On Indian Day, history rolls on two wheels
By G. Michael Dobbsnews@thereminder.com
SPRINGFIELD They rode into the Quadrangle Sunday morning from Connecticut, Maine and Pennsylvania for an annual reunion: the men and women who celebrate Indian Motocyle yes, that's how the company spelled it part of the nation's and Springfield's transportation history.
From 1901 to 1953, Springfield was the home of the first successful American motorcycle, the Indian, and on Sunday, hundreds of people were drawn to Indian Day the Springfield Museums.
Guy McLain, director of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, said Indian Day reaches a "very broad audience" as the event is publicized in nationally distributed motorcycle magazines.
The event also attracted Esta Manthos, the woman whose collection of Indian cycles and memorabilia form the bulk of the Indian exhibit at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.
Manthos told Reminder Publications that seeing the owners ride up on their vintage Indians reminded her of the 35 years she hosted an Indian Day at her former museum on Hendee Street.
"It just comes back as usual," she said.
When asked what is the secret of the continued love of the Indian bikes, she said, "Simplicity of design." Manthos spoke from experience as she just didn't collect Indians, but was a well-known rider herself.
Manthos believes there will be many more years of a younger generation discovering the Indians, as "there are still Indians in barns and garages."
Earl Goodell of Stafford Springs, Conn., had one of those recently unburied treasures, a 1946 Indian Chief. He acquired it with two other Indian cycles about eight weeks ago and was seeking a buyer for this one. Although to the untrained eye, the frame looked in challenging shape, Goodell said, "If mechanically inclined, you could be riding in six months."
Goodell is seeking bids for motorcycle, which starts at $12,000.
Around the yard where the event took place, vendors sold everything from books on magazines on the Indian, reproductions of classic advertising signs, new parts for the motorcycles and salvaged original parts.
In the center of the area was a line of more than 30 Indians, ranging from a 1910 model that looked more like a motorized bicycle to a 1953 Roadmaster with matching sidecar, made the last year the cycles were produced in Springfield.
George Gilbert of Portland, Conn. had one of those bikes: a 1951 Indian Roadmaster. Gleaming like it had just left the showroom floor, Gilbert said he has had the bike for eight years. When he bought it, it required a number of repairs and renovations including new brakes, a new exhaust system, new wiring and electrical work.
"It really wasn't that much," he said with a bit of understatement.
He even made use of the bright lemon Dupont paint. Dupont made the original paint.a
Gilbert said he wanted to own an Indian as a tribute to Carl Oscar Hedstrom, the mechanical genius who designed the first Indian motorcycles. Hedstrom, Gilbert explained, was born in Portland, Conn.
The bike only sees about 100 miles of use each year, Gilbert said. It has a top speed of about 60 miles per hour, which makes it difficult to ride on modern interstate highways where people are going considerably faster. In 1951, motorcycles were made for roads such as U.S. Routes 5 and 20, then the major highways in this area.
His bike, though, garnered plenty of attention and it was clear the legend of the Indian lives on.