Wednesday, May 28, 2008


This one kills me; I knew about this 1915 Indian sitting in a garage, stuffed underneath a lot of boxes and furniture, which had been in one family since 1925. Dan P. got there first, since I dallied, but Dan's a good guy and has other interesting Indians, so it went to a good home.

You can't beat an original paint machine which is nearly 100 years old! This is the last year of the old style motor with inlet-over-exhaust layout and skinny cylinders. Indian produced very advanced motorcycles in the early days, with rear suspension and full electric lighting, including an electric starter (which didn't work all that well, but it was still a first). Leaf springs front and rear provided a comfortable ride over the dirt roads which were the rule back then, and a 3 speed gearbox and good clutch made riding far easier than contemporary clutchless direct belt drives still common throughout the industry until the early 1920's.

This machine has some deluxe touches, like the Corbin speedo driven from the rear wheel, and a Klaxon horn on the handlebars. It's not one of the 'electrified' models, but has an acetylene headlamp. If you look closely at the petrol and oil tanks, you'll see they used tiny filler caps - no current gas pump will fit - and pouring was usually done from a can and funnel. Long distance travel was very unusual, and gasoline was available in 1 gal. cans from your local 'dry goods' merchant - the gallon taking you perhaps 80 miles, if you were careful (and there weren't many opportunities for full-throttle work anyway). Filling stations didn't become common in the US until the late 'teens - the very first 'Filling Station' arriving on the scene in 1905. By 1914, Standard Oil had 34 stations in California, with employees wearing uniforms, and attending to the needs of motorists, filling up tanks from Bowser pumps (invented by Sylvanus Bowser in 1905).

The craziest part has to be the original 1925 title; note the lovely 'old west' script on this official paperwork. Even the State government had a bit of style back then - our titles are simple computer printouts nowadays.

On the photo below, the long lever controls the clutch, the short one the 3-speed gearbox. The clutch wasn't simply an in-out device, but the arcuate slot has little ridges at which the lever could rest, giving a desired amount of slippage from the all-metal multi-plate clutch. Hard to imagine now, but at the time the powerful engine might cause sideslip in mud or dust or gravel, if the power was applied fully.

The Indian was a quality machine, using rods and links to control the carburetor and magneto timing, rather than Bowden cables. It's all very mechanical, complicated, and a bit fussy to maintain when those linkages begin to wear out, when the paste of road dirt and lubricating oil takes its toll.

Maybe Dan will let me have a ride on the Indian after he cleans it up; then I can commit Hara-kiri. Doh!

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