May 2000 Bike Feature   
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    My "second" Indian
   By Brett Herrey
My journey to my newly-restored 1947 Chief may remind many Indian owners of themselves. My earliest motorcycle memories were formed on an Indian. Then, in early adulthood, I all but forgot about the Indian marque, only to find myself bitten again by the Indian bug in recent years.  
 I remember as a young lad climbing down those rickety old wooden steps in my aunt´s basement to play on an old motorcycle stuffed in the corner of a dirt floor cellar.  I remember, vaguely, the style but at that time didn't pay much attention as to what is was. The motorcycle had no paint left on it at all, just solid copper color (rust) and it had a home-made sidecar with broken and rotten oak boards, I can recall the pedals and shifter on it – which I played with often – and the saddle type seat that even at that age fit my bottom perfectly.  

The bike hadn't run in years, but everything looked ready to go.  At that time, I was told it was an Indian. But being so young, I'd never heard of one. As I can remember now, it was approximately a 1935 Chief.  Then one day in the late '60s, the bike came to life. My bother and I were getting off the school bus and we heard a loud roar coming down the road towards us. When it got close  enough for us to see, I saw  it was our uncle thundering down the road on that old Indian. He wheeled the handlebars around and came to a stop alongside us with a big grin. We climed aboard, careful not to fall through the bad boards in the sidecar, and I watched him drop the shifter into low gear, step down on the clutch, and away  we flew up the road. 

 We headed toward my uncle's house and I wished we would drive right past, but that was not to be. He stopped at the cellar door so we could get out, and the he pulled it into the doorway and parked it in its old resting ground.  

The excitement of that ride coursed through my veins for years.  I would ask him every day if he could hold that bike for me until I got older, and he would always tell me 'yes'. 

That was easier said than done, however. Cash flow was short, so things had to go. Thus was the case with the old Indian. I came home from school one day just in time to see two guys pushing it up a ramp onto a flatbed truck. I asked my uncle where it was going and he said that he was sorry, but the bike had to go. I found out later that it was sold for a measly $ 300. I was heartbroke, but time marched on.  

As I grew up, I owned my share of Japanese bikes and Harleys, but somehow something was always  missing. Then one day it came time to decide on a new bike. I called  around for some Harleys, but there were none in stock. And thank God that was the case, because the more I looked around, the more I realized that I wanted something that everyone else didn't have. That's when I started my search for an Indian. I picked up information on the great Iron redskins, and found  I was bit again.  
I encountered enormous problems trying to buy one, because most people didn't want to get rid of them. At my wife's suggestion, we contacted Dirk LaPierre (then-President of the Indian Motorcycle Trading Card Company). Though his contacts, we came up with a 1947 Chief with matching case and frame numbers. In late '93, I struck a contract with a man who began restoration work, and the job started. As time passed, though, it became obvious that the man I hired to do the job was not doing the complete restoration I wanted, so I carted the Chief to another restorer for the final work. Of course, that was just the beginning of my Chief adventures.  
Meanwhile, as sometimes happens, we found  that the Indian bug was contagious. Through the restoration journey, my wife Elizabeth started itching for her own Indian. We're now looking for a Model 101, a 1949-53 vertical, and a dispatch tow for her. Junior Stevens of Petersburg, New York, deserves credit for doing a lot of work that the first restorer screwed up. Other restoration experts who lent a hand along the way, included Jerry Greer, Brownie Betar, Rocky of Rocky's Antique Motorcycles, ”Indian” Joe Martin, and Starklite Cycles.  

Last but not least, my late grandfather deserves special thanks. Without his thoughtfulness and love, I wouldn´t have been able  to afford this. I dedicate this restoration to him, and I hope he is watching from above the happiness he's brought to his grandson.  

My first ride on the newly-restored 1947 Chief came two days after the motorcycle was delivered. The two-day waiting period was for some cosmetic work. I wanted to make this cycle absolutely perfect before anyone saw it. I even wanted Harley riders to drop their jaws at the sight of this bike. I had a perfect plan for the first ride. I was going to ride to this beautiful spot down by the Mohawk River, near some beatiful lilac bush hedgerows -and on a dirt roadway to simulate bygone years. The time came and out of the garage came the Indian. No one around had seen one for years, if they had seen one at all, so I wanted to quietly sneak it out and take off with it before I had to answer a barrage of questions. 

I had to start it quickly and go, before the noise from the exhaust  took out my neightbor's windows. Besides, I wasn't a seasoned Indian rider, and I didn't want anyone to see me try to figure out the starting procedure. As advertised, though, she would have started on the third kick if I hadn't forgotten to turn on the ignition switch. (Hey, I said I was new!) Once I discovered this problem and wiped the sweat off my forehead, I gave it a proper kick and away it went. My wife was behind me in her car, watching me carefully to make sure that she didn't have to cash in my insurance policy, as I headed down the winding road along the Mohawk River to take the first pictures. That´s when the problems began.  

I was so engrossed in my ride that I didn't notice the gas and oil coming out of the caps on the tanks. The guy who delivered my bike told me that he might have overfilled the tanks. I had no felt bushings or cork seals on my caps, only thin rubber, and this was not enough to stop the flow. When we reached our destination, I had to remove the residue because I couldn´t take pictures the way it was. My wife graciously offered her socks and we both started wiping everything down. 

The photo shoot completed, my new bike was ready to head back to the garage. This by the way, happened to be the hottest day of the year at that point, (close to 95 degrees), and humid, and this Indian motor was pumping out some serious heat. I was approaching my first intersection and I pushed in the clutch, coasted to a stop, saw no traffic, and was ready to roll again. I went to release the clutch pedal and….  No heel pedal. Gone. The pin must have fallen out. I used the toe of my shoe, released the pedal and the Indian jumped into gear again. I finally reached my driveway and my wife immediately grabbed a fan to cool the motor. 

Thus went the first ride. Not bad, all things considered. The next ride however, is when the nightmare truly began. My next ride, I lost the steering damper stud, the kicker gear nut went though the chain guard, the wiring developed a short, and the gas tank had a leak between the two tanks on the right side. The problem was two-fold. First, I had yet to learn the wisdom of examining everything on the bike closely, before and after every ride. This is an ecpecially crusial point for owners who are riding a freshly-restored bike. But secondly the mechanical glitches were attributable to some shoddy restoration work. 

Brett's "second" Indian. 
1947 Chief. 

Click on pictures to enlarge! 
Brett's "third" Indian, I guess! :-) 
 If you want to see the story of your Indian here, just yell! 
There's help available if you think you need it (proofing, pictures etc) 


My answer for making sure the bike was right to ride?  I took mine back apart and did it the way I felt it was supposed to be done. I did as much of the work as I could myself. I gathered as many pictures and manualts as possible, sat down, and read them, cover to cover. I verified what I had, by the pictures. I talked to people who had knowledge of Indians. I went to several swap meets and saw how things were put together. If you have any mechanical ability at all, you could easely understand how things were designed. Indians were always noted for their simple design, and easy repair.  
For new restorers who want to ride their bikes often, I a few words of advice: Don't use original parts that are key for operation. Above all, bear in mind that you're riding an antique and not a brand new, state of the art speed machine. After every ride, tighten all the nuts and bolts, because they have a tendency to loosen for a while until everything is broken in. That was my mistake. I didn't realize that even if you start it up in the driveway, you should tighten everything down. Eventually, they will all stay tight. The work put into the re-assembly job is worth it. You get a bigger feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction when you know that you can trust the person that did it. Especially when that person is you.
Brett Herrey runs a small Indian restoration shop in upstate New York, Latham Indian. Besides restoration work and parts location (including some hard to find goodies!), Brett also makes some neat one-off parts like Titanium valve keepers and 346 Chief horn brackets. Write Brett at 

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