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much regret, it is sad to report the passing of yet another legendary motorcycle
champion by the name of Abraham “Brownie” Betar. Brownie, as most
knew him by, started his career with William “Slim” Nelson, then Albany’s
premier Indian Motorcycle dealer in Upstate NY. Brownie stopped in
one day in 1925, to purchase a motorcycle to deliver newspapers as he tired
quickly of “pedaling his ass off” all over the city. While taking
a tour of the shop, he asked Slim if he could possibly get a job working
on motorcycles and the answer was affirmative. He started working
for $15.00 a week and thought he was a millionaire. He sent $10.00
home to his Mom every week to run the household and still had enough for
what he wanted. Slim and another well know mechanic at the time who
worked for him, got Brownie involved with hill climbing whereas he built
his first machine and surprisingly to him, took the purse for first place
in the very first race he entered in. He took home $75.00 which was
equal to 5 weeks pay, where he would use some if it to further experiment
on more speed and dependability for the next race. He was also involved
with short track racing where he piloted a Crocker speedway single cylinder
around an oval dirt track. The Crocker supposedly was one of the
firsts few manufactured. When asked how he liked racing, he commented,
“It’s easy, just turn left and go like hell. But watch out for the
During WWII, Brownie was called for duty with the United States Armed Forces and was ready to go, but was ultimately refused due to the insistence of the local police departments to retain his much needed services for the sale, repair, and maintenance on the area Indians that were currently in force with many of the surrounding counties of the Capital District. During the early thirties, Slim had contracted the New York State Police Department with the first Indians for New York. Many were four cylinders and required much attention due to the heavy use and hard riding. At that time, the other mechanic, Tom Paradise was venturing off into his own business and Brownie was left to sell, repair and operate the store while Slim wanted to pursue his hobby of radio equipment such as PA systems and announcing at various motorcycle events. Brownie and Tommy judged many race events as well as helping out with the operation of their own local club known as the Capital District Rider’s Club. They had 75 active members, not just names, and were one of the largest in the United States at that time.
They had their own hill for hill climbing located in Feura Bush, NY, just outside of Albany. Although the dates and times are much in question, Brownie was Class C champ, Class B, then finally class A expert, where he took the number one spot in Muskegon, Michigan with the fastest time on an Indian.
In 1949, while vacationing in sunny California, Slim passed away at the Sawtelle Veterans Hospital from cancer. The shop back east was ultimately given to Brownie for a sum of $200.00 which were court, lawyer and filing fees. The name changed from Nelson’s Indian Sales and Service to Brownies Indian Sales in 1950. Eventually urban renewal took it’s toll and the shop moved to Watervliet, NY, where it still maintained the police force, but sales were plummeting as Indian was in constant turmoil back in Springfield, MA. One day while Brownie was at the factory, a secretary told him that Indian was in deep trouble and to buy all he could because she didn’t know how much longer they were going to last. His response was, “How could they be in trouble? They are one of the largest manufacturers in the world.” To his regret in later years, he didn’t listen and ultimately the secretary had muttered the truth. When Indian stopped producing the bikes themselves, Brownie was forced to sell British bikes with the Indian name, as well as others like Vincent, Matchless and Triumph to keep his business alive.
In 1970 or 71, Brownie lost his battle with the city of Watervliet, costing him much capital for his shop, as urban renewal once again took it’s toll on his location. He acquired a building on Broadway in Rensselaer, NY, where he operated his business on both Indians and Harley’s until he closed his doors for good in 1995 after all his belongings went to Florida for auction. In late 1997, Brownie was diagnosed with cancer and eventually became unable to care for himself anymore. He spent his final two years in a nursing home, where he ultimately passed away in his sleep, just five days after his 90th birthday. Like so many of the other riders and dealers who have graced this earth with the spirit and knowledge of motorcycles, Brownie will be remembered for his colorful personality and his ability to thrill the crowd at any meet. His passing is yet another missing piece of history that will forever leave the living with many questions still unanswered as to how it was in the early years of racing history.
article was first printed in the AMCA Colonial Chapter's newsletter, "The
Abraham "Brownie" Betar