Applying Organization Theory and Knowledge Engineering to the Restoration of an Indian Motorcycle
Christmas 2004 Chief Project
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Riding With a Grin
The Durable Reliable Indian Motorcycle
By Alan Campbell

A few years ago, I wrote a story about my 1947 Indian Chief motorcycle, a home made electronic ignition and some other related things like the DeHavilland Beaver float plane, an encounter with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a Harley drag bike that went much faster than my Indian.  Recall that a tappet broke on the Indian after 9,000 mi of happy riding. June 2002. 

The motor developed power and ran smoothly, but some intriguing sounds demanded an explanation. So I took the motor right out of the bike for a thorough look. A good friend who restores vintage autos came by to help. The oil pump came off and ďvoilaĒ! Perhaps those sloppy camshaft bushings caused the tappet failure? But the answer wasnít so simple. We proceeded with triage and saw no shortage of problems, worn out parts and broken stuff. As each part came off, another jaw dropper or two saw daylight. It went on and on. A disappointing adventure of discovery that my ďfine engineĒ was not much good anymore. This engine served me well for years.  9000 miles  after a professional rebuild, very few useful parts remained. Mostly I now had cracked, warped and worn out parts. Disappointing, yes.  But I had to do something, either throw the bike away or get a new engine.  Interestingly, with some parts where I reasonably expected to see wear and tear, I found happy surprises. The cylinders and valves looked barely worn. Iím still not sure what to make of this but thankfully, I had some good engine parts.

Here before me lay a tempting challenge, to build a durable and reliable Indian Motorcycle once and for all. Satisfactory motorcycling demands reliability. A 1940ís magazine advertisement in my collection shows happy Indian Motorcycle riders arriving by single lane road at a lake way back in the woods. Another advertisement pictures our happy Indian Motorcycle rider exploring back roads in farm country.  Yes. This appeals, especially if fishing factors in to the picture. 

My bike itself is very reliable, with the power unit only being problematic. At the time, I considered that the truly reliable power unit would utilize modern reproduction engine cases and the new Chief-overdrive 4 speed constant mesh transmission. I could see myself arriving at some really great fishing spot not by 1947 Beaver float plane like the international fishing buffs, but instead by 1947 Indian Chief motorcycle. I consulted Indian motorcycle riders, parts suppliers, custom engine builders and transmission people. I chose to purchase most of the parts from one single supplier and to hire a separate specialist engine builder on the other side of the continent. I wrote out a cheque to start the custom built reproduction engine project and began making arrangements for the new transmission. More than a year later, older and wiser, now I was fishing.

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Late 1940's DeHavilland Beaver float plane with original Pratt & Whitney radial 9 cylinder engine. At the dock, Tyee Lake, northern BC, 2002.

Click photo (or here) for the story of Alan's 2002 VI article about his Chief.

Fly fishing for Salmon, the Grizzly Bear and the Durable Reliable Indian Chief Motorcycle.

The not too cold water of the Babine River flowed smoothly, lapping somewhere between crotch and armpit. Hi tech waders keep a person warm and dry. Maybe not for long, Iím stumbling, fighting for balance and wrestling the rod. The fishing reel screams at a salmon thrashing straight away down the river. The rod whips and bows. Soon the reel peels off fluorescent red backing. My fishing buddy laughs great belly laughs and offers no help whatsoever. He doesnít even get out the net. It occurs to me that the fishing is rather good and that Iím really happy. 

The Grizzly bear steps out of the bushes. This undisputed top of the food chain moves real close. He ambles, lolls his head from side to side and psychopathically eyes this and that.  His eyes, little brown spheres, devoid of empathy, mechanically measure the scene. He contemplates dining on me, my salmon or my buddy perhaps. Maybe he contemplates a dreadful horror of the type that leaves big round scars and a bizarre hair line. 

This encounter begins close by where I stand. Not good but not futile either. The situation develops quickly, irreversibly, and much too close. Long, black claws, dark brown head, brown neck and brown legs contrast with a shiny coat of long blond, straight hair.  Limp split ends dangle almost to the ground. A Griz with bangs Eh?  Not funny. The snout turns up flat and piggy like. Woof!

Donít look. Reel in. Fold your rod. Stand tall and walk away like you donít care much.  Keep your mind blank and feel no fear. This time tested method for safe egress from a close Grizzly encounter often works, and is more consistent than the other methods. Fast work with firearms is for TV. Not here. 

When I started on the durable, reliable Indian engine project long ago, I had imagined doing this very thing and then departing on my smooth running properly restored durable and reliable 1947 Indian Chief motorcycle. One year later than Iíd planned; here I was, stepping up a trail worn deep by Grizzlies over the last 1000 years or so, drawing closer to where my Indian Chief would be waiting. The Grizzly stays at the river, but Iím not out of the woods yet. Next, and here is where reality differs from my plan, my bike isnít there. Not stolen. My bike is back in my shop, because, after much time, lots of money and many emails, I still donít have an engine. But thereís hope. 

I step smartly down the path not looking over my shoulder, trying not to trip in my waders, feeling like a duck in the salmon fishing world and being considerably humbled in the Indian motorcycle world. I wanted my motorcycle to ride.  Instead, equipment and fish flop into the truck box. The diesel starts with a burst of sound, settles, and warms at a low roar. Off for home with the stereo tape on, and thinking once again about my 1947 Indian Chief, I wondered how it could be that I was still engineless after more than a year of struggle. Letís see. Early last summer the tappet broke. 

After the tappet broke, I pulled the engine out of the bike, and took it apart with my friend. One doesnít take an engine apart because of a broken tappet. Even though the bike had performed admirably well, unusual sounds from the engine with vague explanations from the builder generated deep curiosity. A buzzing which sounded like a vibrating roller bearing, a tremendous amount of metal coming out of the transmission, lots of whining gear sounds even at idle, a pronounced sliding sound and even a pinched front inner tube peaked my curiosity initially. Actually, the front tire blow out occurred at speed with instant consequences making the grizzly encounter seem tame by comparison. This tested my riding arts to the limit. I really didnít have much confidence in the work Iíd had done on my bike after the blow out. Disassembly revealed serious problems with basically every part of the work I had farmed out, except for the handle bars. This included engine top and bottom, transmission, brakes and wheels. It is true I briefly suffered unhappiness on discovering big problems with the engine. I even experienced the odd uncharitable thought or two. However, heartfelt apologies and graciously offered new parts brought all negativity to a close. And point of fact, for 9000 miles my bike ran well, developed more than adequate power for my purposes and brought great joy in the riding and viewing.

Initially, I expected the reproduction engine to take three or four months  and to be riding my motorcycle at the end of the riding season. So I had time to go through the rest of my bike and set it up exactly the way I wanted. What transpired was a very careful refit of the entire bike. I didnít rush. Cleaning reached antiseptic proportions. Most everything came apart.  We got fresh tires and a new drive chain. Carburetor was disassembled, cleaned, polished then reassembled. I refurbished the distributor, which, with cleaning and painting returned to exquisite levels of sparkle and delicate precision. Rock chips vanished. Wheel and frame alignment matched perfectly. Springs were set up just so. Mottled surfaces saw new ďcad platingĒ. 

I did rebuild my bike a few years ago, completely and thoroughly. Now, this second time, comfortable familiarity with all the parts led to even more satisfying work. I developed a heightened appreciation for the curving lines of every part, not just the fenders and tanks. The fork links, kicker arm, slider brackets and other parts got lots of attention and appreciation with regard to delicious shape and functional line. Iím not sure my family and friends understood all the lustful doting on my sensuous motorcycle, but they accepted it and everyone came over to help or watch at one time or another.

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Northern Grizzly Bear, Ursus Horribilis, illustrates decision making by force.

(What has this got to do with rebuilding an Indian engine?? Read on...)

After the rolling chassis was fully and completely redone, I arranged with my parts supplier to receive the 4 speed overdrive transmission at the factory. I planned to ship the custom engine from the builderís shop to the transmission factory and then mate the engine, transmission and chassis right there. I would get some good pictures for this story and the folks at the factory would have some fun too. However, as time passed, the engine project seemed to grow in complexity and to lose clarity with regard to completion date. Eventually, I set a date and drove to the Chief-overdrive 4 speed transmission factory  near Bellingham  Washington,  not far from home by Canadian standards.  Means less than 2000 km. I met Frank Byford, the engineer responsible for design and manufacturing of the four speed transmission. Frank gave me a tour which included design, manufacturing and assembly. We partially assembled a transmission, just so I could see how the transmissions went together. 

Frank and his son treated me to Hawaiian lunch at a diner down the road. The drive along tidy roads passed fields, cattle and farm equipment. Perfect for Indian Motorcycles which are sort of agricultural by my standards. Right away I sensed the ďcan doĒ approach to things that I quite like about people and businesses in this part of the world. Quite infectious actually. I got inspired to get that old motorcycle back on the road again without delay. I still didnít have an engine almost a year after that project started. I worried about potential further delays which seemed likely if the past is a good indicator of the future. How could I get that transmission bolted on to some kind of engine and be back riding my bike soon? Perhaps I could restore my own engine again using parts I had left, the replacement parts from the first restoration and other stuff to be acquired one way or another. My restoration could become my spare eventually, once I had the reproduction engine in hand. Problem solved. Lunch tasted great.

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Chief Overdrive transmission.
Get one from your friendly local Indian dealer today, and you'll never look back!

Available in the US from selected distributors. Elsewhere ask your local dealer. Photo shows happy Indian owner taking delivery of his new Overdrive from Indian Parts Europe at the Danish Rally.

Check out Alan's great Chief Overdrive VI article here!


Wrestling with Grizzly Bears-restoring the trashed engine at home.

When I returned home and with the new transmission for inspiration, I looked for the parts I needed and began to collect them.  The engine case half was most difficult to find, but eventually one showed up on eBay.  Some cam followers in good shape showed up with some decent cams.  I found a good oil pump to rebuild. I had my distributor and carburetor still. With parts already supplied, I had enough to build an engine. I bought tools from Michael Breeding.  Having tools just right for the job, beautiful to behold and a joy in the hand adds not only to pleasure in swinging wrenches, but also produces better work.

I sent pistons, valves and other parts off to be cryogenically treated, micro polished and impingement coated with tungsten disulfide. This finish produces very satisfactory results for me with sporting equipment. I expected the same on my bike. Once polished and treated, these parts installed with particularly gratifying smoothness of fit, and seemed to add little friction to the motor as I assembled it. In particular, the wrist pins fit just so. When I shook the piston, the rings slid around liquidly with a delicious musical sound. Well fitting low friction parts theoretically add durability and reliability. Even without performance benefits, superbly fitting parts greatly added to the enjoyment of working on the engine. 

Click to visit the MicroBlue website
Click for more information about MicroBlue coating.
I accept full responsibility for cracking the replacement case half. I didnít need to weld up the stripped threads in the scraper hole. Some other fix, say a HeliCoil, N-cert, thread repair compound or larger bolt and rethreading would have worked fine. I could have used Locktite and a plug, then drilled and tapped. Wonderful hindsight, yes. Next time, take your time Al and think! 

The repair of the cracked case descended into mechanicís despair. Lumpy welding with burn marks around the edges made this case look worse than ever. This aluminum didnít weld properly, so now I had two wrecked case halves. How awkward. Imagine what it would be like to be restoring engines for a living and be running into problems like this? I imagined stormy customers demanding the engine right now!  Wrecked parts and no replacements in sight, awful! Who would pay for the replacement once found? What if a replacement could not be found? No happy thoughts here. 

I took stock of my situation.  1. 1967-1975 bike looked ratty, ran well for years. 2. Stored bike then rebuilt with contracted motor, transmission and wheel restoration. 3. Bike looked fabulous and ran well, but the rebuild didnít last.  4. New motor project slipped off the fast track to an ill defined time line. 5. Costs and complexity were mounting spectacularly. 6.  Spring 2003, I had a fine Chief-overdrive four speed transmission with modern engineering design and materials. It would fit my engine if I had one. 

On the surface, problems like this may seem rather desperate. Fortunately, quite the opposite is true. Applied organization theory and knowledge engineering methods can set floundering organizations onto a productive course.

Applying Organization Theory and Knowledge Engineering to the Restoration of an Indian Motorcycle.

Let us consider that organizations are groups of people who collaborate to reach a mutually desired goal, which is the overriding goal and purpose of the organization. Collaboration in the organization requires that people follow rules. Much rule following is uncomplicated stuff unconsciously learned and more or less automatically followed without much or any reflective thought. According to some anthropologists, an organizationís culture comes directly from these automatic rules. Culture facilitates collaboration because standardized ways of doing things and predictable patterns of behavior lead to dependable outcomes with very little friction and in a timely way. Arguably, the cultural rules of behavior make an Englishman an Englishman for example, and Iím going to argue here that cultural rules make an Indian Motorcycle Community member part of that community.

At the heart of every organization lies a social, network structured by cultural rules which link individuals and groups, each with a specialized focus directed overall  at the organizationís main goal and purpose. The specialized groups make up the constituent structural elements of the organizational goal. In simple social networks, people meet, exchange ideas, knowledge, things and maybe money by following some simple cultural rules. The decision making mechanisms involve only these simple exchanges with nothing complicated like command and control, voting or consensus mechanisms going on. Some thinkers, beginning with early anthropologists believe that these structured social networks built of cultural rules cleanly differentiate human beings from other animals more than anything else.

I call the social networks which define the core structure of an organization  the Jacobs Network, after the philosopher Jane Jacobs. Jacobs in my view described with great clarity (a) how people collaborate with simple exchanges in social networks (b) that safe and comfortable environments increase the amount and quality of collaborative decision making. (c) That increasing collaborative decision making improves economic activity and the quality of life. 

Jacobs also argued philosophically that in addition to decision making by networking, more complex organizations use specialized decision mechanisms overlaid on the social network and suited to the organizational goal. A business or an army has to compete effectively or perish for example. Therefore in addition to simple exchanges in the army social network, decision makers also use rules for a chain of command, lines of accountability and designated responsibility. These rules facilitate rapid, controlled choice. So the success of the command control organization depends firstly on how well the core social network supports the organizational goal and secondly on how well the chain of command and lines of accountability support special requirements of  the core social network. The key idea here is that in order for organizations to work well, the available decision mechanisms must suit the actual types of decisions which the organization needs to make in order to reach its goal. 

In addition to showing what makes communities work well, Jacobs also illustrated how failure of decision mechanisms to support the organizational goal doesnít mean the decisions wonít happen.  Without collaborative mechanisms suitable for the task at hand, organization members proceed as best they can, and this generally means decision making by force. There are many kinds and levels of force. The use of armed force comes to mind, but this form of decision making is extreme. Trickery, passive aggressive behavior and secret action without collaboration also constitute decision making by force. So if we find organizational goals in the Indian Motorcycle community that require  inspections, accountability and chain of command, but only simple exchange mechanisms available, we expect to see some but not all decision making using force not collaboration. This is the only option left if the necessary collaborative mechanisms do not exist. Most of us have seen decision making by force when organizations falter even just a little. Jacobsí examples of force in her book, Systems of Survival, might include: sit in protests, road blockades, spiking trees to damage loggers' saws, camping in the tree tops to prevent falling, mass arrests and so on. The point here is that most force isnít violent, but most people prefer informed collaboration for decision making.

The Jacobs Network concept and other parts of Organization Theory have rock solid engineering applications. Planners routinely use Jacobís ideas for developing safer, more comfortable communities. In a completely different application, a Knowledge Engineer might interview a world renowned expert on exploring for molybdenum ore deposits, and build something like a Jacobs network out of the decisions which lead to the goal of discovering a buried and hidden ďmolyĒdeposit. When the Knowledge Engineer conducts the interview, a Jacobs Network of orderly ideas tumbles out of the expertís mouth, so fast that note taking becomes a challenge for the Knowledge Engineer. I think this happens because the expertís ideas embody  ďmolyĒ exploration community organization culture. And because cultural rules are standard, automatic and predictable in execution they get used without much introspection, deliberation or debate. It doesnít take long to draft a knowledge model when working with an expert. In comparison,  working with an extremely knowledgeable scientist seems to incorporate a deep understanding of the first principles of geology, chemistry, physics and earth science. This type of project can become huge and take months.  Usually, the expertís model works well in a practical sense. The expert models can be computerized and set to work processing substantial amounts of generally available information.  The expert program might reject many prospects and then outline a huge deposit like the one found at Mt. Tolman in Washington State. This technology applies broadly without restriction to geology. 

Alternatively, instead of building something that works, the Knowledge Engineer might fix something that doesnít work. An information system development project in a large insurance company is consuming millions, but there arenít any commercial working components yet. Although the fault may seem to lie with the writing of buggy software, this may just be a symptom. Sometimes in organizations, the official organization chart doesnít show how decisions actually happen. Specifically, the official chart doesnít show the actual Jacobs Network. An information system built on that organization chart cannot be completed and will show all kinds of symptoms resulting from decision making by force. The solution which works well is to have a very thorough Jacobs Network constructed as part of the information development project, to involve the system engineers in the process of developing the Jacobs Network and for the system designers and programmers to use the network in their work. Soon useful programs come on line and the bleeding of millions of dollars heals over and dries up completely. Unanticipated good things and surprise benefits tend to occur.  For instance a special insurance program for collector vehicles like our Indians may become easily available. 

I propose applying Organization Theory and Knowledge Engineering methods can benefit the task of getting a well built, durable and reliable engine into a personís Indian Chief motorcycle. When I had lunch with the Irongate machine crew, we talked about our work and interests. We covered the custom machine business, Frankís career racing and designing early motorcycle transmissions, aerospace engineering, designing the Chief-overdrive 4 speed  transmission and of course Knowledge Engineering and Artificial Intelligence.  My insight during Hawaiian Lunch with the Irongate transmission crew was that both of my attempts to put a good power unit in my bike had all the indications of a failing system project in need of some practiced Knowledge Engineering. I can hear my teenage daughter saying ďwell Dad Ö. Duhhh! It is obvious.Ē  I decided to design some organizational decision processes suitable for restoring my own Indian Chief motorcycle. 

Click for the Wikipedia page on Jane Jacobs
Click for more info on Jane Jacobs, her ideas and her work.
The Indian Motorcycle community helps restore a durable and reliable engine for the 1947 Chief.

I planned to restore my terribly run down and diminished motorcycle engine primarily with proper decision mechanisms with tools, parts and money playing a supporting, secondary role.

Designing good decision mechanisms requires understanding the organizationsís goals, those objectives which community members share and for which they agree to collaborate. This isnít always easy, because individuals frequently have trouble articulating a big overriding goal and instead see immediate objectives and problems right in front of them. But history usually helps develop perspective and clarity of vision. 

About a century ago Hendee and Hedstrom came up with a motorized bicycle that would start and accelerate on a hill. Most bicycle riders, particularly with single speed bikes know starting on a hill brings aching legs and the yearning for a good push. Indian provided this in a package not too big or too small and with gorgeous good looks. Iím sure the Indian put a grin on every bicycle riderís face who tried it. Perhaps the grin on the riderís face still holds as the principal shared concept of the Indian motorcycle community today. I see fairly convincing evidence beyond my own immediate experience to suggest that a grin on the riderís face is a primary shared vision for many or most members of the Indian Motorcycle community today. Consider the following.

First, the Laughing Indian Riderís club and magazine, active for the last twenty years or so seems to support the concept of a grin on the riderís face in its very name. 

Second, Jay Leno describes the Indian ride thus:
You shift from First to Second quickly and right away you're into third gear, if you want, at just 15 mph. It's like someone is pushing you from the back. Indians have so much power in the lower ranges. At 60 to 70 mph, they're wonderfully comfortable. Although they're heavy, Indians handle extremely well because the crankshaft and everything is so low. To this day, they are the most fun low-speed bikes you can ride.

Thirdly, much Indian internet discussion focuses on having fun with the Indian motorcycle. As an example, consider a letter from Andre de Chartran to the VI mailing list which I like because of the poetic imagery and use of language. Just reading Andreís letters puts a happy grin on my face, I donít even need the motorcycle.
From:  "andre de chartran" <vieumotard@h...> 
Date:  Mon Mar 5, 2001  2:50 pm
Subject:  just couldn't wait,,

had to see my baby! So, honey,, get my crutches, promise i won't put any weigh on the bad leg, i`m going outside!AHHH,, there she was, under cover in the shed, looking so lonely. After struggling with the cover for a few minutes, she was breathing air again, just gleaming in the few rays piercing through the ajar openings; At this point, my heart always skips a beat and i`m 5 years old, all over again on my b/day! (thank god my girl friend don't think i`m too crazy!). So i politely ask paula to give her a few kick, to get her blood running abit (both paula and chief!), had her hold my crutches while holding the seat railing with one hand and the throttle with theother (i had retarded reviously, gave her a few squirt of motion lotion, one click on the choke, put the weight of my good leg on the pedal,,,Vroom, the roaring music of the comming alive filling the air then suttly comming to idle where she likes to dance for me,,,A few twist of the throttle allowed the eighbors to sneak an envyous peek in our direction. after the engine warmed up nough, it was time for both of us to rest for a while. It filled me with joy, knowing she`s faithfully waiting for me, patiently awaiting the next ride ,, in 2months, god willing. sorry if my anecdote may bore some of the listers, but it make me feel good to share w/the ones who have my devotion, Happy spring to all, frenchy(47chief) 
Finally in these examples of  the Indian Motorcycle goal of riding with a grin, Moen describes the Indian Motorcycle community as follows on the Virtual Indian website. Indian Enthusiasts working together for More Parts, More Indians on the Road and More Fun! 

Click to visit the Virtual Indian Mailing List site
Click to check out the VI mailing list. One of the most active manifestations of The Indian Motorcycle Community on the internet. Currently we have 565 "Listers", but you are welcome to join if you aren't one of us already!
Although many organizations focus over time on the same tried and true organizational goal and purpose, goal or purpose, the Indian Community differs substantially from many other businesses organizations in its history and development. In spite of  the beautiful and popular Indian Motorcycles, after half a century of production, sometime in the 1950ís, the entire management staff,  the chain of command and line of accountability, the part of the Indian Community which makes collaborative command and control  decisions, left and went on to different kinds of motorcycles. Then as I understand it, the managers sort of vanished from Indian history leaving the network, more or less intact with lots of Indians still on the road and dealers busily selling parts and service. Several different organizations with an actual chain of command grasped the US trademark for use with a variety of two wheeled vehicles, but for some reason, they chose not to be part of the Indian community. So we saw the development of Indian motorcycle corporations which were separate organizations from the Indian Motorcycle community. For a modern example, a recently bankrupt Indian Corporation got labeled the ďUndianĒ on the Virtual Indian discussion group in spite of the fact that this company made a big lovely motorcycle with sweeping fenders, good styling and big engines. 

Apparently, the original Indian community continued on more or less with the same goals and objectives after the 1950ís as before, just without the bosses and managers. Indian of Springfield motorcycles are readily available, so are parts, books, technicians, enthusiast groups and entire motorcycles. Reproduction engines and perhaps entire new Indians of the original design look to be readily available soon. It seems possible. I donít see difficult barriers of access to the Indian Community and I think it is easy to leave as well. But the bosses, chain of command and line of accountability are nowhere to be found. Fascinating.

This special history I think is quite wonderful to look at and be part of. Having fun with your Indian motorcycle is a lovely goal. But the pure Jacobs Network structure without overriding control system creates pitfalls for community members. I think I fell into one pitfall with two of  my engine projects.  Here is how. 

When the managers and bosses left the community in the 1950ís they took with them decision mechanisms for scheduling production, inspecting work, training technicians, administering transactions and assigning accountability. Therefore according to this interpretation of events, the only decision making processes remaining and likely to work well, will be the simple exchanges.  The simple exchange decision rules make up the core Jacobs Network structure  of the Indian community. It works like this. I phone Michael Breeding and purchase one of his tools. He wouldnít process my credit card until the tool was shipped. If I donít like it when it arrives, I can send the tool back because we are all in the Indian community together. But that wonít happen because the tool is obviously and transparently a really beautiful thing, just like the Indian Motorcycle.

The engine or transmission in contrast to a tool or part can be gloriously beautiful on the outside but disgusting on the inside, so simple exchanges donít happen so easily. With the engine, you donít necessarily get what you see on the outside. I actually considered taking my engine apart when I got it back from the first restoration project, just to see what had been done, but I lacked confidence in putting it back together. Although Indian published some thin manuals, I havenít seen any detailed standards for rebuilding and restoring so maybe crude inside work is the norm. Maybe it is different for every engine built? Who knows? A poorly rebuilt engine can still run quite well, maybe for more miles than many people put on new motorcycles. I found that out. 

In theory, without some chain of command, a line of accountability, inspection records or  professional certification, the work on engines, transmissions, and other complicated parts necessarily involves decisions by other means. One alternative is decision making by force as opposed to informed collaboration. This presents problems not just for consumers, but for builders and restorers as well. This is a community challenge. 

At the start of this project, I paid a visit to Don Doody (powerslide) at his new island home in the Gulf of Georgia.  Lucky Don, I went from winter into summer paradise on that trip. Don is a professional licensed mechanic. His career spans heavy industrial equipment, police motorcycle work and his own Indian motorcycle business. His shop wasnít ready for motor work when I visited, so I had to keep looking for help. But we had a good visit. After patiently hearing what it is like being a customer of engine work Don illustrated for my edification some of the special challenges in Indian restoration work. I used some non directive interviewing techniques. The ideas flowed freely much the way they do with a ďmolyĒ expert  mentioned earlier. 

I think this view of the Indian motorcycle community is valuable for everyone who cares about Indian motorcycles. It helps us see how the Indian community differs from a typical automotive communities with a vertically integrated, well controlled corporation at the core.

Click for 2003 VI article on New Indians
New Indians? Well, how many do you want? Click for 2003 VI article.
1. Indian restoration customers rarely grasp how complicated and time consuming an Indian engine project is compared to a modern auto engine project. 

2. Customers usually donít comprehend that each restoration is a specialty project, sometimes with quite aged parts that break or present problems in later use. It takes time and specialized skill to orchestrate a restoration. 

3. Restoration mechanics become entangled with unanticipated irregularities involving part manufacturers, part supply houses, and customers. There is no fixed procedure for resolution. For example during final assembly, a flawed drive shaft might snap on torque down of the drive sprocket nut. Perhaps this part came to the project from the customer or maybe it came from the restorerís favorite parts supplier. Regardless, the entire engine and parts of the transmission need to be disassembled. The flywheels need to come apart, and be re trued. You go back almost to the beginning.  A big expense to be sure. No one volunteers to accept responsibility and pay compensation. Who pays? Probably the restorer.  But ultimately, over time, everyone experiences some cost. The owner pays with delayed enjoyment of his ride. Parts maker and supply house lose business and customer loyalty.  The restoration mechanic loses time and money. People who own Indians or who plan to buy an Indian lose confidence. Possibly the market for Indian bikes and parts drops just a little. These losses occur because there is no centrally organized, standard, generally accepted control procedure for quickly resolving issues with Indian motorcycles. 

4. Customers tend to use up time with minor problems. Don told me about a whole weekend of customer warranty support first on the phone and then on the road. Expensive and frustrating for the restoration mechanic to go on a long recovery trip, only to resolve all the mechanical problems with an on site diagnosis of empty gas tank.

5. Customers may not appreciate good quality work and attention to detail, especially inside the engine. But the cost is easy to see.

6. Some customers acquire an Indian, but donít use it. They just keep it. Good engine work or bad, it goes untested.

Editor's note: As a minor member of the "Indian Industry" when not wearing my VI hat (no, there are no actual "support the VI" hats available!), I applaud Don Doody for his clear description of how things look from the other side of the counter. Moen
Donís ideas arenít alone. On Popular Mechanics, Jay Leno describes similar challenges with regard to reproduction parts:
The problem sometimes with the restoration of an engine comes when you buy parts from several different people. Rarely do those parts fit together without extra work and machining. This isn't a slam against the guys making the parts, but if you're working on the other side of the country, and you're making a piston, and don't know the guy who's making the rod, you might find the two parts don't go together without a lot of machining. 

I see in these examples a loosely organized network of people who share a passion for Indian Motorcycles, for riding with a grin perhaps. We have an old community with fresh passion, brand loyalty and distinctive culture. We have no clear effective corporate chain of command. Mostly collaborations involve simple exchanges. But complicated decision situations like motor restorations, can precipitate trouble just because the necessary control systems are lacking. A good practical test of this idea would be to look at some recent legal history for evidence of decision making by force as opposed to informed collaboration and also to find out where in the organization problems tended to arise. A preliminary investigation suggests problems with restoration work do arise from time to time.

I considered these ideas At Hawaiian Lunch with the Irongate crew in Bellingham Washington. It dawned on me that Frank Byfordís transmission contributes some needed machinery to the Indian community, but that isnít all. An even bigger contribution which we canít touch or hold in our hands is the organizational process of providing the transmission by way of simple exchange as a fully engineered manufactured warranted and broadly distributed product like a piston or valve. What you see is what you get with that transmission. These arenít custom restoration projects or kits to be assembled by a dealer or restoration mechanic in some vague time frame. I expect the 4 speed transmissions will bolt on to standard Indian engines without much special fitting or adjusting. Mine fit perfectly. 

Iíd promised a Part II to an Indian Motorcycle story, regarding the building of a durable and reliable engine. Initially, that durable reliable engine seemed elusive in spite of considerable effort from me and others. After Hawaiian lunch, I started to think about Knowledge Engineering and Networks on a small, hobby scale. My thoughts followed this train, stimulated perhaps by discussion around the table: 1. Our Indian Motorcycle community looks like a fully functioning basic social network community in the sense that we have a shared goal, easy access and broad participation but no complex decision rules. 2. When safe and comfortable, these simple networks foster good simple exchange decision making. 3. But pure simple networks like the Indian community lack the chain of command and other decision making machinery for complex decisions. 4. So therefore why not look for a route to the durable and reliable engine by way of simple exchange decisions suitable for the Indian community?

Building the Durable and Reliable Engine using only simple exchanges.

In the Indian Community, the enthusiast enjoys a wind of events and opportunities requiring decisions. Parts become available, we find out about new services, things break and need repair, and experts explain how to do things and so on. Some situations require fairly complicated decision making. To proceed, with complex situations one assumes chain of command, accountability and responsibility enter the process somehow.  But many situations involve only simple exchanges. I determined to decline all complex decisions on principle and considered only simple exchanges. A brand new, never used oil pump came up on eBay for example. I got it - a simple exchange. So started and continued the restoration of my original engine. Letís look at how I put my power plant together by way of Indian Network simple exchanges:

(1) eBay. In the course of events, the useable parts for engine building had depleted to an alarming extent. I needed a case half, an oil pump, inside parts for the cam chest and so on. I found with eBay auctions, what you see is what you get. I was 100% satisfied with every purchase, and it didnít take long to accumulate the parts I needed at an affordable cost. 

(2) Starklite, Kiwi, Michael Breeding and Don Doody. Some new parts and special tools were necessary for rebuilding, and most came from Starklite and Kiwi in California and from Don Doody close to home here in Canada. Michael Breeding supplied lovely tools.  Each organization or person provided extremely valuable technical support and a quite joyful Indian motorcycle community fraternal experience. Parts seemed to be of very high quality, no exceptions.

(3) Enjoy Machine, Northern Metal Machine and Harley of Smithers each helped with specific machining tasks. Usually, I helped with the work and the cost was reasonable. I think quite a few people in my town own a little bit of that motorcycle in their hearts.

(4) Microblue online cryogenically treated my pistons, micropolished parts and treated with tungsten disulphide. The wrist pins fit perfectly. I burnished other parts like the cylinders and guides with tungsten disulphide from Techline

(5) I bought a 4 speed overdrive transmission because in theory this would add considerably to the durability and safety of my motorcycle. This was a straight forward transaction with a dealer for a purpose built, professionally engineered and warranted unit. It fit perfectly and so far works spectacularly compared to the old crash box.

Click to visit the Tech Line website
Tech Line also offer high tech coatings for Indian parts.
(6) For some of the mechanical work, which I planned to do myself initially, I really needed help. I couldnít find anyone local to save me from the cracked case mishap, so I called on John Bivens in Stanton California whom I found through the Indian Community social network. We talked about the necessary simple exchange procedure decision making mechanism, and this was no problem because he habitually had owners inspect stages of work and also photographed each stage of work to provide a ďwhat you see is what you getĒ record. Johnís standard procedure is the simple exchange. Work started on schedule, took some twists and turns and finished when I expected it to. The bottom end which John assembled is gorgeous. My engine runs smoothly with practically no mechanical noise, and a clear exhaust note. Click to view full-size
Welding problem solved with a NOS case half. Fully intact baffles and glyptol paint give satisfying results.
Assembling the engine on my countertop.

One experiences a great deal of dignified enjoyment when simple processes work well. I relished every bit of working on the engine myself. The Indian community seemed very supportive and collaborative which added much to the experience for me. Putting the bike together didnít take long once I got started with the simple exchange only decision method. In a few months of working some evenings my bike is assembled better than ever and running fine. Simple exchanges donít take much time compared to other kinds of decisions, so the whole project just flowed along and finished in a timely way in spite of a few unanticipated developments which wouldnít have occurred with new reproduction parts. The cost in money, time and emotional drain seems modest compared to previous experiences. The project unfolded as follows.

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Straightened connecting rods get new bushings, races and bearings.
While John Bivens rescued the bottom end and turned it into a beautiful, artful restoration, I worked on the rest of the engine. Everything had to be rebuilt. Bead blasting removed painted on rust and grit which I hadnít noticed previously on the cylinders. Northern Metals let me use their cabinet. The cylinders looked great ďin the whiteĒ. Shiny black Harley jug paint sprayed on and stuck like no other paint Iíve ever used. Satisfying to apply!  Installing the valve guides was fun. A little honing gave just the right fit. Cylinders got deglazed with a 60 degree crosshatch. I got help from Steveís Harley dealership here in town with these projects. The mechanics all had a look at the Indian cylinders which differ from Harley parts in look and feel. The local automotive machine shop cut special stones to touch up the valve seats at the correct angle. I burnished the valve guides and cylinders with tungsten disulfide and this gave a very slick fit. The rings seemed to seat instantly when I started the bike later on.

I rebuilt all the other parts including the brand new oil pump which showed 50 years of sitting and a need for cad plating. The oil pump, distributor, carburetor, primary unit, cylinders, heads and beautiful 4 speed overdrive transmission were ready for assembly when the lower end arrived. A weekend all-nighter would have put me on the road quickly. I decided to take my time, not hurry and fully enjoy the process of working on the engine, just the way Iíd done with the rolling chassis about a year earlier.

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Well cleaned cams and followers get machined using Bivensícam profiles.  New rollers with solid shafts get installed.
Working after dinner for an hour or so every few days, I aligned the transmission to the engine with the primary case as a guide. The alignment was absolutely perfect, requiring no shimming or adjusting whatsoever. John Bivens told me about the need to reduce a tab on the reproduction MJ primary case so that it would clear the frame in due course. Don Doody alerted me to some callback head gaskets Iíd inadvertently acquired, and I received gratis replacements very promptly from the James Gasket people. The owner showed considerable interest in my Indian project as well.

With regard to gaskets, many choices confront the restoration mechanic. After I finished my Indian, I happened to take apart an original motor which had no signs of wrenches on the original nuts and bolts. The transmission cover, primary cover, primary case and of course engine cases had no gaskets, only a thin brown crumbly coating which looked like shellac. Metal to metal looks stronger than paper gaskets, and sure makes sense to me. The James gaskets are metal with a rubbery coating and look strong mechanically compared to paper gaskets Iíve seen. James gaskets go on dry, fit well and add tidiness to engine building. I liked them.

For me the worrisome part was getting the engine in the bike because I have a tricky back. I wasnít quite sure how to put it in.  I emailed a query to the Virtual Indian discussion group and within hours some very clear and helpful advice materialized on my screen from other parts of the world. The engine went in like a dream. I just picked it up and put it in. I was tightening down the last bolt when my wife came over to help.

Click to visit the James Gaskets website
Click to visit the James Gaskets website. James also makes gaskets for another brand of motorcycle (never heard of it, though!), and their Indian gaskets are hard to find on the site. 

You can get James gaskets from your local dealer. I know that Kiwi has them in the US (and probably several other dealers), and in Europe they are available from Indian Parts Europe.


Half a year ago, autumn turned to winter and I parked my Indian Chief motorcycle. Reflection over time resulted in these following conclusions. First, owning that Indian motorcycle, beginning with the purchase in 1967 and continuing to this moment provided much enjoyment in the riding, in the beautiful art and in the fascinating social relationships which seem to spring up around the motorcycle. The mechanical work is fun. Iím now working on another engine, determined to restore the bottom end on my own bench.

Clearly, the easiest and the most economic route to a durable and reliable power unit is to buy the brand new reproduction durable and reliable engine and transmission fully certified and warranted to perform properly. But this approach isnít necessary.

There is more than lovely machinery and great art to an Indian motorcycle. The best part is the Indian community itself.  In this simple network of enthusiasts and fans, collaborating feels good. Itís great fun to help other people and to be helped without interference, complicated protocols or forceful conflict. The shared passion for Indian motorcycles brings much joy. Perhaps thereís a lesson here. The Indian motorcycle community has thrived for more than a century after all.

Understanding the Indian community, can lead to some delightful outcomes. Structurally, the Indian community lacks command-control mechanisms found in the vertically integrated corporations and public organizations. We know that setting out to make complicated decisions without the necessary mechanisms leads inevitably to decision making by force. Informed collaboration becomes difficult or impossible. For example, with my first contracted engine restoration project I mistakenly assumed the cultural rules for remanufacturing the engine block on my current North American passenger car. But the Indian Motorcycle community has lacked centralized control systems and lines of accountability for about fifty years. Interestingly, the first Indian motorcycle engine restoration process took a long time, and the engine was reported lost at one point. When the restored engine returned, it looked gorgeous on the outside, but eventually, inside, I found little evidence of inspection, quality control or professional accountability for parts and materials. This wasnít a durable engine. Similarly, the custom built reproduction engine project mired in time consuming complexity resulting finally in no operating engine at all. I gather this experience isnít unique, although some shops produce excellent, professional work.

So initially, frustration, expense and wasted time diminished the Indian Motorcycle project. However, once I utilized knowledge engineering techniques the project outcomes changed tangibly and immediately. Specifically, I reduced my project to elements suitable for transparent, simple exchanges which didnít need centralized control. Furthermore, I declined even the most attractive opportunities involving complicated decisions. Immediately, engine restoration developed a kind of harmony and rhythm. Outrageous fortune continued to bring surprises. But the project overcame the obstacles, made use of opportunity and floated to a very nice conclusion  in my running motorcycle. Many Indian community folks found it easy to help and I experienced no forceful conflict whatsoever, which is truly remarkable.

In particular, John Bivensí restoration of the bottom end illustrates the essence of simple exchanges where more complicated decision making might be used in a more complex organization. We have a photographic record of the artwork, and the work clearly is art.  We see parts and procedures.  John provided a short written documentation. I can contemplate this with pleasure when the bike starts with a single kick or banks sweetly into a curve. The records differentiate my bike from one like the previous engine restoration and therefore add much value, at least for me. I followed through and documented my own work on the engine and now have a very satisfying, artful restoration of my original engine in its original matching motorcycle chassis.

Moving to the mechanical front, did the original restoration break down in the tappet area because of really bad mechanical work? I think not. In retrospect, I believe the engine would have continued to work with minor repairs if I hadnít taken it apart. Evidence suggests the original Indian engine design is fault tolerant, durable and predisposed to gracious rather than cataclysmic failure. I heard recently that a batch of inferior tappet screws slipped into the market several years ago. This source indicated my tappet failed in exactly the place and manner as the other inferior tappets. Itís noteworthy that the motorcycle kept on running. It didnít self destruct. The broken tappet continued to work while I drove home. With regard to other mechanical problems, well, in spite of these, the engine developed considerable power and started very well. Plausibly, the Indian engine design is so fault tolerant that even with poorly made, warped, cracked or badly fit parts any one of which would instantly destroy a modern high performance engine, the old Indian just keeps on working. Plausibly, the Indian motorcycle design itself leads inherently to durability and reliability to the extent that gee wiz machining techniques and modern gizmos or gadgets are nice but not essential.

I confess to originally feeling considerable and I think unreasonable self doubt with regard to working on my engine. I feared damaging my engine beyond repair, thereby destroying the entire bike forever. Foolishness! I lived what had previously been my own wildest home motorcycle mechanicís nightmares. I went well beyond the nightmares into unimaginable territory of busted stuff and contracted work that cost big bucks while yielding little in the way of functioning machinery.   Fortunately, in sharp contrast to these early frustrations, the Knowledge Engineered simple exchanges helped even nasty problems resolve into manageable components. So therefore, good simple exchange rules can bring inherent value to Indian motorcycle restoration projects.

The following standard procedures worked well for my restoration project:

1. Participating in simple exchanges. Where I could see the part or the work and exchange something for it, I participated at least to the point of making a thoughtful go or no go choice. From big items like bottom end motor work or purchasing the 4 speed overdrive transmission to little items like getting help with honing cylinders and grinding valves, all choices took the simple exchange format.

2. Declining complicated decision situations. Complex decision situations arose frequently, particularly with regard to motor building. Many opportunities seemed attractive, even compelling in terms of what might be accomplished. However, I declined categorically because of the complex nature of the decision and for no other reason.

3. Working on all the parts I could handle on my own, which itself is a form of simple decision making. Now I understand more about the engine than would be possible from reading the manual or contracting out the whole project. Even though I got help with the bottom end, I previously assembled it several times myself first. Indian motorcycle parts are beautiful chunks of art and lovely to behold and work with.

4. Asking for help on the Virtual Indian Network and other areas of the Indian community. People I know only through the Indian community network solved problems, answered questions and contributed a rich, enthusiastic, positive quality to the whole project. I experience no ďput downsĒ or condescension whatsoever. Quite remarkable.

5. Remembering at every decision point that the goal is a durable and reliable engine. The choices had to be good enough to meet the durable reliable goal. Someone else might have another goal for their project, but durable, reliable was mine.

The best part is the Indian community itself.  In this simple network of enthusiasts and fans, collaborating feels good. Itís great fun to help other people and to be helped without interference, complicated protocols or forceful conflict.
In summary this Indian engine restoration project came to graceful closure bringing a great deal of satisfaction. Although frustration occurred along the way, once the simple exchange method came in to play, events lead steadily towards the goal of a durable and reliable, ride it with a grin type motorcycle. Simple exchanges deflated ambiguity, evaporated conflict and kept force at bay. Ultimately, the Indian Network Community facilitated restoration of my engine to a very high standard, in a timely way at reasonable cost.

Safety plays a big part in riding with a grin, Indian Motorcycle style. I chose to restore my motorcycle so that it would operate durably and reliably for the original design purpose of driving at modest speeds on two lane roads, the way it was in the 1940ís. I specifically avoided pushing the envelope for  speed, primarily for safety reasons. The ideas I presented about simple exchange decision making in the Indian community run contrary to ad hock speed upgrades without an engineering chain of command and line of accountability for safe operation of the entire bike. Iím not an automotive or mechanical engineer, but common sense and my own feel for motorcycle performance tells me that freeway speeds and crowded traffic bring unacceptable risk for me on my 1947 bike. For one example, the front wheel drum brake seems too light and inefficient for panic stops at freeway speed. My brakes function satisfactorily at 55 miles per hour but not 80 miles per hour.  I doubt that any experienced Indian Motorcycle rider will argue convincingly to the contrary. Would adding a disk brake solve the problem? Again, the ideas I presented suggest that, complex work requiring complex decision mechanisms asks for trouble if the necessary decision mechanisms with accountability and responsibility donít exist. I set the bike up to operate at the same speeds Iíve always used, but with greater durability and reliability than before.

Well how does it run? After priming, my bike started on the first kick. It settled down smoothly. No vibration. No weird sounds. The former carburetor settings worked well enough for a short run.  The transmission shifts cleanly. After a 5 minute run, standard procedure, I let the motor cool, and re-torqued the heads. Several head bolts moved half a turn. Also one manifold nut took up ¼ turn.  Everything else stayed put. The motor and transmission seem to be more comfortable and straight forward in use than before. I havenít poured the coal to it yet or done any sustained highway riding. After the first 100 miles of riding I conclude that I like the new transmission and the current build on my engine a lot. The Chief-overdrive shifts easily and precisely, not quite as macho as the crash box, but still satisfying to use. Somehow the bike feels tighter and more controllable than with the original transmission. I think more about the ride and less about the transmission missing a gear. Cruising at 55 to 60 mph on the two lane highway requires very little throttle and at this speed, the bike runs smoothly without a sense of straining. The overdrive feels like overdrive, somehow different and better than the big sprocket I ran years ago. The 23 tooth drive sprocket Iím now using allows very comfortable low speed chuffing down the driveway or through the neighborhood.

An early winter abruptly ended my motorcycle riding last year and a snow bank barred me from the road until this weekend. After the priming routine, I started up with a single kick. Immediately, neighborhood children, boys and girls of all ages gathered on skateboards, in line skates, 10 speeds and mountain bikes. A beautiful young mother stopped her SUV, rolled down the window and let fly with a gorgeous smile. The boys wanted to know - Is this the first time this year Al? my it sounds quiet Al. What did you do to it Al? Questions and animated chatter flowed like water in the spring. I let out the clutch and sifted off down the road. A flotilla of children followed, ahead, behind, to the sides, laughing, cheering and smiling. Waving. They pedaled or skated energetically. Heaven on earth for sure! But  I pulled ahead with a toot on the horn, riding with a grin.

Do I have a durable and reliable Indian Motorcycle? Yes. I have good parts, fitted well and accurately assembled without shortcuts or untested innovations. I personally now feel capable of dealing with most any problem on the basis of support from the Indian community network. The Indian motorcycle community is a century old organization. I do not think it is possible to be more durable and reliable than that, at least in the motorcycle world.

Did the engine work and new transmission magically make my 1947 Indian Chief the functional equivalent of a Vincent Black Shadow or HD Road King with regard to safe operation in dense traffic at freeway speeds. No. I still have a 1947 Indian Chief and use it accordingly, as intended by the original design engineers. However the bike works very well indeed.

Iíll be fishing soon, so back to basics. Can my Indian Motorcycle outrun a charging Grizzly Bear?  This question could be tested when we go salmon fishing on a motorcycle. Letís see.  My bike retains the 74 cubic inch displacement, giving it the unmodified stock rating, just like the Grizzly bear.  But weíre not equal. Iíd need a head start. I know that for sure because that Griz will start with a 15 or 20 foot jump. Heíll be hustling. With claws for traction, clots of dirt will fly. I can hear the huffing breath and popping teeth..

No thanks. The salmon fishing trip on a motorcycle in Grizzly country defines foolhardy dreaming at best. Actually, in terms of social networks, cultural rules and organizational decision making, we would blunder in the wildlife community and in the Indian motorcycle community as well. Letís not start those mistakes again. I canít believe I even considered salmon fishing on a motorcycle. Yes, after some simple common sense Indian motorcycle type thinking, I plan to continue the practice of putting each neatly cleaned salmon on ice, in my locked vehicle immediately after the catch. Iím looking forward to respectfully backing off when a Grizzly claims the fishing spot. This is natureís way and the collaboration feels good.

Iíll chase some salmon, but leave my bike in the shed where it wonít get scratched, the bears will be comfortable, and I wonít get hurt. This durable and reliable Indian Chief motorcycle is for riding to small lakes and creeks in the back woods, for riding through farm country and maybe taking the two lane road to the coast, cruising in overdrive.

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The Indian Motorcycle organization is more than 100 years old and still turning out beautiful motorcycles!
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