Motorcycles terrify me.

Well, not motorcycles themselves, but its the idea of riding one out on the open road, surrounded by people in cars that do not pay attention, that terrifies me.  I have ridden off of cliffs on a snowboard, surfed in Northern California in November, skateboarded on 14 foot half-pipes, and in empty swimming pools on abandoned property. But I have never, and probably never will, ride a motorcycle.

Now you are probably wondering why I chose a 1913 Indian Motorcycle as my Artifact to write about?

Two reasons…

PM_tw_field9Reason 1. Look at this thing! It is beautiful. The engineering, design, and craftsmanship are amazing. I was fortunate enough to be there when Tom Wagner was shooting these images, and we just kept finding more and more beauty hidden in the bent steel of this 100 year old piece of machinery. I have been very fortunate to work on the ArtifactGR project and have spent lots of time in the archives, and my eyes have always come back to this motorcycle.

Reason 2. My grandfather. He passed away a few years ago, and to be honest he was a bit of a curmudgeon, (he would have probably agreed with that characterization). I remember being a kid and visiting his house and there being a list of rules a mile long, and those rules were not to be broken.

Before his death, (I was in my mid 30’s), while at a family gathering, my brother, my grandfather, and I somehow got on the topic of motorcycles. I knew he had owned a car repair garage and ridden motorcycles when he was younger, but on this day he really got into the stories of buying bikes, fixing them up, riding them, selling them, and then doing it all over again.

PM_tw_field9He couldn’t really recall how many Indian motorbikes he had owned, not because of his advanced age, but because there were just too many to recall. He and his buddies would ride from here in Grand Rapids to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for lunch, just as an excuse to get out and ride. He had great stories and told them with the passion of a much younger man. At that moment my impression of him changed. I could see him as a young man out with his friends for a ride, doing what they loved.

I no longer saw him as just a man in his mid 80’s with a list of rules.

When I meet people, I try to remember that we all have our passions and that we all have our histories, and sometimes, what is presented to the outside world is the sum of those histories, and sometimes it is not.

Bernard Joseph Kuhn(3)A family photo of my grandfather, Bernard Joseph Kuhn, (date unknown). If you look closely you can see the Indian Motorcycle logo on the gas tank.

And a bit of history of the 1913 Indian Motorcycle in the archives:

“[Bob Davis] apparently had a daring streak as a young man. After high school he persuaded [his parents] George and Alice to buy him a brand-new motorcycle, a 1913 Indian, a beautiful low-slung machine with magneto-fired cylinders, acetylene headlight, and a small handlebar bell for a warning signal. (The Indian buzzed along so quietly that it didn’t need a loud horn.) Unluckily, after enjoying his prize for a couple of years Bob bad a serious accident, and his parents curbed his use of it. The bike went down into their basement [at 535 Fountain Street NE], and there it sat for close to fifty years.” –from “The Davis House: A Brief Account of A Long History” by James Van Vulpen

The Davis Family later donated this very motorcycle to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and here it is in all its beauty.

A special thank you to David Rosen, the current owner of the ‘Davis House’ where this artifact I have chosen was hidden away for decades. He shared the above quote from a book about his new home, adding the personal and present, to a bit of Grand Rapids history, and to this Artifact.

David is the president of Kendall College of Art and Design and also a fellow blog contributor to the ArtifactGR project.