From left to right are Kate, Ted and Gerald Doering. The family's love of motorcycles is now enshrined in the Motorcyclepedia museum in Newburgh, New York.
When the 2012 edition of the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run launches this September, a small horde of pre-1930 motorcycles will embark on their cross-country run from Newburgh, New York. The little burg’s not technically on the Atlantic, but it’s only 65 miles up the Hudson River from the harbor in New York City; close enough to salt water to make the Cannonball a cross-country ride, I guess.
There must be something about the Hudson that attracts eccentric motorcycle collectors. Rob Iannucci bought up most of the waterfront in nearby Kingston, NY; he plans to exhibit his collection of WWII patrol torpedo boats there. And right in Newburgh, Gerald Doering and his son Ted, recently combined their collections and opened a very cool new museum, called Motorcyclepedia.
Gerald’s 84. He bought his first motorcycle, a ’29 Indian Scout, when he was 17. The war was still on, and there were no newer vehicles to be had around Newburgh.
“I rode it around town for a couple of years,” he told me. “I never registered it, I didn’t even have a driver’s license. I paid $75 for it, and finally sold it for $100. My dad thought that was pretty good, so he loaned me a little more money to buy a ’36 Sport Scout.”
Gerald stripped down the Scout, and raced it locally. (Beginning in the 1930s, American flat track promoters added right turns, as well as jumps and even hills, to some track layouts, in search of a little European flair.) “It was called TT racing,” Gerald said, adding “It was based on something they did on the Isle of Man; maybe you’ve heard of it.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’ve heard of it.”
Gerald realized he didn’t have much talent for racing, an observation which probably helped him attain his current ripe old age. His wife told him that working in motorcycle shops wasn’t a real career; he got a job as an electrician in a local factory, and then started his own electrical contracting business. It was good timing, as the postwar housing boom was in full swing.
“There was a lot of houses going up then,” Gerald recalled. In 1949, he picked up the first motorcycle he’d ever bought with an eye to collecting, instead of using it for simple transportation. He paid seven bucks for a very rough ’31 Chief.
“I continued to buy bikes, you know,” he told me, “when I could do it without hurting the family finances.” Just a few years ago, he was at an auction with his wife, Kate, and she exclaimed, “He bought another one, you know!” That made Jerry laugh; after more than 50 years of marriage, Kate was used to it by then. At first he wanted one Indian from every decade the wigwam was in operation, from 1901-’53. Then one from every five years, then one from every year.
The family lived on a small ‘farm,’ really just a few acres with sheds full of motorcycles, on the outskirts of town. His son Ted chopped his first bike when he was still a little kid. I mean that literally; he actually hacked up a junk bike with a hatchet. (The scarred fuel tank, the victim of that attack, is on display.)
A 1909 Indian Twin (left) a 1910 Indian Single (center) and a 1911 Indian Twin (right) on display at Motorcyclepedia.
When Ted was a teenager, Gerald bought him a Triumph Cub to ride to school. Not far up the road in Woodstock, around that time, Bob Dylan had a mysterious wipeout. He crashed his Triumph and spent six weeks largely out of sight under the care of his doctor. (Dylan wasn’t that seriously injured. He was probably clearing his system of the amphetamines he relied on to survive a grueling touring schedule. So yeah, speed was probably a factor in the accident, but it was the chemical kind, not the kinetic kind.)
Ted enrolled in college and studied engineering, but soon dropped out. In the summer of ‘69 the Woodstock Music Festival, ‘three days of peace & music’, was going on; you could almost smell the pot. Ted opened up a chopper shop, Ted’s Cycle, in a shed on the family property. “We did metalwork, we built hard-tails and twisted iron,” Ted told me. “My dad could lace and true wheels, so he built a lot of chopper wheels.”
Ted’s Cycle was a retail shop from ’69 to ’76. Thanks in part to his dad’s network of contacts, Ted got a reputation as a guy who could find obscure parts for the Knucklehead and Panhead motors favored by chopperheads. He carried an inventory of used parts, and aftermarket stuff from Beck/Arnley, Hap Jones, and Dixie Distributing.
“Back then, I had a customer who was a drug dealer,” Ted laughed. “He said, ‘The money’s in wholesale!’” So Ted printed his own parts catalog, selling mostly to Harley dealers who needed parts The Motor Company no longer supplied.
“A lot of the good stuff came from England,” Ted recalled. “We were a distributor for Wassell. Chopper builders liked Avon tires, and we became an Avon distributor in ’76.”
By the late ‘70s, Ted had moved from wholesale distributing to growing, oops, I mean ‘manufacturing.’ The first products he had made to his specs were flat heads for 80-inch Harley motors, that were cast at Wright Aeronautical, in Patterson, New Jersey. By then, the chopper wave had died and Ted closed the retail side of his business down. But the parts business, V-Twin Manufacturing, took off.
Ted still has a little bit of stuff made in the U.S., but he was one of the first American motorcycle guys to realize that Taiwan offered a better price/quality break. Even Harley, when they saw the quality of his parts, shifted some of their accessory production over there. Nowadays, you can make a complete replica Knucklehead out of Ted’s catalogue, and the business supports two huge warehouse operations, one in New York and another in St. Joseph, Missouri. Ted also bought the parts manufacturing business built up by legendary Harley hot-rodder Tom Sifton.
By the time Gerald and Ted had accumulated 400 to 500 motorcycles, members of Antique Motorcycle Association joked that the machines entered a black hole, never to be seen again. That all changed a few years ago, when the dad and son decided to renovate an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Newburgh and put 350 or so bikes on view. Given their interests, the collection’s strong on Americana; anchored by Gerald’s almost-complete Indian timeline, and several Ed Roth choppers accumulated by the son. Highlights include a working Wall of Death display, and a Dallas Police Department Harley that was in John F. Kennedy’s motorcade the day he was shot.
The museum’s open Friday-Sunday, at 250 Lake Street in Newburgh, NY. It’s worth the detour, as they say. For more information, visit motorcyclepediamuseum.org