New York City’s finest!
By Marty Megregian
There was a time in our history that the city of New York Police (and Fire) Department was awash in Indian motorcycles, as they favored Indians until they were no longer available new from the Springfield, Massachusetts factory. This blurb is about my involvement with one bike in particular, how I got interested in the subject, and an enlightening experience with one of the former officers who actually rode these machines. I have been riding motorcycles for forty plus years. Even in my early years of riding, I always had an interest in antique bikes. When career and finances finally allowed, I jumped in with both feet and have never looked back.
1952 PDNYC Chief
or around 1997, I first met Jim Crocker of Alabama
Indian when he was displaying one of his numerous restored chiefs during
Florida Bike Week. I had gone to the Eustis AMCA
meeting the previous weekend and seen numerous bikes for sale. Knowing
nothing (all right you wise guys, I have learned something in the meantime!)
and feeling a judged bike offered a neophyte a better chance of getting
a relatively correct and real bike, I was snake bitten.
Why Indians? A fellow who is one of my first patients, long term friend, and was quite a horse trader with bikes and cars said: “Everyone has a Harley. Get an Indian!” Life for me hasn't been the same since, either!
So let’s fast forward a few more years. I was always bothered by the fact that the generator system of my '47 Chief never was adequate. There never seemed to be enough juice for running both spot lights full time, and I do like to be seen at night! So, I thought I would get a police generator and stick it in there. At this point, I wasn’t concerned with total originality-just safe nighttime riding. And to make matters worse, one year during Bike Week my stock Autolite generator failed on the way to Doc Batsleer’s annual vintage bike party, and in the process of getting off the road, one of Daytona Beach’s finest took exception to how I pulled off the road and gave me a ticket! That was it.
Enter one Steve Johnston, known to many of us as someone with a keen interest in the unusual and hard to find stuff, Indian fours and parts, as well as some fabulous restorations. Steve had at one time planned to build a police bike, but was thwarted with finding some of the components. Enter me and my desire for a police generator (made by American generator, not Autolite). I bought it from Steve.
Then he mentioned, he never was able to find a 45 amp battery, a necessity (at least from a judging perspective) to do the bike properly, and anyone who knows Steve knows he is about as anal on getting his restorations perfect as it gets. These 45 amp batteries, either Fillrite or H-4 Wisco, haven’t been available in 50 years. I couldn’t believe it, but in five minutes, I found what Steve couldn’t in ten years of looking! A 45 amp NOS never juiced battery!
Police heavy-duty generator
by chance, Jack Weber from New York had come to the Eustis meet with just
such a battery! And Jack, also, has a restored PDNYC machine! The expression
on Steve’s face when I walked in with that battery was priceless. Next,
Steve is telling me, do a police bike. Now where in the hell do you find
something like that? I went over to Crocker’s spot, and lo and behold,
there is a '52 chief basket case! When Jim and I further inspected the
wreckage, we were able to determine it was a former police bike, and had
all the earmarks of being one from New York City. I was bitten! I went
back to Steve and bought everything police he had, including a beautiful,
fully functioning, foot pedal, rear wheel engaging, Sterling siren. The
fun had begun!
Now, some of you can imagine what my wife Annita (the best, most understanding, wife in the world) must have thought. I went to the show to get a generator, and my generator needed a new bike? Something like our wives telling us, they bought a pair of shoes, and now needed an outfit to go with! Right!!! (The '47 would ultimately go to make room for my new favorite bike and perhaps to keep the peace for a while although other bikes have come along and been added to my small collection since!)
1952 Linkert didn't have the "PDNYC" stamp of earlier NYC police versions
and I got to work, Jim on the nuts and bolts of the restoration, and myself
on the hunting, scrounging, begging, pleading, and overall researching.
We actually turned this project in 90 days. It is the one project I have
been involved with where everything more or less went off without a hitch.
Jim, by the way, also had previously restored my 1941 Winner’s Circle Indian
How does one build a bike representing the New York City Police Department? With lots of research, that’s how. I went on the (Indian) warpath finding stuff. By a quirk, somehow I found out about the Indian EPL. And without it, this bike would never have been completed to the degree of accuracy that it was. More on the EPL in a minute. First, I got with Chan Hatley, who had amassed many pictures of period police bikes, especially New York City and Indians in particular. This got me into the entire culture of police bikes. Chan graciously and at no cost lent me his entire collection! Then Roger Hensley added more. Then came the legendary EPL. Ahhhh, the legendary Indian EPL. The Engineering Parts List was one of the closely guarded secrets in the restoration community for possibly over twenty years, and to this day, I will NEVER understand the mentality of not wanting this information shared with the Indian motorcycle community. It had data that not only resolved issues with serial numbers of the 1950 PDNYC order, but listed parts, some hand written in by the factory, that were specific to New York City Police Department ONLY! I hit the mother lode as a result.
Without the parts list there would have been no reference to the fact that PDNYC used spokes that were the same diameter for 18 inch wheels on a 16 inch rim, in other words, heavy duty spokes. The police department sent RFP’s (request for proposal) out to Indian for how they wanted their motorcycles built (read CHEAP). They were considerably less than the cost of a civilian machine. To restore one now, however, is considerably more! No extra chrome, no tank badges, no unneeded decorative emblems, no fishtail on the muffler, etc. They also specified Linkert carbs. I have never been able to prove it, but believe they never willingly bought a bike with the AMAL set up, as no original RFP has ever surfaced that I’m aware of.
No fishtail on PDNYC mufflers
aware that anyone advertising an original, un restored one of these bikes
is not being absolutely correct. While a few un restored bikes have surfaced
and remain un restored, NONE are original (there was a group of five or
so saved with consecutive numbers supposedly which have since been dispersed).
ALL were modified, bastardized, changed according to the mechanic working
on them at the time as needed. Parts went from one to another regardless
year; motors were routinely on other than the bike they came with. Indian
specified Motolamp headlights, for example, except by 1952 they were probably
out (also from the EPL!) and used more expensive sealed beam. They have
also surface with Motolamp on later models, however, which indicates either
inconsistency from Indian, or further proof parts were taken off earlier
bikes and recycled.
Pictures of training bikes show them with things like headlights removed. 1952 bikes also had the shorter kicker arm installed. I changed mine after judging to the longer version (used later '52 and '53) making it easier on my leg! The '52 motors used higher compression heads with marked head bolts, usually having a raised N on them at the time, and they are much harder to kick over. Later ones (especially 5 digit '53s) had captain’s wheels or other markings as well on the head bolts. Unless one is fortunate to find an unmolested motor, chances are they are plain un marked head bolts. The thinner, milled high compression heads also used an additional secondary, thin head bolt washer on top of the standard head bolt washer to keep the head bolt from bottoming out and damaging the threads.
Enter another stroke of perfect timing luck. A week or two before the bike was finished, on a visit to North Carolina to visit Spud Clark, I found a motor in Spud’s shop that was a daily rider and not original. Spud graciously consented to trade me the head bolts for standard ones knowing I was building a point bike. This was one of the last fine detail points that just seemed to fall my way on this project. Off to Jim for some last minute cad plating and I had a perfect set of matching, rare, raised letter head bolts. Then Steve Johnston came across with original, still in the blue box, black base Champion J-5 sparkplugs! Note these are different from modern J-5's both in appearance as well as box and thread for the brass thumb screw. Note that '50-'51 used J-6 plugs, another EPL statistic, while '52-'53 used the J-5's. Steve also had those perfect spark plug wires he made using the original Rajah crimping tool he had turned up. Chris Matthews had the later version Autolite coil NOS in the original box to complement the ignition system. Steve also had original, in the box John Bull rubbers for holding various sections of the wiring harness. There are five used for this purpose.
Now, if anyone is wondering where the radio is, there isn’t one. New York City, it turns out, was blessed with a call box on virtually every other corner. An officer had only to pull over and call the station! Besides, finding an existing police radio of the time is virtually impossible. Both Motorola and RCA at the time usually insisted that radios be returned upon being damaged, retired, or updated or traded due to their protecting of their trade secrets. They usually remained the property of the manufacturer at that time. Only a few are known to exist from anywhere of the late '40s early '50s period from motorcycle use.
Then the parts details
just fell into place like never before. Robin Markey’s buddy Darcy from
Australia had the special fender mounting bracket for the fire extinguisher
(the Australian connections would continue when Jim Parker, Parker
Indian of Melbourne Australia, contacted me for help in providing documentation
and a few pieces for an identical PDNYC bike he was building!). Found a
motorcycle type (this is on the label) Pyrene extinguisher next. Indian
Frank helped out with an M-352 Linkert (note: PDNYC had stopped special
marking of carbs before this time). PDNYC was stamped on many M-343 and
M-344 carbs and possibly some other years. Jim had an original Nelson muffler
in still useable condition.
1952 PDNYC oddities:
Jim even had a pair of Unity pan cake spot lights that were the exact type I needed. After, he realized he goofed on that when he realized I now had the correct spots for my bike, and he had generic repops on his '53 PDNYC police bike! Jim also never had access nor had heard of the EPL himself prior to this and he restored professionally. Then I turned up the true, very rare, Indian tag that mounts on the earlier style unity spots that have the large eyebrow “crown” on top. Steve Johnston donated the battery frog. Steve had earlier researched Indian police bikes of the '50s and found a part number only a few were aware of. The large 45 amp battery used a wooden frog! He had gotten the last known NOS one in existence from Jim Sutter (since copied by me for a few more guys building these bikes). I then found a true NOS key switch, particular to PDNYC (now know as NYPD) in that there was no key, but just a knob. The knob was different from the earlier style military large round knob seen on other police bikes. Turns out that only the toolbox used a key, and often, the tool box left with the officer!
All the sheet metal turned out to be original and was in great shape. No surprises there. The motor was, of course, most critical. On one visit to Jim’s, I took Carl Sorenson (Apopka Indian, and one hell of a motor head). Carl, one of my closest buds in the world, wanted to make sure the motor was built the way HE wanted, as he maintains a lot of my stuff! Once he gave his seal of approval to what Jim was doing, it was time to move to completion. At a later date Carl saved my butt when one of the lifter adjustments somehow stripped and he was able to replace it without tearing down the motor, and as a result, it has never run stronger.
Now, how does one build a fabulous point bike and hide a new 4-speed overdrive trans? Once again, enter Carl Sorenson. We took the parts needed to make a fake tension adjuster and also from scratch made the oil fill hole. When it was finished, on quick examination you can not see anything out of place at all. Only an expert judge could notice a slight difference in the thickness of the modern top. This was critical in producing a 99 point AMCA Winner’s Circle machine. To know you are giving up points right off the bat means everything else must be perfect.
There were lots more interesting details concerning parts of interest. Finding an original GE headlight bulb without the alignment nubs has become next to impossible. You can grind them off, but finding an original beats modifying a new bulb. Found one of those. And thankfully, Butch Gimpel recently supplied me a few more for my 41 four and a spare as well!
Pancake spot with raised crown
the voltage regulator was a real passion for me. All the ones sold as NOS
today are incorrect! They are brown on top, and not the correct VRR sub
number (VRR4007 on brown ones). The real deal is VRR4001B and thanks again
to Indian Frank Vandevelde for this. And they have a black top! See pictures
of this and the original box. This is right off the EPL. One of my additional
studies regarding the VRR series regulator was after studying many examples,
that they had Hudson on the label as well as being built by the Electric
Auto-Lite Company. The large police use regulator also mounts on the top
of the chain guard and uses an additional in line fuse. The large police
generator was basically a car generator. They will keep spotlights lit
Next, how to find a '52-'53 only floor board dimmer. The closest thing to the original available today has a terminal at each end, and one in the middle. Originals have two terminals at one end, a single at the other. I was able to cobble together enough of a broken original to make a dental rubber base mold, relocate and soldier the terminals in their correct positions, and build up a new switch base with denture repair resin to perfectly reproduce a working, exact copy floorboard switch. I have since found an original that took various pieces of three others to build one operable switch. Please note that these dimmers originally had a small, rubber boot covering the top of the knob which probably were kicked off most bikes in the first few days. Anyone doing a '52-'53 Chief needs one, but I don’t advise riding with them! Toney Watson (of Rocky’s) said when the supply is gone of the tiny rubber boots, they are gone; that’s it.
An interesting background of the spotlight switch is next. Indian had at least three versions of the Indian vertical style switch. One, used only on early verticals, was all open internally. The second was done with two or three wires, for either headlight application ('50-'51 Chiefs in addition to the verticals) with three wires, or two wires for spotlight application. These are all bakelite internally.
The neatest part of that was when several of us years later at Robin Markey’s shop came to the conclusion, that this switch, other than changing the knob and housing, was the same as used on the '37 only dimmer! Get a knob and housing, you now have a '37 dimmer. Tom Fickau has those parts. I built several experimentally for my '37 Sport Scout and '37 Chief, and they work perfect! (see photos below)
Another interesting tidbit was the spotlight bulbs themselves. Finding red 6 volt police use sealed beam spot lights is next to impossible. They were discontinued over 40 years ago, and I tried every internet bulb specialist in the world. Enter one Walt Curro of Staten Island, affectionately know to us all as Big Walt (Supercycles, his shop, is on Staten Island). Walt’s uncle rode for PDNYC, and is pictured in one of their well know and preserved poses that one can see on a virtual tour of the police museum.
Walt also has a former
PDNYC Indian Chief bike, currently in the police museum.
Walt knew many of the mechanics that worked on these bikes for years. A
while back, Walt gets a call from one of his contacts from the police department
that they were disposing of obsolete items found in the police attic. What
turns up but a small stash of 6 volt red sealed beam bulbs! Walt
was only too happy to take them off their hands, and several came my way
as a result. Walt also had made the custom PDNYC decals and numbers for
the tanks, which he sent to me.
Autolite voltage regulators
(extra large photo for details here see note)
to make an unobtainable 1937 switch (see text also):
1952 spotlight switch and rubber gasket
An original Indian face two piece lens was next. Found one on eBay that had been repaired. The lens looked orange when I received it. Typically, when they came apart, someone would use some sort of cement and ruin the lens because of using the wrong type cement. I was able to get it apart with the help of various dental tools, clean and re glue and the lens is absolutely NOS quality. No yellowing or discoloring at all.
Then, a windshield, NOS in the box showed up on e-bay and it landed right on my handlebars. Then Howard Heilman managed to get my seat done with the extra padding as originally specified by the police department in record time.
Extra thick padding
funniest moment I had with the bike was when Jim and I were doing some
final adjustments and tuning, he took it for a ride down the highway from
his then Alabama home and shop, when he decided it was time to test the
siren. From the hill overlooking the highway you could see over the road
where there were some other small homes, farms, and shacks. Suddenly, at
least 12 illegals were heading for the hills like mice scattering when
they heard the siren. I think Jim almost lost control of the bike he was
laughing so hard.
I was also blessed with being the lead motorcycle in our annual Toy Run hosted by ABATE which gave me an opportunity to operate the red lights and siren at will legally for 20 miles leading at least 15,000 motorcycles. That was a blast.
As a tribute to New York’s finest, I placed the bike in my waiting room with a sign remembering those lost in the 911 attack. A patient and friend John Allen came forward after seeing the bike and gave me pictures of his dad, John Allen Sr., who rode for PDNYC in the late '40s early '50s on Indian chiefs. He also lent me his father’s hat and badge, both on display with the bike. Then he called me one day and said a friend of his father's (deceased) would like to see me. He had ridden with his father and did he have some stories to tell! “Black Jack” was his nickname when he rode, and a finer 85 plus year old gentleman I had never met. When I showed him the copies of pictures I had acquired from Chan Hatley, it brought tears to his eyes. He knew all the officers pictured by name. I developed a strong sense of respect as a result of this for New York City and it’s finest, and I had never been a fan of New York anything prior to this.
Then, a few years later, my craziness went a step further when I acquired a 1951 FDNYC Indian dispatch-tow #704, one of only 6 built, which was so unusual in that in 1951 it used a Sport Scout motor not used since 1942, and sealed reverse transmission not used since 1940, hydraulic brakes (never used by Indian previously), and a telescopic '50s Chief front end never used before on a trike. But I’ll save that for another story! A visit to traindds.com will show pictures of my waiting room with both bikes, which are taken out routinely for operation and maintenance. Merry Christmas to all VI-ers world wide, Marty Megregian, DDS, Merritt Island, Florida
PDNYC hat and badge