve) V-twin – the Powerplus, which replaced the F-head (inlet over exhaust) type.

1916 Indian Powerplus

The Powerplus motor was designed by Swedish immigrant Charles Gustafson. He was spurred on by Indian’s defeat at the 300-mile board-track race in 1915 by Harley-Davidson.  He knew a side-valve motor could be made more reliable than the F-head design and could be tuned for speed more reliably than Indian’s 8-valve racer.  The motorcycle oil consumption was stated at 30 mph, 400 miles/qt.; at 50 mph, 100 miles/qt. with an estimated top speed of 60 mph.

Then in 1917 the United States entered into WWI. Indian Motorcycle dedicated much of its production to the war effort. As a result, dealers had limited inventory and retail sales dropped significantly. The company provided the U.S. military with nearly 50,000 motorcycles from 1917-1919, most of them based on the Indian Powerplus model.

1916 Indian Powerplus

In 1923, the company changed its name from The Hendee Manufacturing Company to The Indian Motocycle Company—no “r” in motocycle when the word was used with the name Indian. Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company ceased operations and discontinued production of all models in 1953. In 1955, Brockhouse Engineering purchased the rights to the Indian Motorcycle name and sold imported Royal Enfield models branded as Indian Motorcycle models until 1960.  More Indian Motorcycle history is HERE.

In 1999, Indian Motorcycle Company of America (IMCA) emerged. America is at a crossroads … they opened and started operations in a different social climate than that of the original Indian Motocycle Company. IMCA was sued in 2000 by the Cow Creek Umpqua of Oregon under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 for their use of “Indian”. Today, the company is now a subsidiary of Polaris Inc. as Indian Motorcycle International, LLC, having refocused its branding with far less focus on Native American imagery.

Edison-Splitdorf Magneto

You might recall that I previously posted articles on “Bob”… a remarkable motorcycle restorer and his vintage motorcycle collection in the northwest.

This original motorcycle is from that collection and shows an aged patina as one of the first-year Indian Powerplus V-twin’s from 1916.  It is in excellent running condition and was ridden and showcased regularly at vintage events. The Powerplus is a 61ci (997.6cc) ‘flat head’ (Gustafson sidevalve) 42-degree V-twin. The bore and stroke is 3 1/8 x 3 31/32 (18HP), the primary drive was a single-row chain under stamped metal dust cover, the suspension in front was cradle spring front fork with a single multi-leaf spring; the rear had an optional swinging arm and leaf spring, or the rare rigid version.  The transmission is a three-speed, hand-change gearbox and foot-operated clutch.. The Powerplus was an influential design of sidevalve engines and encouraged rivals such as Harley-Davidson to follow suit.

1916 Indian Powerplus

This Indian Powerplus is the rare “hard-tail” configuration, which implies to have been manufactured in Toronto Canada and made for the export market.  At the time, it was approx $25 less than the rear suspension model.  It was purchased in somewhat of a dismantled state and restored using Indian original components. Refurbishment included a complete reconditioning of main-shafts, bearing, cylinders, valve seats and various springs and gearbox bearing/pinions along with spokes and tires.  Bob also reconditioned the carburetor, but had to replace the original magneto with an Edison-Splitdorf magneto from the 1930s.

This motorcycle is a fantastic older restoration of a desirable early Indian in original patina condition. It might even be ready for use in an upcoming Motorcycle Cannonball!

1916 Indian Powerplus idling video:

Photos and video taken by the author.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Archives Warehouse — Harley-Davidson Museum — Milwaukee, WI

Before jumping into the nuts and bolts…

Disclaimer: Some of the names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

This article is the first in a series of planned posts about a collection of vintage motorcycles in the northwest and the man whose work was steeped in the craftsmanship necessary to become proficient at restoring this collection.

Outbuildings, Workshop and Showroom

I’m not a motorcycle archivist, but definitely a fan of reflections in a classic motorcycle headlamp. Vintage motorcycles turn heads wherever they go.

You might find on a typical road trip to Sturgis, a classic motorcycle rattling along in it’s own space in the slow lane.  You’ll roll up along side to pass then with a nod to the rider, be momentarily distracted from the road as the vibrating antique parts try and reach out to tell their story.

I came to know about this remarkable collection of classics in the northwest and was most fortunate to interview the family.  Getting a tour of this private collection is a slow-walk through motorcycle history in America.  I was not only impressed with the number, but also the significance and uniqueness of them.

January 1937 H-D Enthusiast

As a general rule, bloggers are impatient and eager to illuminate a story, especially when it comes to finding a rare stash of motorcycle history.  But, I wanted to be deliberate in the research of the bikes and truly capture the ‘soul’ of the story — the man who is behind the restorations and who made the magic.

Let’s call this man, Robert (Bob) — the heartiest of men with a large stature, a strong handshake, a friendly smile and a genuine love of wrenching on classic motorcycles.

There’s something a little magical about taking an old, neglected, forgotten motorcycle, bringing her back to life, and restoring it to her former glory.

Why do classic motorcycles grab us fiercely by the heartstrings?

There is no simple answer to that question, but one thought is they intersect with our own history.  If not you, then your father or granddad, all who would’ve been lucky to ride one of these works of art and as is often the case, it triggers a flood of fond memories.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

To provide some historical context and mental imagery — it was a time when there were far fewer people around, fewer laws and regulations, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, and if you owned a powerful two-wheeled machine you could point the chrome headlight down an empty road and go!

In 1937, the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic — at about the same time, a new generation of side-valve engines were introduced from the Milwaukee motor company.  Replacing the V series which had a “total loss lubrication” system, the new U series motors in 1937 were dry-sump oil designs. Most of the motorcycle parts were made in common with the Model E 61 inch OHV motorcycle that debuted a year earlier.  As it turns out, Bill Harley was granted patent 2,111,242 for this oiling system on March 15, 1938.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9B

The completely revised engine had many upgrades that separated it from the earlier V motor including new cases, cylinders and now had roller bearings throughout the lower end. New forks, frame and sheet metal improved the image of the new bike, with styling cues heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement, something that the flowing lines of paint and emblems reflected.

Fast-forward to 2020 and my private tour was finally here!

1948 Harley-Davidson Model 45

I’ve aspired to attain eminence in photography and my bucket list includes photographing motorcycles in a professional studio.  But, finding a studio with a large white soft-box that’s big enough to ride a motorcycle into is an obstacle.  Well, it is for a regular guy and renting a commercial studio with light stands, multiplex flash strobes, drop clothes and diffusion panels to eliminate reflections in the paint wasn’t in the budget.

But, I’ve digressed…

I stepped through a side-door entrance and onto the wooden floor of the showroom that houses the motorcycle collection. The space is huge and it’s open and airy with an industrial aesthetic and light pouring in through multi-paned windows.  There is a lingering smell of oil and I noted a few drops on the polished floor.

1916 Indian Power Plus

A beautiful collection!

I didn’t want to be that annoying “tourist” snapping too many photos, but I was that irksome camera-happy dude on this day.

It was a “ride through history” on rare and collectible motorcycles. More significant, were the remarks about the attention to detail and listening to the fascinating backstories, anecdotes, folk-lore and the restoration tales that my “tour guides” shared on each of the motorcycles.

A panoramic scan of the showroom is an overload of storytelling. Side-stepping across the wooden floor finds a person gazing across more than a dozen motorcycles stacked side-by-side.  Set up like an academic library, against an outer wall are multiple bookcases and shelves, where hundreds of engine manuals and parts catalogs were filed away.

The only item missing in this showroom was an onsite cafe!

1925 Henderson Four

There is even an old draughtsman drawing board complete with an articulated protractor head displaying some vintage documents.  The illustrations contained a collection of various engines schematics from their earliest incarnation.

Deep breathing makes a person more aware so, I quickly exhaled, then took another big breath while meandering my feet slowly across the showroom floor.

A bright Teak-Red restoration caught my eye; it was a stunning 1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL flathead.  It’s a little like seeing a childhood photo of someone you miss.  Then I turned to look at a bicycle form of mechanical sculpture…a tribute to the original “Silent Grey Fellow” was gently positioned in the corner — a rare 1913 Model 9B single cylinder… the very essence of simplicity!

Engine Manuals and Parts Catalogs

These old motorcycles were made when clunky was normal and oil leaks were expected. It’s oddly endearing.

Gleaming in the middle was an Azure Blue over Silver 1948 Harley-Davidson Model 45 and at the far end of that row was a shiny Dark Blue 1925 Henderson 4-cylinder.  And placed at a right-angle near the Henderson was a beautifully weathered 1916 Indian Power Plus that looked as if it had just been pulled out of a barn for the first time in many decades.

I’ve listed only a few of the motorcycles in this gem of a collection.

It’s striking and every motorcycle reaches out to tell a unique story of the time, money and effort required to be restored. Imagine how often you’d want to call in sick to skip work so that you could tinker with these bikes.  It speaks volumes of Bob’s discipline, persistence and the decades long practice of his craft.

If you are like me, old things make you feel young.  Admittedly, I have a fascination with dusty items and will be posting several articles on these vintage motorcycles, the workshop and the man behind the restorations.

Stay tuned…

UPDATED: February 27, 2020 — The second post on this vintage motorcycle collection is a deep dive on a restored 1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL Flathead (HERE).

UPDATED: March 8, 2020 — The third post on this vintage motorcycle collection is at: Every Restored Motorcycle Has A Story — The 1913 Single

Photos taken by the author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  Cover of the 1937 Enthusiast is courtesy of Harley-Davidson Museum.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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