‘38 Indian Chief, 80 ci (3-1/4 bore x 4-13/16 stroke), V-twin, flat
head engine, Schebler carb, 3 speed, right hand shift, left hand throttle,
foot clutch, rigid frame, 4.50 x 18 tires, drum brakes, (all of these features
are of a real man's bike) Ziggy manufactured seat post, leather saddle
(seat) by Marrietta Vintage Cycle (the last 2 items are the most important
on a rigid frame model).
Fuel mileage: 45 mpg
Most important feature: A well
greased seat post and low air pressure tires. The reproduction luggage
rack we fabricated just days before the trip (by analyzing old original
photos) and the saddlebags are some cheapie modern throw overs.
Total trip mileage: 1522 mls
Some days travelled not too many miles
due to PR and BSing
Things of understanding: A good
understanding wife Carolyn and 6 year old son Ross who will let you do
trips like this (and it’s not the1st time nor the last time either).
Abbreviations: N=North, S=South,
E=East, W=West, Miss river= Miss river cause I can’t spell the whole Miss
(I’m not from these parts (New Zealand originally) so that’s my excuse
and I’m sticking to it).
Mission: Take every possible back
road there was to take, stay off freeways and hopefully make my business
appointments on time (or have a darn good excuse if I’m late which is easy
enough when you turn up on an old bike).
Here I am nearing the end of the Davenport
Iowa antique motorcycle meet and my commitments are eastward in Wis. Working
antique m/c shows can be exhausting especially nearing the end of the season,
up at sparrows fart in the morning and in bed way late at night. There’s
a lot of friends you make after doing these shows over the years and it’s
only in the evenings we all get to spend time with each other. While my
trip involved heading eastwards, other friends Rocky Halter, Toney Watson
and Steve Johnson are riding their Indians Westward to a road run in Northern
Calif. It was real tempting to ride westwards with these guys however I
had appointments and commitments that could not be put off any longer.
I left Davenport Sunday Sept 5 around
3.30 pm heading East along I-80 a few miles to the Miss river which is
right on the ILL state line. Stayed on the Iowa side of the Miss river
and headed N on hwy 67 to Sabula. At Sabula (sounds like some African chick's
name) jumped onto hwy 52N into Dubuque (sounds like some French name, just
what country am I in), all this time following the great Miss river. While
waiting at a light in Sabula, I hear a familiar rattling noise behind me,
turn around and it’s a late model (’48 skirted fender) Chief. Hey dude,
what’s the haps. We cruised together for about 15 mls and then we went
our own way. He was riding 2 up and slowed quite a bit up the hills as
he was probably still running a 74” engine. Cruising the highways up the
river was great, gentle rolling green hills with some rocky cliffs in places,
clearish water up this part of the Miss river. I didn’t know the Miss could
be this color as it is usually muddy further south (around Davenport, Iowa),
gorgeous weather, couldn’t ask for a better day.
From Dubuque entered Wisconsin and picked
up hwy 61N to hwy 151 at Dickeyville. The 1st part of the road once I crossed
into Wis was rough as hell and I was hoping the rest of Wis was not going
to be like this. Shook the hell out of the rigid frame. I was more concerned
about my luggage staying on the bike than me being shook up. It would be
the perfect road to make a milk shake. First nights stay was at Platteville.
The food at the small Ma and Pa diner was great, good home cookin’, nothing
fancy but down right real good.
The next day started out with a story in
the parking lot from a bum who claimed he had an all original ‘39 Chief
with a sidecar that he would sell real cheap as he needed money, the usual
story. So I got straight to the point with him, asked a few very specific
questions about the bike that he dreamed up the answer and I promptly blew
him off as it was just another big story. It would have sounded real good
if I had not went through a similar big story several weeks earlier. He
just wanted to bum a few extra dollars and a ride to his next hang out
After this big story I jumped back onto
hwy 151 through Madison and Fond du Lac following quite a bit of
Lake Winnebago on the SE side to near Chilton and on into Manitowoc. Talked
with some windsurfers in a park on Lake Winnebago, the wind had died out
so their windsurfers were dead in the water. They looked bored, I needed
a break and a photo shot so another excuse for a lengthy stop. Down the
road a ways I met a guy on a ‘95 Kawasaki GPZ at one of the view spots
and struck up a conversation, he was so intreged with the ‘38. He had to
check it out for ages. The ’38 bought the best out in people, they just
loved seeing an old bike being ridden especially with Calif YOM (year of
manufacture 1938) plates on it. They just had to talk about anything and
that was just fine by me. I had a few appointments along the way but I
had plenty of time up my sleeve and time just did not seem to matter. What
did matter was just having a great time and taking things as they come
and if that means talking for ages, so be it. One executive type guy asked
me “So what’s your best advise for taking an old bike on tour” My reply
was “take each day as it comes and to have fun no matter what”.
I did notice tons of m/c’s on the road,
in fact I have not seen so many m/c’s on the road in any other state. Wis
people ride and boy do they have the roads for it. Some BMW guys gave me
some statistics (while having lunch in a small town saloon), Wis has the
most m/c per head of capita than any other state. I have no idea if it’s
true but it sounded good to me. What I do know is that New Zealand has
the most m/c’s per head of capita than any other country in the world by
far. Anyway enough about statistics, the roads very much reminded me of
a lot of my teenage years of m/cling on a Honda 400/4 Super Sport throughout
New Zealand including the threat of rain (in a few days ahead). I also
had a 741 Army Indian (a gutless 500cc) in New Zealand that was nothing
to be proud of to cruise the highways on. I also had a Honda 50 (along
with a Honda 400/4) and it would pull the pants off the 741, at least up
hill. The 741 did have it on a long steep down hill but probably not by
much, 60 mph balls out down a really steep hill and with a huge tail wind.
I pulled into a gas station in Mt Horeb
just E of Madison. I noticed right at the front door of the gas station
was a car that had been parked cockeyed what appeared to be for a
few days, one wheel up on the sidewalk and almost into the front door.
You had to maneuver around the car in order to get into the front door
to pay the cashier. I asked the cashier if someone was learning to park.
She said it’s been there for a few days. I asked if it occurred to her
that it was probably stolen. Sorry I ever suggested it as she went into
overload mode. I payed and left.
From Chilton to Manitowoc (approx 30 mls)
I was told not to ride at night due to deers so I cruised into Manitowoc
and got a motel right on the lake.
I’m not used to riding in deer country,
heard all the stories, seen the result on cars and big rigs and it does
not look a pretty sight. Neither was it for a friend Gary from Kokesh Motorcycles
in Minneapolis. I saw him a few years back when he was all twisted and
broken up from hitting a deer on a m/c (looking back I think it has now
improved his looks). I didn’t have to be told twice on this deer issue
plus the fact I only had sun glasses to wear which is not ideal for night
riding on a grand old 6 volt lighting system. I forgot my clear glasses
however I sure see why you guys need glasses. It seems around the 4pm time
the bugs and foreign objects come out to play. Never been hit by so many
big bugs and flying objects, darn huge things. I promptly learnt never
to open my mouth at anytime of day without covering it 1st. Even had a
bug enter into my ear area inside my open face helmet. It took a fast stop
to let it out as this west coaster is not used to bugs inside his helmet.
This deer thing bugged me throughout the whole trip so I made sure I was
in the motel around 6pm well before dark.
One of the main purposes of this trip
was to spend several days finalising several major components that we had
in development for a full reproduction Indian.
What was rather neat is here I am touring
on a 1938 Indian, one of the most basic and simplistic motorcycles in the
world yet on the other hand I was working for a few days with techie guys
with all their fancy computer CAD programs in a world class atmosphere
and with tons of the latest high end manufacturing machines, quite the
contrast to say the least. They got just as much of a kick of looking over
this most basic motorcycle as I did hanging with them.
I did quite a bit of riding based from
Milwaukee over the next few days. One trip was headed S to Kenosha, then
W to near Janesville, N to I-94 into Manitowoc and then S back to Milwaukee.
At East Troy I stopped to make a phone call as I was on another business
witch hunt. As I headed back to the ’38 I noticed a police officer in his
cruiser parked next to the ’38. The officer sternly advised me that he
was going to have to confiscate my m/c, I politely said, “excuse me” and
he repeated it once again. I had thoughts going through my mind of what
the hell am I going to do without my ’38 here in a foreign state. I then
asked “do you mind telling me why” he replied “because I really like this
bike and I want it”. “Well in that case you can’t have it” I replied. We
talked for quite a while, he owned a Valkyrie and I explained that I wouldn’t
hold that against him.
I left Milwaukee and headed N to
Greenbay on I-40. At Greenbay I jumped onto hwy 29 heading W to Shawano
then NW on hwy 47 through Menominee Indian Reservation to hwy 45 N into
Antigo. I picked up hwy 64 W through Merrill into Medford. The day was
overcast and threatening rain most of the time but I only hit about 2 spots
where it rained for a short while. Around Shawano I noticed some horse
drawn wagons and a horse drawn combine in a field next to the highway.
It caught me totally by surprise as I was thinking of how to keep warm
(being from Calif, I start freezing at 70 degrees). I initially thought
it was the Budweiser horse stables but once my brain was engaged I figured
out it was the Armish at work. And I thought I was working with some antiquated
machinery. We just don’t see this sort of thing in our part of the country.
Riding through the Indian reservation
I did not know what to expect. It was a gorgeous ride all the way through
and would have been the best part of the whole days ride. There were trees
lining each side of the road and in some places totally covering the road,
nothing less than breathtaking scenery and nice narrow quaint roads with
nicely kept townships. I only saw one 45 mph speed sign after leaving the
1st town which was Keshena so I decided to cruise at 45 mph until I saw
a sign that said otherwise. The next sign was near the end of the reservation
(a long ways away) which read 55 mph. It was such a fantastic ride that
I was in no way in a hurry and thoroughly enjoyed what this reservation
had to offer. The only thing I was not sure was if my Indian would be accepted
by the Indians. I had no need to stop so I didn’t.
I stayed in Medford at the Medford Inn
which was a very nice motel. The owner must have had his eye on me most
of the time as soon as he saw my Indian not in the parking lot he knocked
on the door to see if it had been moved into the room, bingo. He did offer
to put it in his garage under lock and key which was real nice of him.
He didn’t believe me that it did not leak and that is the truth, it just
The motel owner's brother Scott and wife
Suzette owned the saloon next door, “The 8th Street Saloon” and he spotted
the Indian in the parking lot earlier and had to check it out and have
a yack. His Saloon had an old m/c theme and an early Harley 45 up on the
stage. It had many old time pictures on the walls and some were of police
depts riding Indians around the late 30’s. Way neat old stuff and great
hospitality. The next morning I had to take a photo in front of the saloon,
they spotted me and we talked some more, real nice folks.
While watching the weather report that
night on the goggle box (TV), it mentioned a big thunderstorm moving in
from the west (the way I was heading) and staying for a few days. My thoughts
were to high tail it the next day and get into Oskaloosa Iowa (50 mls SE
of Des Moines) to a friends place as this is where my trip was to end.
The weather was gorgeous and it was hard to believe a thunderstorm was
on its way. I thought for sure the weatherman was way wrong but more on
This days ride was going to be a hard
pushing day, not much time to muck around as I had decided not to get caught
in the upcoming thunderstorm.
I left Medford heading S on hwy 13 to
Spencer, then W on hwy 98 just a few miles to 73 S and on down to Neillsville.
Near Neillsville picked up hwy 95 W, then 27S to Cataract, 71W just a few
miles to Four Corners and then onto 162 SW to Stoddard which is right on
the Miss river. Now hwy 162 has to be the best twisty and narrow road that
I got to travel on in all of Wis, especially between Bangor to Stoddard,
just perfect for the rigid frame ’38 and it took it all in it’s stride.
Many corners I was into it fairly hard and I had my doubts about how I
would exactly come out of it but wherever I pointed the ’38 that’s
where I came out (which is always good news of course). One sure as heck
got the great smell of the Wis dairy cattle country. Coons Valley township
was the lunch stop (half way between Bangor and Stoddard) at the Rustic
Valley Saloon. This is where I met the BMW riders that rattled off all
the statistics earlier in the article. The Saloon had an outstanding interior
finished off with a beautiful neat old oak bar. The bathroom was full on
marble. This was an outstanding lunch stop and these guys were real proud
of their saloon.
After leaving the saloon I travelled a
whole ½ mile to cruise through a park at the other end of town where
some folks were getting married. I saw some old folks there so I knew they’d
appreciate seeing an old Indian. Next to the park was an antique store
with some old tractors and implements out in front of it so I had to stop
and have a sniff around like an old dog and check it out. Antique machinery
is where I’m at, it all tells a darn good story and even a better story
if someone is around that has used it in that era. It was my lucky day,
the old gentleman running the store filled me in on the machinery's particulars
and he became interested in what I was riding. He stuck his head outside
the store to see the ’38, well he almost had a heart attack. He had
to yell to a few others and also get on the blower (phone) to have some
other friends stop by and check it out. So much for making miles the next
few hours. Ya just gotta hear them there old stories ya know as they are
priceless. That’s just part of what this old stuff is all about. New bikes
are ok but it’s just different on an old one.
Near Four Corners there was a very unusual
area next to the road, at 1st glance it appeared to be a cemetary but it
was a small private park with the title “Peace on Earth”. Extremely unusual
and rather airy. It was quiet and had some scaled down displays like a
boat, castle, house, shrine, wall and fence all the way around
the parimeter all done in sea shells. I was glad I got to see it but sure
as hell a lot happier to high tail it outa there as it had a rather eerie
feeling about it and it was pretty darn lonely.
From Stoddard headed S on hwy 35 following
the Wis (E) side of the Miss river through De Soto to Prairie du Chien.
Down this area I was told that deer’s are not a problem which was a relief.
The roads from here become less and less exciting especially after being
on hwy 162. I crossed the river at Prairie du Chien into Marquette Iowa.
While taking a wrong turn at Marquette I noticed a house and garage that
had a Totem pole collection in the yard plus a windmill with a bicycle
way up on top of it, old time gas pumps, signs, and a bunch of other oddball
stuff painted really oddball colors that you just couldn’t help but notice.
I just had to stop and check it out. The old timer came out of his garage
along with his sons and grandsons. Another excuse for a yack for a while.
From here I headed W on hwy 18, 52 S a mile or 2 to hwy hwy 13 S
to Strawberry Point. This was your typical midwest small town that was
rather neat. I couldn’t exactly tell you why but it just felt neat. Took
hwy 3 W to Oelwein, from here S on 150 through Independence, Urbana to
Vinton. Picked up hwy 218 S, 30 W, 131 SW into Belle Plaine. Hwy 131 was
only about a 10 mile stretch but was rough as guts. I was glad to get onto
hwy 21 S as it was getting into the late afternoon and the 6v pre sealed
beam era lighting is marginal at best. Continued S on hwy 21 to 92 W into
Oskaloosa where the trip ended late at night as dinner took far longer
than anticipated. It was a long day but extremely enjoyable. The weather
was super nice and the storm was the farthest thing from my mind. I do
recall the thought going through my mind at one stage that the weather
man really screwed up on the night before weather report on TV, how could
such a bad storm be around with such gorgeous weather today. I unloaded
the saddlebags and my luggage from the Indian, hauled it into my room at
the motel and hit the sack.
The next morning I was woken up around
7 pm by very heavy rain hitting the ground outside. I opened up the curtains
to see puddles of water on the ground. At this point there was no point
to try and save the ’38 from the rain. I knew the external distributor
would be soaked and she’s not going to start. My friend Jeff gave me a
6 mile ride to where the Kiwi Indian Freightliner transporter rig was parked.
At least this occurred at the end of the trip so it was no big deal and
if something like this does happen, you just take it in your stride. I
did have packed in my saddlebags an accessory distributor cap rubber cover
that weather proofs the distributor in classic cases like this but after
the previous days ride it was the furthest thing from my mind.
All in all the bike performed flawlesly,
had great weather, met friendly people in a beautiful state. It was the
Near Clinton, IA. #13
lock and dam on the Miss river in the background.
Beaver Dam, Wis, gas
and snack stop. Some nice people wanted to get a photo of me, the trade
off was they had to send me a copy (and they did).
Madison Wis, historical
Madison Wis, church
with statue in front. Reason for this photo is Kiwis (New Zealanders) and
sheep seem to go together so I figured it appropriate that maybe I too
“am the good shepherd” with sheep.
General Wis countryside
sights, some appropriate to what I was riding...
...Like the Chief Oshkosh
NE of Fond Du Lac, Wis.
Lake Winnebago in the background with one of the windsurfers on the shore.
NE of Fond Du Lac, Wis.
Lake Winnebago in the background at one of the scenic overlooks.
Wis. Lake Winnebago in the background.
Near Shawano, Wis. Armish
working the corn fields in their horse drawn corn pickers.
Barn with Wis dairy
Good memories at the
8th Street Saloon in Medford Wis..
Somewhere Wis, just
a neat mural painted on the side of one of the town's buildings.
"Peace on Earth" park.
Totem pole collection.
'38 Chief In Wisconsin.