Chris Price is a historian, specifically, a motorcycle historian with a focus on motorcycle racing history. It’s a given then, that as the publisher of Archive Moto his motorcycle would have an interesting history of its own, and indeed it does. The story of his 75-year-old Indian Scout is a long winding road to Georgia that includes some cheating, a famous class “C” racer, an auction, failed raffle, a baby, stolen truck, a trip to the Jersey shore, and some guy named “Dick.”
Prior to the start of World War Two, the US War Department requested proposals and bids for a new military motorcycle. The specs for this military motorcycle were a 500cc displacement, the ability to handle rough terrain, extreme conditions, do at least 65mph, and not overheat when escorting slow-moving convoys. The military “powers that be,” not knowing shit about motorcycles, used the same specs as their British allies, a 500cc, side valve design.
Editor’s Note: The BSA M20, and Triumph TRW 500, are typical of WWII British military motorcycle designs.
Indian stuck to the letter of the specifications and delivered a 500cc Scout that was based on a civilian model, the Junior Scout. Harley-Davidson did not, knowing a 500cc side valve would be underpowered, they modified their civilian 45 and offered it instead, cheating on the specs. Of course the 750cc Harley WLA out performed the 500cc Scout, and Harley won the lion’s share of the business, manufacturing roughly 90,000 WLA units. Indian sold far fewer numbers of their 500cc Scout. In contrast to Harley-Davidson, Indian production numbers in total for WWII were less than half at 42,000 military machines.
Most Scouts were sold to Britain and the Commonwealth countries, some even went to Russia as part of the Lend-Lease program. Of course, when you build anything for the military they will want plenty of spare parts, wheels, frames, and even complete engines. After the war most of this inventory was sold as military surplus. To this day you can still find NOS military Scout parts, even complete engines.
Editor’s Note: While researching for this article I found no less than 100 items on eBay, including a complete, never used engine/transmission.
The Class “C” Racer:
Chris’ 41 Scout was never an “out of Springfield” production bike. This Indian was custom-built as a bobber from some of those previously mentioned surplus parts by Bill Brownell, a California-based, AMA “C” Class racer.
Bill Brownell became a mechanic and racer for Hap Jones shortly after coming home from service in WWII. Later he opened his own Indian dealership in Chico, California in 1947. After Indian folded he switched to selling imported iron, BSA, Triumph, and Honda. In addition to being heavily involved in California motorcycle racing, Bill was also a builder of many competitive flat track racing machines, and in later years, a vintage motorcycle restorer. Bill was also a member of the “Boozefighters” motorcycle club. If you have ever seen the “Wild One” with Marlon Brando, the Boozefighters club, and the incident in Hollister, California was used as a basis for that movie. Bill was with the Boozefighters that weekend in 1947, I’m sure his recollection of it would have been far different from the fabricated bullshit put out by the media of the time!
The Raffle That Never Was:
The Scout stayed with Bill for some years before the bike was purchased by California-based racer and motorcycle restorer Ron Peck. He was a long time friend of Bill’s, Ron had worked with Bill for several years, joining Bill’s dealership in 1968, and eventually became the general manager. While he was at Brownell’s Ron raced sportsman class flat track. Ron is still riding motorcycles today, mostly off-road, or on the race track. The Scout was sold in Ron’s retirement auction to a bar owner in San Antonio, Texas who planned to use it as a raffle prize. What the bar owner did not know was his prize was too big to raffle off in the city of San Antonio, so the raffle was a “fail,” right from the start. One man’s loss is another’s gain, that’s where Chris comes in, he buys the Scout from the bar owner.
Editor’s Note: I’ll start section by saying this, Chris has THE most understanding wife in the world!
The way Chris ended up with the Scout began with Chris buying a 1938 Harley WL basket case. His plan was to build a street legal bobber/racer for vintage events. The original bobbers of the Thirties and Forties were often used as race bikes on weekends. Back in then racers rode their bobbers to the race, removed the lights, affixed a number plate, and raced. After the race was over the lights went back on, and the racer rode home. Chris’s WL would be built in that style to pay homage to those early days. Being the huge optimist he is, shortly after getting his Harley WL, Chris entered “The Race Of Gentlemen,” it’s an annual event held in Wildwood, New Jersey. The race was several months away, so Chris was confident he could finish his build in plenty of time, or so he thought.
Time can fly by, especially if you are a family man, your projects always seem end up on the back burner, family is the priority. Such was the case with Chris and the WL, it was late August, Chris and his wife were expecting the birth of their second child any day, and the WL was nowhere near ready to race in September. They say, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” That may, or may not be true, but I’ll say this, having nothing to do but wait for a baby to arrive will have you needing something to keep your mind off of what’s coming. If you are like most bikers, you turn to “porn,” not naked girl porn, motorcycle porn! Most of us, if pressed, will admit to cruising bike sites like this one, or checking out what’s for sale on eBay. That’s where Chris was, on eBay, in the vintage iron section, drooling over the Scout.
I swear, I think that when it comes to motorcycles, us motofolk have all the impulse control of a three-year old on a sugar rush! It’s late night on August 23, Chris is checking the Scouts eBay listing, it is in the final minutes, a handful of bids, reserve not met, zero feed back on the seller, but the bike looks good, so does the price. The hamster on the wheel inside Chris’ brain is going full tilt…. Well, he did enter that race, but the WL is not ready…. And this would do nicely…. At the last-minute Chris pulls the trigger…. He is the high bidder, he wins the Scout…. Have you ever had one of those “oh shit” moments? Yup, that was Chris, he thought maybe he wouldn’t make the reserve, but that had been lowered in the last minutes, he figured somebody might bid the last second and beat him, nope, he was the high bidder. Chris had just spent money he didn’t have. Figuring he would tell her in the morning, Chris did his best not to wake his wife, and slipped quietly into bed.
The next morning Chris was a bit of a coward, he didn’t tell his wife what he had done the night before. He did his best to logic out the reasons to delay telling her…. The price he bought the Scout for was so low it had to be a scam, right? Or, perhaps the seller would back out, yes, that might happen…. Maybe the best thing to do is wait…. Chris got a temporary reprieve later that day when his wife went into labor.
Nothing lasts forever, and neither did his reprieve, the seller finally reached out to Chris three days after the baby was born. There was no escaping it, everything was true, it was not a scam, Chris had bought the Scout. The seller was understanding about Chris’ situation with the new baby, but he still wanted to complete their business. Chris was faced with a horrifying reality, he would now have to explain to his wife what he had done. I can’t imagine how it went, but I’m sure it was like ripping off a band-aid, it only hurt for a second! To quote Chris, his wife Nicole is, “The greatest.” She was actually pretty cool about the situation, a quick trip to the bank the next day secured the funds, and Chris was one step closer to the Indian.
Editor’s Note: This reminds me of the time I bought a puppy without the wife knowing. I was just heading to the neighbors to show them my new puppy, as I opened the front door, there was my wife, coming home from work. The only thing I could think to do was close the door, a brilliant plan! From outside came her sightly muffled voice, “It’s too late! I’ve already seen it!” Yep, we’ve all been there, those little errors in judgement that make life interesting for our spouses!
The Stolen Truck:
Chris had won the bid, he had the funds, only one more issue to deal with, the Scout was 1,000 miles away in San Antonio.
If you have a family you will understand why Chris didn’t drive right on down to Texas and pick up his bike, a new baby in the house can keep you busy! Chris was lucky enough to have a friend who lived in Texas that could pick up the bike for him. Chris’ friend Buck is involved in the vintage motorcycle community, and is the co-owner of Carson Classic Motors Museum, in Livingston, Texas. Needless to say Buck is well qualified to check out the Scout and pick it up, so on September 1, he is headed to San Antonio to get the Scout. After a through check and an exchange of funds, the Scout is on the truck and headed for Livingston. Chris had received a text from Buck letting him know the bike had been picked up and all was well, a little later, Chris gets a second text with not so good news, during a rest stop, Buck’s truck was stolen along with the Scout! Of course Chris is crapping his pants over the news, but in a few minutes it’s Buck calling, laughing his ass off over the prank! I guess Chris could take this in good humor, Buck was doing him a solid favor, Livingston and San Antonio are four hours apart, making for a long day behind the wheel for Buck. The Scout was a non runner when Buck picked it up, but by the time Chris made it to Texas, Buck had it running strong.
On The Jersey Shore:
“The Race Of Gentlemen,” is a vintage race, limited to period vehicles only, 1935 or older for autos, and 1947 or older for motorcycles. In the early days both auto and motorcycle races were held on beaches, so in that tradition, this race is on the beach, it’s also a strictly “period correct” race with only authentic modifications allowed. To be authentic Chris needed to prep his bike to race, stripping the lights and adding the proper number plates. There was additional sorting to do to make it race ready, but Chris was running out of time, he had picked on September 19, and the race was scheduled for October 2, giving him roughly two weeks to get it dialed in. He got a bit of a break when hurricane Joaquin smashed into Wildwood that weekend, the promoters pushed the race back giving Chris time to finish his prep, make it to the race, and tear up some sand.
Home From The Beach:
I had been communicating with Chris about shooting his Scout, and soon after his return from the beach, our schedules finally meshed, and we arranged a session. The weather in Atlanta had been shit in the fall of 2015 with more than its share of stormy days, even on the day we met it was threatening rain, all we could do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.
Chris already had his Scout in the front yard when I pulled up. I don’t know if you have ever noticed this, but vintage american iron has a smell that’s distinctive. To me it seems to be a mix of gas, grease, and old leather all blended together, as far as I can tell, every vintage runner has it. It hit me the moment I stepped out of the car, it was made even more prominent because the Scout had just been running and the engine was hot. Chris had been out only moments before, tearing up and down the side streets in his neighborhood. This might have been ok, but his Indian was still kitted out in race trim, not quite legal for the street. He hadn’t even washed the bike to prepare for the shoot, it still had sand and salt on it from racing on the beach. All I could do is shrug and start shooting, after all, race bikes are rarely pristine, especially ones this old.
Some Guy Named “Dick”:
We were winding down the shoot because I had most likely pressed Chris’s limits of being photographed.
I was getting some final snaps of the Scout when I noticed a name in very faded paint on the underside edge of the seat. So I asked, “Hey Chris, who’s Dick?”
Chris admitted he did not know, and it certainly didn’t match the names of any of the previous owners. Another mystery to be solved, clearly this Indian had many, many, layers of history to be discovered. Later, while I was doing research for this article, I was lucky enough to interview Ron Peck and ask details about the bike. Of course I just had to ask about the seat, and who “Dick” might be. It turns out that the seat once belonged to Dick McAfee, another friend of Bill’s, and also a class “C” racer. Dick was #88, and along with his brother Hugh, #89, tore up tracks on both coasts, including racing at Daytona. Yet another layer to the history of Chris’s Scout revealed, I am so grateful to Ron for sharing this information! I think it is interesting that Chris’s plate number 83 is a combination of both these famous racer’s numbers, I’m sure this was a total coincidence, but was it? The Scout had ended up in the hands of the one person who could truly appreciate the depth of its history. All I will say is sometimes the Gods Of Speed move in mysterious ways! Can I get a “Hell Ya!” for the Gods?
Back To The Beach:
Chris will be back at Wildwood again this year, it will be interesting to see what the off-season work to the engine will yield. But, his Scout has not just been setting, as I mentioned before, Chris rides his Indian on the street, when it’s not in race kit, it has tags, lights and it is not uncommon to see it on the streets of Atlanta. Yup, Chris is living the dream!
Words By: Terry Cavender
Images By: Terry Cavender
Additional Images Supplied By: Ken Nagahara, Ron Peck, Chris Price
A Special Thanks To: Ron Peck for being so gracious with your time.