Originally published in RoadRUNNER Magazine. In almost every town on our trip through Vermont, people would come over to ogle our enormous Indian Roadmaster motorcycle, regaling us with stories of past glories and distant relatives who have owned, ridden, or simply lusted after the giant twin with the famously valanced fenders. The brand looms large in the imagination.
Because the “Indian Motocycle Company” started in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1901, it only seemed appropriate that we pick up the bike at Indian Motorcycles of Springfield. The owner, Dennis Bolduc, has a long history with the brand—his grandfather worked in the factory, and he remembers riding one when he was just 12 years old. He currently owns 15 vintage Indians, ranging from 1930 to 1958. Several are on display in his shop, along with plentiful old photos and memorabilia. It’s worth a visit.
Bolduc speaks of a golden age in which his grandfather helped produce a variety of parts, and ran engines to exhaustion by tugging on a wire that was run through a window, attached to the carburetor. “It was the early version of a dyno,” he says.
He graciously offers to hop on his own Indian and take me to the belly of the beast: the mammoth original Indian factory, which is largely intact on the exterior, but now contains low-income housing. While the current Indian factory resides in Spirit Lake, Iowa, its soul is still here, amidst the gritty and occasionally faltering downtown of Springfield. Just walking around, it’s not hard to imagine throngs of workers producing one of the world’s most iconic brands, in the same spot where apartment dwellers now come and go. A small plaque indicates the teeming production that once occurred here, before mismanagement and competition caused the brand’s demise in 1953. In subsequent decades the company would undergo several ignominious resurrections before Polaris acquired the moniker in 2011 and made something of it, in the form of the enormous and beautiful land yacht that you see on these pages.
From there, Bolduc and I ride our Indians to the nearby Springfield Museum, with its Esta Manthos Indian Motocycle Collection: a fine display of Indian motorcycles, artifacts, cars, outboard motors, and every other venture that the then-thriving company elected to pursue along their long and sometimes tortuous path.
The Indian I’m riding pulls off all the styling cues considered essential to the faithful, with fat pushrod tubes, gently arcing fins, fenders that would amply cover the wheels of a Ford Model A car, and proud Warbonnet cutting through the darkness like the prow of a ship. As we leave the museum, it feels good to thumb the button on my new, reincarnated version of the vaunted brand. Springfield should be proud of what it wrought, lo these many years….