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Chief appreciation
By Kathleen Ostrander

Lew Fehring has an Indian Chief stashed in his workshop in Chatham. He also has an Indian sitting on a desk in his office. Fehring, president of Fehring Ornamental Iron Works, has an appreciation of fine vintage motorcycles and shows it by lovingly collecting, restoring and riding them.

That last part is important for to truly appreciate a motorcycle — it must be ridden.

Two years before the creators of Harley-Davidson worked the bugs out of their combustion single engine, George Hendee — with a little help — hit the road on his Indian Chief motorcycle.

Originally manufactured under the Hendee Manufacturing Co. name, Indians are revered and appreciated by even the most diehard Harley-Davidson fan. Fehring’s 1946 Indian Chief side hack was his father’s bike.

“He bought it when he got out of the service with his mustering-out pay,” Fehring said. “It’s really rare.” That’s an understatement; a quick perusal of Internet sales sites has most 1946 side hacks for sale with no engines or in need of complete restoration.

Not only does Fehring’s run, but he can kick start it with one bold, fluid motion. Owners of older Harleys and Indians can appreciate that. For all their attributes, one of the flaws of the original kick-starts was that they rarely started on the first kick, causing bikers to let loose a stream of colorful language while they flailed away at the ratcheting lever.

The movies that showed large groups of bikers riding off into the sunset with a rumble after one kick on the ratcheting lever were real fiction. 

Fehring did make one modification to the bike, and purists will excuse it — he added the iconic Indian Chief front fender ornament to his bike. It didn’t hit the market until 1947. Otherwise the bike is original — including the word “Indian” on the gas tank, which was stuck to the tank with tape on the early bikes. The newer models have the word painted on with clear coat over it.

The detailing on the bike is superb, from the Indian etched on the metal piece on the front fender to the script “Indian” stamped on the foot pedal. 

One day at the car wash, Fehring was wearing his Indian jacket and was approached by an Indian owner. Originally the man wanted Fehring’s help getting parts for his 1908 Indian. Through a long process, which involved a promise to restore the bike, Fehring acquired it.

Turns out the bike, which looks an awful lot like a Schwinn with a small motor attached, is actually a 1910. “It’s cleaned up now. It was all rusty when I got it, and now I am hunting for parts,” Fehring said. “Parts for bikes before 1913 are hard to come by and singles, rather than v-twins are even harder to come by.”

Fehring’s 1910 has whitewall tires and the name, Hendee Manufacturing, is scanned in real gold leaf on the frame. Having a 1910 Indian is the stuff of dreams for collectors.

“My dad was an Indian guy, so I just became an Indian guy,” Fehring said with a big grin.

Fehring’s dad, Bill, raced motorcycles, as did Fehring; and now, so does his son, Josh. They race a 1952 Triumph which is a replica of the bike Bill Fehring raced.

His 1948 S7 Sunbeam also is a collector’s prize. Sunbeam first began making motorcycles in 1912, and in 1946 they introduced the S7. The S7 was nicknamed the “Gentleman’s Tourer” and of the three similar models, it is the most sought after. There were only 2,000 produced, and most were in Mist Green, not black.

He also has a more modern though still-rare bike, a 1999 Excelsior-Henderson Super X. Excelsior was actually started by Schwinn in Chicago. It was a premier racing bike sought after by competitors in the racing world. It went bankrupt in 1929 and closed in 1931.

Two brothers purchased the name in 1999, managed one full year of production and then ended up filing bankruptcy.

Fehring has other bikes, including a 1952 Harley 125 known as the Harley Hummer and an older Honda. 

“I just like older bikes. I think older is better — I’m just that kind of guy,” Fehring said.

Story published Friday, May 7, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 3 )

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