By Garry Lamothe
From the first time I saw and heard my neighbors Indians and Harleys as a kid in the 1960's I knew I had to have one some day. I delivered the local newspaper at the time and one stop was the Mobile gas station up the street. The owner had a 1946 Chief out back for years and I would sneak a seat on that dusty relic until he gave me that “get off” look. I rode a Cushman on the logging roads long before I was old enough to be licensed. Later I road a “kawa sucky” on the streets, but after some very scary close calls with vehicles pulling out on me from side streets, I couldn’t feel comfortable on the road and gave motorcycle riding a break.
Suddenly, the big 40 was facing me and I wasn’t getting any younger. I never forgot those Indians and the thought of owning one was seriously crossing my mind. I, along with many others, followed the history of that 1946 Chief once owned by the Mobile station proprietor. He had finally sold it to a riding buddy of his, who restored the old relic only to sell it at a large profit.
A few more years clicked by and one day I asked a good friend (Jim Seidell) who had restored numerous Indians if he knew of any bikes in the area for sale. He knew the owner of that 46 chief and said it might be for sale... Wow! the thought of riding the same bike I sat on as a kid got me excited, so after a phone call we were off to take a look. Sure enough, there it was and with a side car yet! But, the price was too high for me at the time and the owner wasn’t sure he wanted to sell it after all. He did say he had a basket chief project he had started and he was willing to part with it for $11,000. Off to his basement we went to take a look. Jim said it was a good start and that many of the important pieces were there. Three days later, in the middle of a blizzard on April 1st 1997, Jim and I took all the pieces home. Steve, the previous owner, bought it as a rolling basket and he had some work done already, mostly cosmetics. He had done a good job at organizing all the small parts and pieces in labeled bags and boxes so sorting things out took very little time.
Long before I ever lifted a wrench to complete the restoration I needed to learn much more about this motorcycle and what was correct and incorrect for it's year. . . .Jim handed me a pile of catalogs and manuals to study and study I did. After three weeks of paper pushing, finally work began on Irontail40. My first priority goal was to have the Chief ready to attend Indian day in Springfield. With Jim's experience and guidance, and with five weeks of phone orders and wrenching, Irontail40 was ready for the highway. Nothing can take the place of that first ride except maybe the third and forth and so on. . . It was now the first week of June and Indian day was around the corner. I made Indian day that first year and every year since but not without Irontail40 going through some changes. Are they ever done? New paint, motor/tranny re-build and additions for the dresser look have taken this 1940 chief a far cry from it's basket days. Jim reminded me many times through this entire process that it was/is much better to build your own from a basket. This way you KNOW what is wrong on the side of the road. . . I was and am fortunate to have him as a mentor. I may not be sitting on that 1946 Chief I had my eye on but that’s OK for now. The enjoyment of riding is back again like never before.
Garry's story first appeared in the
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