On that note, I present to you the E-ndian – a 1916 Powerplus Flathead which, if it were actually a Powerplus Flathead, would have the brand faithful absolutely and thoroughly wadded up.
Good news: not only was no part of this bike ever an actual Indian, no part of this bike was ever actually a motorcycle. It’s a ground-up custom build. The motor, which is hidden inside a 3D-printed housing to look like an internal combustion engine out of a 1916-era motorcycle, is in fact taken out of a BMW DTM e-scooter. A belt and pulleys connect the electric motor to the rear wheel and act as a rudimentary transmission. The frame is completely custom fabricated out of steel pipes. The “gas tank” is made from fiberglass and plastic plumbing tubes. There is a single front hydraulic brake (there is no rear brake) which was sourced from a mountain bike.
While the paint job is pretty fantastic, and the “E-ndian” on the tank gives it away, a casual glance might make you believe this bike is 100 or so years old. The owner and creator of this art piece is named Achilles; his shop is in Jesolo, Italy. His vision for this bike was not one of extreme performance, obviously. He set out to create a machine as art and he succeeded. It’s not an exact copy of the 1916 Indian since, as Achille says (translated roughly), “we did not want to pretend it was a real Indian Powerplus, and so we put the e-ndian on the tank and we redid the engine a bit differently, to put the worm in the head of the beholder.” I’ve never heard the saying before but it sounds very Italian and I love it.
This build will never win any speed records, and by all accounts it’s kind of frightening to ride, but from a purely aesthetic point of view it’s a real stunner. The attention to detail, like the painted-on oil drips on the engine, are real showstoppers.
Up for sale through Heroes Motors of Los Angeles is a 1919 Indian Power Plus, and not just any (very) old motorcycle. It was a board track racer in its day and raced at the Los Angeles Motor Speedway; there is a chance this very bike is one of the motorcycles in the above video from 1921!
Heroes Motors has limited information on the machine, except that its owner moved from the United States to France with this bike after World War II, and the machine was then sold to, and stored in, a museum in France from the 1970s through the 1990s. The current owner bought the bike from that museum. It remains in unrestored condition (though some of the leather pieces like the seat have been replaced).
The Indian Power Plus, while a throwback now and certainly bearing little resemblance to modern motorcycles, was well ahead of its time. It was truly a marvel of engineering. Indian employed engineers as well as their factory racers to design the engines and frames of these bikes. These were the machines that set speed and distance records in their day.
The oval board track racers regularly saw speeds of 100mph and better, which is pretty impressive for a machine that put out just a hair over 15hp. The demons who rode them did not have the benefit of modern safety gear but instead donned leather helmets, and their clothing sometimes had wooden armor. This didn’t help a whole lot when a crash occurred on the speedway, where riders would sometimes (gird your loins here, friends) end up with twelve-inch splinters from the wooden track.
Fire up your imaginations; can you begin to believe what these races must have been like?
The Indian Patrol was made in Springfield Mass in 1952 & 53. Less than 50 were made and approx 7 remain in nearly complete original condition. I have met most of the other Indian Patrol survivor owners at AMCA meets, except for one that I’ve spoken to, who is in Montana. I don’t think the Patrol’s were referred to as Dispatch Tow’s as they had the vertical Warrior 2 cylinder 500cc / 30.50″ engines rather than the V type 45″ or 74″ engine used in the Dispatch Tows. If anyone could clarify this I would appreciate it. The Indian Springfield Patrol is direct shaft drive to the rear axle, not a chain drive, and should not be confused with the 1959 Indian Patrol Car’s, which were British built Pashleys. After the Indian name was put on the gas tanks, Pashleys were imported for sale through surviving dealerships as Indians. The Pashleys have a 350cc or 500cc single cylinder Royal Enfield engine like the Bullet and were chain drive. I have seen these English Indians at the Wauseon, Oley and Eustis, AMCA meets. Indian Springfield Patrols, 841’s, and the 2 prototype experimental Fours are the only shaft drive Indians ever manufactured.
There is a Patrol illustration on page 17 of Bob Stark’s Catalog (shown below) and I drive mine to Bob Stark’s spot each year at Davenport to talk with him. Most bike fans have not seen one of these running in 30 years or more. I first had mine drivable at Oley in 2008 and also rode quite a bit at the Rhinebeck National meet. I had the Patrol at Wauseon that year but could not start or drive it because of a sheared woodruff key in the primary drive, which I was able to repair in time for Davenport. The woodruff key in the primary drive has to be the weakest link in this drive train. I drove a Patrol in 1958 in Far Rockaway, NY and when I saw this Patrol listed on Ebay in 2003, I had to get it. Bob Shingler told me he had put this Patrol together from Ann Arbor, Mich. Police storage yard parts, then it went to Pete Bollenback for his museum, then to an owner in Louisiana who listed it on Ebay. The Patrols are complicated to work on and every repair involves figuring out what off of the shelf or then available parts Indian used to create this mechanical nightmare. When I work on mine, I often stop to wonder how desperate Indian was to have a machine to compete with HD Servicars. I’ve been told that HD dealers offered handsome trade in prices to get the Patrols off the road and then scrapped them, saving only the engines. You may have heard of the six V-twin,Scout 45 cubic inch engined Dispatch Tows made in 1951, I know several of these owners and those 6 with the less than 50 Patrols represent all of Indians 3 wheel production after 1942.
Indian Patrols are a 500cc Warrior from the seat post forward, the primary cases are unique and made for the combination 80″ Chief and 249 compensator using a 3 row sport scout chain. The chain tensioner foot was made up to fit the wider primary cases which also have a larger pocket for the chief size compensator. There is no clutch, just a 3 row sprocket which drives through a Boston Gear angle drive box using Indian 4 cylinder gears. That box was modified to fit around the seat post. The bell housing is stamped 102-S and the flywheel housing is stamped 103-S. They are from some unknown brand, (which I would sure like to identify), using a Crosley clutch, mystery aluminum flywheel, Crosley T92 trans and rear end with 1952 Studebaker Champion hydraulic brakes. The only electric start Indians were the 1952 -53 Patrols and the 1914 Hendee Special. The only Indian shaft drive models are the 841’s, Patrols and the 2 experimental Four cylinders. Besides the 1914 Hendee Special, this is the only other, from the “factory”, electric start Indian that was made and is “only electric start”, no kicker at all. It has a car type electric starter using a large 6 volt group 1 car battery. The Patrol also has hydraulic brakes like the six rare Scout 45” V-twin 1951 Dispatch Tows that Indian put together in 1951, which are kick start only. After 1942 Indian didn’t have any 3 wheelers to compete with HD’s Servi-Cars until they started making these models in 1951 – 1953
Maintenance is difficult because of the way these were put together, plus there are no Patrol repair manuals and little information available. It took me 2 years to discover the gears I needed for the Boston Gear angle drive box, were standard Indian Four cylinder spiral bevel gears, which drive the car type flywheel and single plate Crosley clutch. I am still debugging this machine, getting everything operational and not concerned with cosmetic restoration yet. When I got this bike there were two non-consecutive teeth missing from the large gear in the angle drive box. Because they were spiral bevel gears some teeth always seemed to be engaging. After a two year search I found the gear I needed on Rocky and Toney’s table at Davenport. Toney said it was the large gear from the Indian four cylinder 18×27 tooth pair. My guess is that those who tried to get this running before I was able to, failed when each time the gears would lock up, the flywheel would stop causing the woodruff key in the primary to shear. Since this was only an electric start machine the key had to be replaced for each try. Someone in the past had also left the spring to cam thrust washer out of the torque compensator assembly, so that only the small weak spring was pressing against the sliding cam. The large Chief spring was pressing against the sprocket itself and lifting the primary chain off of the teeth. This cam setup will not travel over center or ratchet, but the back and forth hammering from just the weak spring pressure was also beating on the key. After installing the new gear, correcting the compensator problems and chamfering the flywheel pilot bearing counterbore so that the inner race was free to turn, everything looked good. I cleaned the gas tank which was loaded with paint overspray, rust and some kind of dark gray sealer, thoroughly cleaned the Amal carb and was finally able to keep the engine running for more than two minutes. The magneto cam advance weights were also sticking, causing a second engine start with fully advanced timing. When advanced this would kick back also hammering that poor woodruff key. I replaced the magneto with a distributor so that starting and timing are now much easier. The shift mechanism is another ongoing problem that needs some modification work. My Patrol was in an article in the Perkiomen Chapter newsletter in Sept. 2008, Walneck’s Classic Cycle Trader for Sept 2009 and also in Steve Blankard’s last column in the AMCA Quarterly a year ago. I think that was the winter 2009 issue. I have displayed my Patrol at; Oley in 2008, Davenport 2008, the Rhinebeck Timeline in 2010 and the 2010 Davenport Vertical Models Lineup and drive it as much as possible at swap meets.
Here’s a list of some of the unique Patrol parts. Handlebars – are 7/8″ with a collar welded on for the left hand 1″ throttle. Front wheel – is laced with a stronger 741 rim. Torque compensator – is a combination of 80″ chief and 249 scout. The chief type hex nut is a left hand thread and uses a hidden, under the spring, set screw instead of a lock nut. If the set screw is not backed out, the quill threads are stripped off when removing the nut making reassembly difficult. Primary cases – are wider for the three row chain and have one less screw where the large compensator hub was added. The chain tensioner foot was made up for the three row chain. Boston gear angle drive box – was milled out to clear the seat post, the typical mounting flanges were cut off and slots were cut for the large gear to be put inside. Indian used standard bearings and seals, but made the shafts to use the four cylinder 18×27 gear set.I ground off a few interior webs, drilled and tapped a few jack screw holes in the left side cover to make future disassembly easier. Flywheel housing – is stamped 103-S, but has to be from some available engine as Indian made up a 1/4″ steel plate to use it. I WOULD SURE LIKE TO KNOW WHAT IT IS FROM. Bell housing – is stamped 102-S, After watching Ebay for years one of these finally showed up and I haven’t a clue what it was used on. IF YOU KNOW PLEASE TELL ME Flywheel – is an aluminum casting or forging that must have been an available part. It uses four mounting bolts, while Crosley only used three. If Indian made this up themself, I would expect something fully machined from flat stock with no obvious grain or surface roughness. IF ANYONE CAN IDENTIFY THIS PART – I WOULD SURE LIKE TO KNOW. Starter – is CCW drive and was made especially by Auto-Lite for Indian Patrols. Generator – is also CCW rotation and came from a Galion road grader. Trans & Rear – Crosley – with a short aluminum casting instead of the long torque tube. Rear brakes – hydraulic 1952 Studebaker Champion It is easy to see where repairing these Patrols became impractical, leaving them abandoned like the bunch of parts Bob Shingler found in the Michigan Police yard. Bob put the one together that I own now. Luckily I was able to spend several hours listening to him at Davenport. Bob also had an awesome collection of literature and early Patrol magazine ads that I hope have been saved. If anyone has any old pictures or information about these rare 3 wheelers I would be glad to contribute toward document copying costs. There was some interesting dialogue on the Virtual Indian website pertaining to an Indian Warrior based Dispatch Tow that showed up a few years ago at the Pennsylvania flea market for Das Awkscht Fescht. This same un-restored machine is in the Oley picture attached to this article. This un-restored bike was the very same Patrol that Jim Garrett owned and drove as a 17 year old, he bought it back and he is restoring it now. The first picture attached is me, Wayne Lensu, at Davenport in 2008 with my drivable 1952 Patrol. The other pictures show some of these unique parts used assembling the Patrols.
LACONIA — Laconia Motorcycle Week dates back to a gathering held in 1916, which is why the rally bills itself as the oldest in the world. The Laconia Police Department’s motorcycling tradition is nearly as long, it turns out.
In fact, the Harley-Davidson that was purchased in 1920 – for $632, from Laconia Tire Company – was the first vehicle purchased by the department. Prior to that, Robin Moyer said, patrols were done using private vehicles, or with cars rented or leased from local dealerships.
Moyer manages the information systems and accreditations for the Laconia Police Department. She also serves as the department’s historian. She can’t point to a record explaining why Chief Charles Harvell, who served the city until 1933, saw fit to use city money to buy a motorcycle. However, other departments around the country had started rolling motorcycle patrols, the first being Detroit in 1908, and Harvell likely saw the same advantages in 1920 that Matt Canfield, the current chief, sees today.
The Laconia Police Department has a long tradition of maintaining at least one, usually two, motorcycles in its fleet. It currently has a pair of Harleys, Canfield said, and there are two officers who have gone through special training to use them on patrol.
“They’re very maneuverable,” Canfield said, which is useful when an officer has to respond to a call in the middle of a crowded situation, such as Weirs Beach during Laconia Motorcycle Week, for example.
But the motorcycles are useful during the rest of the year, too, Canfield said.
“We do use them all spring, summer and fall,” he said. Officers doing traffic enforcement find that motorcycles have a “sleek profile,” Canfield said, and motorists don’t spot the officer as quickly as they would a larger police vehicle.
And, because the rider is more exposed on a motorcycle, Canfield said they allow officers an opportunity to connect with members of the public.
“You drive these down to a city park, kids love them,” he said. “The motorcycle, it’s a completely different vibe. It’s important that the kids realize that the police are their friends.”
Motorcycles can weave through traffic and they can also navigate a variety of surfaces. In 1920s many of Laconia’s roads were dirt and were likely of varying condition.
“Maneuverability is still one of the selling points of a motorcycle,” Moyer said. One of the city’s early motorcycle officers was Charles “Mickey” Dunleavey, who started as a part-time officer in 1925 and eventually retired as chief in 1962. He was a veteran of World War I, as were many police officers in the ‘20s. They likely saw motorcycles during their service, as the machines were used to transport wounded soldiers, deliver messages and even as a platform for machine guns.
If motorcycles could be used to navigate a battlefield, they should be just fine on a potholed dirt road.
Another early devotee of motorcycles was Lawrence Carpenter, who was a part-time officer in Laconia who later became part of the State Police.
While the city’s first motorcycle was a Harley-Davidson, its next two, purchased in 1924 and 1927, were both built by the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company, of Springfield, Massachusetts.
In Carpenter’s mind, the Indians were the superior machine, his son, also named Lawrence, wrote in a piece for the now-closed Police Motorcyle Museum.
Carpenter, his son wrote, purchased many Indian motorcycles for his own personal use, often picking them up directly from the factory.
“He was not happy when personally informed by John Griffin that the State would be purchasing Harley Davidsons, as they were preferred by the majority of the officers. Carpenter swore that he never lost a vehicle he was pursuing until forced to ride a Harley. He was known to have stated that a Harley would make a good anchor for a boat. Carpenter continued to purchase his own Indians and use them on his job whenever he could. He bought a new bike every year, sometimes more than one.”
The Indian name is now used on motorcycles manufactured by Polaris, and since Carpenter retired, there are several more options for modern police motorcycles, including from BMW and Kawasaki.
Canfield doesn’t ride, so he said he didn’t consider switching to another brand for his department.
“The Harley is what the officers prefer,” Canfield said.
Tara McClellan McAndrew Correspondent Posted Jun 16, 2019 at 7:22 PM
Updated Jun 16, 2019 at 7:22 PM
Why you should know him:
George Tinkham, a Springfield attorney and motorcycle collector, has a motorcycle manufactured for World War II in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s current exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Tinkham bought his 1942 Indian model 841 through eBay.
What was your motorcycle made for?
“Solely for desert warfare during WWII. It’s a very specialized type of war equipment. (The Allies) knew there’d be fighting in North Africa. They suspected they might fight in the outback in Australia, so they needed a motorcycle that could handle the abrasive environment of a desert. … That’s why (it was made with) the shaft drive, where you have your entire drivetrain sealed against the outside environment.”
To protect from overheating, “it had air-cooled V-Twin engines.” To decrease the effects of a bumpy ride, it had rear suspension instead of the common rigid frame. So the soldier could keep his hands on the handlebars, “they used a hand clutch — you just reach out with your fingers to pull in the clutch, and a foot shift — you shift the gears with your foot.”
Was your bike used in the war?
“I wish I could say this was a pivotal piece of machinery in Patton’s march across the Sahara, but I can’t. … (The bike’s) history was lost when the person two owners ago bought it, we think at an auction, but he did not keep great records. Whether any Indian 841s actually came close to seeing action is unclear.”
When did you learn about this type of motorcycle?
“When I was a farm kid back in the ’50s, I didn’t understand why motorcycles had the design they did. I thought, ‘Why don’t they put the cylinders out in the air where they belong, sideways, so they could get cooled? Why don’t they use a shaft drive?’ When I was older, I found out that Indian made such a motorcycle and owning one was one of my dreams.”
What condition was the Indian in when you bought it?
“It ran horribly, but it did run. I was excited to have it, but I realized I had a real project on my hands.” Tinkham’s been working on the bike ever since and can drive it now. “I tell people, ‘The bike’s a bit rough, but everything’s there, everything works. It starts first kick and I wish I could say the same thing about me.’”
What do you use the bike for?
“I use it for numerous displays, not static displays. I think a motorcycle is a dynamic piece of art, so it’s better appreciated in motion. We have local motorcycle events, like the ABATE Freedom Rally, the Vintage Iron Riders Park and Display at the Springfield Mile races … and having it at the ALPLM is a way for me to share it with the world.”
It was 1949 and Indian Motorcycle was struggling. It was so bad that the company could not fulfill the orders it had from, all-important police and other commercial entities. West Coast distributor Hap Alzina got the news and selflessly shipped huge stocks of parts he had in his West Coast warehouse, just so Indian could build bikes to fulfill its orders. Then, not long after that, Alzina learned that Indian was to the point of being so cash strapped, it wasn’t going to be able to meet payroll. Again, Alzina went into action to try to save the manufacturer, by placing a massive advance order, well over his normal allotment, just so Indian would have an instant cash infusion and be able to pay its employees.
Alzina’s ardent devotion to Indian motorcycles went back to the early years of America’s first major motorcycle company. When he was just 15 years old, he bought he first Indian and he loved it. So much so that when he was 17, he took a job as a mechanic for an Indian dealership in San Francisco and quickly worked his way up to service manager.
Born on September 14, 1894, Loris Alzina’s interest in motorcycling began early in life. As a boy he bought his first motorcycle, a Reading-Standard, for $50. In 1909, Alzina’s family moved from Santa Cruz, California, to San Francisco. There, he bought his first Indian from C.C. Hopkins, who was the Indian distributor for Northern California at the time. It was for Hopkins’ agency that Alzina began working for Indian.
Alzina spent 56 years devoting himself to motorcycling. Involved in motorcycling from its infancy, he is best known for being the western states distributor for Indian and, later, BSA. He oversaw the sales of those brands during the height of their popularity. Alzina — who earned the nickname “Hap” from his good-natured attitude — also sponsored many of the top AMA professional racers.
In the early 1910s, racing was becoming increasing popular and Alzina tried his hand in competition. He did some flat-track racing, but his primary interest was endurance runs. Alzina raced in many of the early desert city-to-city runs that were popular at the time. In 1919, Alzina edged well known racers Wells Bennett and Cannonball Baker to win the prestigious San Francisco Motorcycle Club Two-Day Endurance Run. That was a huge upset victory over two very popular racers. Of the 30 starters in the 680-mile endurance event, only seven riders managed to finish. Competitors had to battle against rain, hail, snow and even a landslide during the February contest. One rider slid off a muddy wooden bridge and was injured when he fell into the creek below. Alzina overcame those obstacles to earn a perfect score, riding an Indian sidecar outfit. Bennett, riding an Excelsior and Baker, on a factory-backed Indian, were on solo machines.
Alzina’s 1919 endurance victory was his biggest achievement as a competitor and it made him a popular name by way of win ads in motorcycle magazines across the country.
A few years before his big race win, Alzina opened his own dealership, selling Reading-Standard and Cleveland motorcycles. That enterprise was short-lived due to the onset on World War I. After closing his shop, Alzina again worked as sales manager for San Francisco’s Indian distributor. In 1922, Alzina saw a golden opportunity across the Bay in Oakland and bought out the dealership of E.S. Rose. Alzina turned the struggling franchise into a very successful business.
Alzina’s business expertise was recognized by Indian. In 1925, the company assigned him all of Northern California’s distribution. The next year, he was given the entire state, and by 1927 his territory expanded to include Nevada, Arizona and Washington. By 1948, Indian sales in Alzina’s territory represented over 20 percent of Indian’s total worldwide volume.
At the age of 54, moved on to another business venture and bought the western states distribution rights for BSA motorcycles from Alf “Rich” Child in 1949. The growth in motorcycling over the next 15 years was explosive. Under Alzina’s direction, BSA’s western distribution went from three dealerships to 265 dealers in 20 states. The move to BSA helped keep him in the motorcycle business even after his beloved Indian failed in the mid-1950s.
Alzina was an enthusiastic supporter of racing. Many racing stars such as Ed Kretz, Gene Thiessen, Al Gunter, Dick Mann, Kenny Eggers and Sammy Tanner credited Alzina for being a big part of their success. Several of those riders worked in Alzina’s shop and were allowed generous time away to travel to races.
At one point, Alzina also served as Vice President of the AMA.
Famous for his practical jokes, Alzina once walked a horse through a plush New York hotel lobby, pushing the horse into an elevator and taking him up to a room where a party was going on. He also enjoyed marking “Private & Confidential” on the address side of post cards so that everyone would be sure to read the card.
Alzina retired in 1965. He and his wife, Lillian, enjoyed traveling together, visiting friends across the country during their retirement years. He was given an Award of Merit from the AMA on behalf of its 70,000 members upon his retirement.
He was by a journalist if he viewed motorcycling as more business or pleasure.
“Motorcycles are a business,” he said. “But now, as you’re asking questions and I look back over the years, I call it 40 years of fun.”
Alzina died on July 21, 1970 at the age of 75. He will always be remembered as a man of integrity, honesty, loyalty, foresight, common sense and hard work. He was also a one of Indian’s most passionate supporters. He was inducted into the first class of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor – Cycle World In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.
FOX TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A short film about a Sullivan County man’s love for racing motorcycles was recently released on YouTube.
“Fast Eddie” tells the story of what motorcycle racing life was like in the 1950s.
Ed Fisher, also known as Fast Eddie, began racing motorcycles when he was 16 years old. Now at 94, the former racing legend still enjoys riding, just at a slower pace.
Fisher was born in Lancaster County in 1925, and he loves to ride motorcycles. If you give Fisher two wheels, handlebars, and an open road, he will fly right on by. Fisher brought his first motorcycle, an Indian Scout Pony, in 1941 and hasn’t looked back.
After just celebrating his 94th birthday, the man from Shunk still loves to ride his bike in Sullivan County and beyond.
“You are out in the open. You see your surroundings much better, and normally it is nice fresh air,” said Fisher.
“Fast Eddie” is a documentary on YouTube that focuses on Fisher’s racing days in the 1950s. One of biggest wins of Fisher’s career was the 1953 Laconia 100-mile National Championship in New Hampshire.
“And you went off blacktop onto the sand, then sand onto the blacktop onto a 90-degree turn which got pretty slippery. If you learned to maneuver that good, that is how you make good time.”
Fisher eventually stopped racing professionally in 1957 and was voted into the American Motorcyclist Assocation Hall of Fame in 2002.
“You can’t say I think I have done something better than everybody else, but just being recognized as being one of the top competitors in your day. (It means a lot?) Yeah, yeah.”
Fisher says he will continue to ride his motorcycles until he can’t.
She faced long odds, from swampy and rutted terrain to skepticism in a male-dominated era, but Sadie Grimm had something that trumped it all: grit.
In 1914, she did something on a motorcycle that men attempted but failed — she became the first to complete an endurance race from Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach, across roadless marshlands.
Then the 19-year-old did it again. On the same day.
“She was a pistol, is what her grandchildren called her,” said Ross Metcalfe, a Manitoban who is president of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and co-founder of the Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba.
“I call her plucky. This was something that a very phenomenal woman did 105 years ago, and she showed no fear in being able to do it.”
It was the first documented award in Canadian motorcycling by a woman in a competition also open to men, said Metcalfe.
“Think about the year she did it — it’s 1914, the year Nellie McClung is staging the mock parliament and pushing the government for the women’s vote. So it’s a pivotal time for women and here’s Sadie doing something no man could do,” he said.
“By our record, she’s probably the first woman in North America to win a medal or a trophy or an accomplishment on a motorcycle — and was actually able to keep it.”
A few years earlier, American Clara Wagner won a race between Indianapolis and Chicago but was denied the trophy because of her gender, Metcalfe said.
Race to resort town
The Winnipeg-to-Winnipeg Beach contest, open to anyone, was announced by the Manitoba Motorcycle Club in the winter of 1913-14.
A gold medal was offered up to the first person to complete the 90-kilometre one-way trek from the city to the Empress Hotel on the shore of the popular beach town.
“Winnipeg Beach was Manitoba’s Riviera, it was was Manitoba’s Fort Lauderdale,” said Metcalfe. “It had a huge CPR four-storey hotel with balconies and it was a destination.”
But there were no roads to it. Winnipeg Beach was founded as a resort town in 1900 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had the only way to get there.
“The CPR once said that was the most profitable 60 miles of track in all of Canada. Upwards of 13 trains a day would take travellers to the beach and its boardwalk and the fancy hotel,” said Metcalfe.
There were cottages, a dance pavilion, a large pier, water chutes (precursors to modern water slides), and weekend boat regattas that drew as many as 10,000, according to Heritage Manitoba.
“So motorists by 1911-12, they kind of started pointing fingers about the railroad having a monopoly to a place that we want to get to,” Metcalfe said.
So the endurance race was born and motorcycles were a natural choice. Manitoba was a hotbed for motorcycle riding and racing at the time, said Metcalfe.
“There were very many famous racers — men racers — here in Manitoba that were … setting world records,” he said, noting Joe Baribeau, who set a world record at the Kirkfield Park track in 1911 as the fastest man, averaging 60 miles per hour (nearly 100 km/h) over a distance of 100 miles (just over 160 kilometres).
“The first person on Earth to do that and it was done here in Winnipeg. Because of these people being so famous and the Manitoba Motorcycle Club being so dominant, the Canadian Motorcycle Association … moved the Canadian championships to Manitoba in 1914.”
The Manitoba Motorcycle Club, founded in 1911, is the oldest motorcycle club in Canada and fourth-oldest in the world, Metcalfe said.
‘She got back on that bike’
Despite that popularity, there are no records of Grimm competing in any races prior to the endurance test. She seemed to come out of nowhere.
But Metcalfe has his theories.
It just so happened that Grimm’s boyfriend, Jim Cruikshank, was an accomplished amateur motorcycle racer and had opened a repair shop for Indian motorcycles in 1913, across from the new Yale and Northern hotels on Main Street.
Metcalfe thinks Grimm was likely taught how to ride by Cruikshank, who then provided a new, 1914 seven-horsepower Big Twin Indian motorcycle.
“A lot of those early motorcycles were very primitive, so endurance races were a way of motorcycle companies proving their worth,” he said.
Some eager riders who tried their hands at the Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach run while the ground was still frozen turned back. Others tried in early spring but were trapped by the wetlands.
The only place where there was some semblance of a road — really more of a rutted wagon trail — was through Teulon, Metcalfe said. But it stopped about 35 kilometres short of Winnipeg Beach.
Grimm set out on the morning of June 14, 1914.
“For 25 miles she had to break gravel eight inches deep while going 30 miles an hour. She took several graceful slides but picked herself up unhurt,” the Manitoba Free Press reported at the time.
The slides were most likely less than graceful, said Metcalfe, describing them as “two or three face plants.”
“So we want to talk about plucky, I mean, she wasn’t dismayed. She got back on that bike,” he said.
Grimm went up though Selkirk to Petersfield, where the road soon became bog and potholes. After tracing things like deer trails she rode up onto the railroad track.
It was extremely bumpy “but she pounded her way up the track,” Metcalfe said.
After four hours, a slightly dirty, scratched and exhausted Grimm walked into the Empress Hotel and claimed her prize.
There were a couple of people who scoffed at the victory because she used the railroad tracks, so after she rested for a few hours, Grimm decided to make a statement.
She climbed back on the bike and drove back to Winnipeg via the Teulon route that nobody else could traverse.
“So she actually did it twice in the same day,” Metcalfe said. “It was quite a feat.”
The Free Press, under a June 20 headline that said “Lady Wins Gold Medal,” called it “one of the most strenuous rides ever attempted by a Manitoba motorcyclist.”
At least one other motorcyclist also made an attempt that same day but ran out of gas west of the beach and arrived several hours too late to claim the prize.
“What Sadie Grimm did was pretty spectacular, really, when you look at it from a female perspective in Canadian and North American history,” said Metcalfe.
Arrested for impersonating men
Even two years later, in 1916, sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren rode their motorcycles 9,000 kilometres in 60 days across the continental United States. They wanted to prove women could ride as well as men and would be able to serve as military dispatch riders.
Augusta, 24, and Adeline, 22, dressed in military-style leggings and leather riding breeches and were stopped several times during the journey by police who took offence to the fact they wore men’s clothes, according to Anne Ruderman and Jo Giovanni’s book Adeline and Augusta Van Buren: Pioneers in Women in Motorcycling.
“They were arrested a number of times for impersonating a man, if you can believe it,” said Metcalfe.
Despite their success, the Van Buren sisters’ applications to be military dispatch riders were rejected. Reports in a motorcycling magazine of the day praised the bike but not the sisters. It also described the rigorous journey as a vacation.
Following her success, Grimm became a spokesperson for the participation of women in motorcycling. In the July 1914 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, Grimm lauded the activity as beneficial to health and the independence of women.
“The motorcycle is a great teacher.… It teaches [one] to be more independent on herself, to know that with a twist of the wrist she can control the powerful little machine that will carry her swiftly and safely wherever she wants to go,” Grimm said.
“I don’t think anyone could recommend a better doctor than nature — plenty of fresh air and exercise are the greatest health givers.”
Grimm died in February 1970 at the age of 74. In 2017, she was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
‘Empowers women to ride’
That same year, the first Sadie Grimm historic motorcycle ride to Winnipeg Beach was held. Follow-up rides have been held every June since then, doubling as a fundraiser toward a planned commemoration for Grimm.
The Women Riders Council (WRC), a member of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups, wants to build a picnic shelter, named in Grimm’s honour, at the spot where the Empress Hotel once stood.
The Manitoba government has agreed to the proposed steel-and-concrete design with a motorcycle motif being built on the property, now owned by the province.
“It will have a motorcycle theme for the sides of it and the circles in the top, holding the roof up, will look like motorcycle wheels. So it will be a real commemoration of Sadie’s ride,” said Mary Johnson, a member of the WRC and chair of the Sadie Grimm Celebration Committee.
She first heard about Grimm’s story in 2014 while at the Manitoba Motorcycle Club’s induction ceremony into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame. When Metcalfe was accepting the award, he mentioned Grimm.
“I remember thinking at the time ‘I need a piece of that [story],'” Johnson said.
She got Metcalfe to tell her everything he knew about Grimm and shortly after, she shared the story at a WRC meeting.
That’s when another member, Carolyn Peters, offered to do more research and eventually got in contact with grandchildren and a grandniece of Grimm’s in California.
They had some photos to offer up but for the most part, Grimm’s exploits were unknown to them. They always thought she was kind of cool because she was “just a little out there,” with her long fingernails painted in bright red polish that matched a similarly brilliant lipstick, said Peters.
But for the most part, Grimm was just known to them as Nana, she said.
“It is just such an interesting story, that this woman who was very anonymous until now … had been this vivacious, independent, outspoken woman for women’s issues and women’s rights at such an early point in Manitoba history,” Peters said.
“It was really a terribly courageous thing that she did. I just think of her at this point as a really fantastic role model to young women back then in 1914 and still very relevant today.”
The dusting off of Grimm’s story immediately led to a renewed interest and ultimately, her induction into the hall of fame.
In the summer of 2015, the Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba (which amalgamated with the MMC in 2010) organized a Sadie Grimm run from Winnipeg to a roadhouse about halfway to Winnipeg beach.
Johnson was told the club would buy a meal for all women riders who participated. She rounded up a large group, which then finished the run to the beach in honour of Grimm.
That sparked the idea for the picnic shelter, which is expected to cost $45,000.
So far, the fundraising rides and other donations have raised about $28,500.
Johnson and Peters hope the shelter will keep Grimm’s story in the public eye because of the inspiration it provides.
“When we talk to people about it they get really excited,” she said, noting one woman joins the ride every year, spurred by Grimm’s story, and “just went and bought an Indian Chief motorcycle this week.”