September 12, 2009

One little, two little... 13 little Indian motorcycles!

An important part of Racine's motorcycle history rode off in all directions Saturday, as the remains of Robert Hansen's motorcycle dealership was auctioned off, piece by rusty piece.

Hansen, right, started selling and servicing motorcycles on Douglas Avenue fifty-one years ago -- back in 1958 when Eisenhower was president and Bart Starr was still a rookie quarterback. He moved to his present location on Washington Avenue in 1971 (by then, Nixon was president and the Packers' quarterback was Scott Hunter).

Today it all ended. Hansen, who suffered a stroke five years ago, and another just two months ago, sat sadly by as his wife, Jane, and son, Jesse, oversaw the auction by All States Auctioneer's Bob Bornheimer of hundreds of lots of part, tools and motorcycles. There were 65 motorcycles in all, mostly Honda and Yamaha, but the piece de resistance unquestionably was Hansen's collection of Indian motorcycles, which sat in the middle of the shop floor as the auction progressed, with everyone waiting expectantly.

Hansen's Indians were all from the first Indian era, which began in 1901 and ended with the company's failure in 1953. (It was reborn again in 1999, but that's another story.) Hanson's wife, Jane, recalled a phone call a few weeks ago from someone who heard about the sale:
"How many Indians do you have?" he asked.
"Thirteen," she replied.
"Nobody has that many Indians!" he said.
But he did. Hansen's were late-model Indians, mostly from 1949 to 1951, in varying condition. Some were pristine, ready to be ridden or even shown; others were "original," and a few came with "parts." Hansen's favorite was a '49 Indian Arrow, 250 cc, completely rebuilt in the original Dupont Sunshine yellow paint. It was a beauty, and went for $7,500.

There were seven 500 cc Warriors, two '49 Scouts and some more Warriors; all went for prices ranging from a low of $1,750 to $6,000.

"This has been his whole life for fifty-one years," Jane said, "But he just can't work on them anymore. After his first stroke, he went to therapy, hoping to get well enough to ride again." But it didn't happen. Bob Hansen is 80; Jane is 66. "He robbed the cradle," she joked. Their 47th anniversary is coming up on Sept. 20.

The store was a three-generation affair. Son Jesse worked there for 30 years. He remembers wanting to ride a motorcycle when he was five, only to be told by his dad, "You put it together, then you can ride it." Jesse said he assembled two bikes before he was allowed to ride. By the time he was 13, he was racing, alongside his dad. Between them, they have dozens of trophies, mostly for ice racing.

Jesse's son, Jesse Jr. is also an ice racer and a motorcycle mechanic. One of the motorcycles not put up for auction Saturday was "grandpa's" original ice racer, a '49 250cc Indian. "I'm going to rebuild it," said Jesse Jr. "I brought all the parts home."


  1. wish I had known about the auction, would have been a great winter project.

  2. This wasn't well advertised. I found out too late. Bob once showed me his collection of bikes that he kept in the back of his shop. Besides Indians he had some nice Shell motored Yamaha flat trackers and who knows what else. I'm actually feeling sick that I missed this auction.

  3. Pete and Dustin like to censor people.