Here at the museum, there are countless rare machines dating back to the earliest days of American motorcycling. Quite often, I’m asked by visitors if I have a favorite. My answer is never simple.
For as long as I can remember, Dale has had an unparalleled passion for vintage American motorcycles. Over the years, as I’ve seen the collection grow, that passion has overcome me just the same. I love all old bikes, and each machine here in the museum is unique and special in its own way. From bikes found in barns, to special one-of-a-kind factory race bikes, to pre-production prototypes, every bike in the museum has a unique history of who built it, who rode it, or who raced it. Each machine holds a special place in the museum, and while some are more special than others, I have never even tried to pick a favorite.
I’ve come to fall in love with not just the bike, but the story that comes with it. How it was found, where it was built, what it was used for…….each aspect is an important part in that bikes past.
While I continue to say "there all my favorite", one bike above all sparks my interest and always seems to intensify my passion for old motorcycles as each new page unfolds. That machine is the 1917 Traub.
The Traub’s story is unlike that of any other. Found behind a brick wall in a Chicago apartment building in 1967, the Traub was discovered during the building’s renovation. To this date, the machines origin remains a mystery. Its builder, and its history may never be known. At some point after its discovery, the machine was bought by a Chicago motorcycle shop owner named Torillo Tacchi. Tacchi owned the machine for over 10 years before selling it to Bud Ekins, actor and stunt double for Steve McQueen, while he was on set for the Blues Brothers Movie in the late 1970. Ekins later sold the machine to collector and restorer, Richard Morris, who later sold it to Dale.
Dated to 1917, the Traub is entirely unique from any other motorcycle ever produced. Hand-crafted and well ahead of its time, the machine is an engineering marvel, featuring components and specifications not seen on two-wheeled machine for another 20 years. The Traub’s engine, which is perhaps the most developed motorcycle engine of the era, features a side-valve configuration and has a displacement of 80 cubic inches. To give you a glimpse of how advance this size and configuration of engine was, Harley did not release their sidevalve 80" machine until 1936! Its name cast into the motor in several places, at first glance, it becomes apparent that the Traub is a true work of art. Every piece on the machine is hand made, and the only of its kind, from the frame and forks to the gas tank and handlebars to the luggage rack and fenders.
The machine also features a one of a kind 3-speed transmission. This may arguably be the most advanced piece on the machine. Back in the early 1900s, over 200 motorcycle manufacturers fought for business in a very competitive market, and by the mid 1920s, only three serious competitors were left — Harley-Davidson, Indian and Excelsior. Its often wondered why, in such a short period of time, so many companies went out of business. While there is no definitive answer, we at the museum have an interesting theory.
The first motorcycles were developed to take the "work" out of bicycling, and provide an easy method of transportation. Some of the earliest machines were built by attaching a low-horsepower motor to a bicycle frame, connecting the drive-line, and adding a gas tank — literally a conversion from bicycle to motorcycle. This primitive means of transportation would do for a time, but eventually the need for stronger machines became apparent.
As motorcycles continued to develop, so did their engines. Displacement increased through the development of twin cylinder and four cylinder motorcycles. Valve configuration and carburetion became more advanced, compression ratio increased, combustion chamber size and shape became an ever-increasingly important factor. As a result of these developments, engines became more powerful and their capabilities were increased.
The effectiveness of those early machines relied heavily on the motorcycles ability to transfer the power from the engine to the rear wheel, much as it does today. The earliest motorcycles transmitted this power through a belt drive or chain drive, but were limited in their capabilities due to the fact that they were single speed machines. As engines became more and more powerful and roads improved, the need for a more effective way to get power to the rear wheel arose. Taking on this call for action, the few motorcycle companies that had the resources, such as Harley, Indian, and Excelsior were able to develop a transmission, allowing riders to change the gearing of their machines as they rode. This would prove to be a massive step forward for those that were able to do it. Other companies were left in the dust, as these companies’ new transmissions allowed for greater speeds and required less work from the machines engine.
When you take a look back at which companies survived and which didn’t, you can see that each of the companies that developed their own transmission made it to the next level. Those that didn’t dropped off one by one, until only the Big Three (Harley, Indian, and Excelsior) were left.
This bit of history is what makes the Traub so unique in my eyes. How did this one-of-a-kind person create a one-of-a-kind motorcycle, with a one-of-a-kind transmission, while other companies fell to the wayside left and right due to their inability to do so. Its truly amazing, and a big part in what makes the Traub the spectacular machine that it is.
We often say that if you look at every machine in the museum for 3 minutes, you’ll be here for over 17 hours. I’ll tell you in advance that you’ll need a little more time for this one. Personally, I could (and have) stared at it for hours!
So next time you’re down this way, be sure ask about the 1917 Traub. Its a must see motorcycle, and after learning its story, it just might be your new favorite.
For more information on the Traub, click here.