The World’s Prettiest Indian

THERE ARE some guys you’d just love to have living next door to you. Imagine if you could just wander into your neighbour’s yard and there before you was a jaw-dropping selection of rare bikes, hard-to-find parts, and an enthusiast ready to share tools, ideas and inspiration. Whoever lives beside Dude, WA’s bike building legend, doesn’t realise how lucky he is.

You may remember Dude from a few issues back, proudly showing off his V8-powered custom trike, but his three-wheeled beauty was just a taste of the man’s enviable collection. Dude’s true passion is for legendary American Indians, and his perfectly restored 1918 Powerplus Single is up there with the rarest bikes in Australia. “It is one of only two in the country I know about,” he says, “and it’s taken a long time to get it like this.” The best part of 30 years to be exact.

The long story begins back in 1980 when Dude knew an Indian enthusiast in Sydney by the name of John McDonald. John had visited Dude in Perth, admired his 1934 Sports Scout, and asked if he’d be keen to swap it for his rusty old 1918 Indian Powerplus Single.

“In 1971 I’d bought a 1918 Indian Twin for $35,” Dude says. “I’d fixed it up and thought John’s Indian Single would make a nice partner for it.” Even with all the work needing doing to the veteran 1918 machine, Dude agreed to the swap.

As many of us know, it is tempting to buy bikes with the heart rather than the head, and dreams of having a rusty old heap fixed up in time for next summer’s shows soon fades when you eventually realise the time and money that will be involved. “I had the bike for years as just a rusty bare frame with little bits of motor and gearbox lying around,” Dude says. “I tried to do stuff with it but it was so hard to get parts and money together to do it properly.”

Many in similar situations will sympathise with this, but Dude is living proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel. “Once the kids had moved out and the house was paid for I could do what I wanted. I had bikes I’d owned for 30-odd years and could finally get working on them.”

You can well imagine original parts for a 90-year-old Indian aren’t easy to come by; it wasn’t a matter of nipping to the local breaker’s yard for help. “I had to chase parts from all over the world for the bike,” Dude explains, “and it was good to learn you can get quality reproduction parts from Germany and Holland that you couldn’t before. All the original parts on my Indian looked like they’d been in a salt lake for 20 years; they were all buggered. Now you can get all this new stuff, it is so much better.”

Not one for computers, the Internet, or mobile phones, Dude has made contact with enthusiasts all over the world using the traditional hand-written letter technique. It has worked wonders. “I now know many people in the USA who have put me in touch with other contacts and names in all sorts of different places. There is a great circle of enthusiasts for these bikes.”

As a result of his international connections, the veteran Indian’s handlebar grips and footbar grips have been shipped over from Sweden. A bit closer to home, a contact in Victoria provided the bike’s 316 stainless steel handlebars, exhaust, gear lever, spokes, and all the nuts, bolts and screws.

The hardest part, as you’d expect, was fixing up the ancient engine that hadn’t been running for countless decades. This original powerplant, a KW model 640cc single, was, in Dude’s words, in a terrible mess, but with the help of two old time friends in the Vintage Motorcycle Club WA, life was once again breathed into the old single.

Huge thanks are due to Spencer Sheffield who helped sort the 640 cc, and who over the years has taught Dude the rights and wrongs of building engines. Then there is 87-year-old Ron Morrison who did all the valve gear, supplied the piston and machined up the beautiful wooden knobs.

The engine appears perfectly original from the outside, but internally Dude has changed the oil system to make it run better and harder. After all, there have been a few changes in engine building over the past 90 years. “I use a total-loss oil system now. There was just a splash feed setup in the crankcase originally, but we’ve put in an oil ring and changed the oil system to go through the crank now.”

The finished look is as good, if not better, than how it came from the Indian factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, back in 1918. Big thanks go to Premier Platers in Perth for the chrome work, while Southside Panel and Paint in Rockingham handled the paintwork. Dude himself carried out the expert pinstriping.

So eager was Dude to have the bike finished for a big Indian run in Tasmania a few years back, he hadn’t quite got everything perfect or got used to riding it. “On the second day of the rally in Scottsdale I went to hit the kick start, turned my knee inside and broke my leg in three places. I went to the hospital, the doc had a look at it, said it was just bruised and let me go. I was four weeks on crutches before a local doc saw it and sent me straight to hospital for x-rays.”

Thankfully, Dude’s experiences with the bike since have all been positive, including getting first place in a veteran rally in WA a few months back. “People loved it,” he says, “which is great for me as it has been a big job. Building these things is my life as well as my hobby.”

As it stands, alongside this 1918 Single, Dude’s Indian collection includes a 1912 Single, two 1918 Twins (one a US-style boardtrack racer), three 1928 101s, a 1942 Chief with sidecar, and a handful of Scouts. Even so, true enthusiasts always want more. “I’d love an in-line four-cylinder Indian from the mid-to late-’40s. They’re very prestigious, but of course, also expensive. Maybe one day.”

Dude finds it very hard to sell his bikes which probably explains how he’s amassed such a collection over the decades. It is his 1918 Indian Powerplus that is possibly the most special, however. “I’ll use it for rallies and it will sit in the shed and get looked at a lot. After that it and the others will get passed on to my kids; I couldn’t ever sell them.”

Oh, and if there are any Hollywood movie producers reading this (aren’t there always?), Dude is willing to offer up his Powerplus Single if they ever want to make another movie like The World’s Fastest Indian. A kind offer from a top bloke always willing to share his enthusiasm and knowledge. If you see him at the shows with his Indian, make sure you don’t miss out on chatting with the bike enthusiast with a collection to die for and countless great stories to tell.

pics By Brian White; words By Iain Curry

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