Thursday, February 23, 2012
Motorcycle Throwback - The 1931 Indian Dispatch-Tow
Three wheeled motorcycles tend to get a bad rep in the motorcycle community. Something as simple as adding a third wheel seems to greatly diminish the cool factor. But trikes are hardly a new addition to the motorcycle line-up. Actually, three-wheeled motorcycle shave been around since the dinosaur ages. Okay, maybe not that long. But they have been around pretty much since the motorcycle first hit the mean streets of the U.S. Don't believe me? Look up the 1911 Minneapolis Motorcycle Company's "Tri-Car." You won't find a whole lot of info on it, but you'll find out enough to know I'm not making this stuff up.
But while the "Tri-Car" may have been on of the first, if not THE first, of our three-wheeled fellow cycles, it's Indian's version that really canoodles with our senses. In 1912 Indian introduced and started to produce the "Dispatch Tow" (101 DT). It was a three wheeled motorcycle powered by the same 45 cubic-inch engine that they threw in the 101 Scout but had an automotive-style rear axel on which was mounted a large sheet metal box. Not only did this box give riders a great deal more storage, but it also made the bike harder to tip over allowing Indian to design a tow bar that could be attached to the front of the bike and then hooked up to the rear bumper of a car.
So why would anyone think that was a good idea? Simply put, that time period was generous to the automotive industry. The average consumer was finding out just how useful owning their own car was and so garages were filling up with them. But cars back in the day weren't exactly known for their dependability and soon those automobiles were breaking down and repair shops were sending out two men apiece to pick up the wounded vehicle and bring it back to the shop. But it was Indian motorcycle that saw an opportunity to help out the automotive repair industry. Instead of having to send out two men to get a car, one to drive the car to get the repairmen to the customer's car and back and one driver to drive the actual customer's car back to the shop, only one employee would have to ride the Dispatch Tow to the customer's car, attach it to the rear bumper and then drive the car with the bike in tow back to the shop. It was genius, really. In fact, Harley-Davidson though that it was so genius that, a year later, they were producing their own version of the 1931 Indian Dispatch Tow, the "Servi-Car."
And as silly as these trikes may seem today, they were an instant hit within the automotive repair industry with about 400 units being sold immediately. But the success was short lived as Indian Motorcycles put down the 101 in favor of the Indian Chief. It wasn't until 1935 that Indian picked back up where they left off in the three wheeled sector by making a version of the Dispatch Tow out of the popular Sport Scout. Indian continued to make these helpful trikes all the way up to the 50's with some changes to them as their motorcycles advanced here and there, but it was the original 1931 Indian Dispatch Tow that started it all. Now, it's incredibly difficult to find one of these long lost trikes in any condition. Some of the older years, however, seem to have been collected by enthusiasts who see the real worth of a three-wheeled motorcycle.
But what is our biggest surprise in regards to the 1931 Indian Dispatch tow? The fact that automobile service workers made house calls to pick up customers' vehicles in need of maintenance. Why the heck did that have to stop?