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History and Honor At Motorcycle Museum

Thomas P. Caldwell - September 1, 2014





Bike Restoration

Doug Frederick is restoring a 1926 Indian motorcycle, believed to the first used by the Laconia Police Department. (Photo: Tom Caldwell)

These are rarities, indeed: One of two remaining motorcycles of the six that served as the Queen’s escort (the other is in a museum in England); the Memphis Police Department motorcycle that led the funeral procession for Elvis Presley; and personal items that belonged to Lawrence Carpenter, one of the first state troopers in New Hampshire to serve on a motorcycle squad.

These are just some of the unusual items in the collection at the American Police Motorcycle Museum which opened four years ago in Meredith. The museum, in the building that formerly served as the Burlwood Antique Center, has a pictorial timeline of police motorcycles, from 1902 to the present, as well as 71 original or rebuilt motorcycles, with all but three of them in working condition.

Owners Doug and Leslyee Frederick have extensive knowledge about the bikes and other items in the museum and they are delighted to share that information with those who stop by. The Meredith museum is the only one in the country dedicated to police motorcycles and, as one might expect, many of the visitors are current or retired police officers and the their families; but the Fredericks also see Bike Week visitors, those on bus tours, and people simply interested in history.

On the day the museum provided a tour to The Laker, a family of motorcycle officers stopped by. The father was a retired motor officer and three of his sons currently serve on motorcycle squads. They were in the area because one of the sons is getting married here; the others decided to stop by the museum during some free time. The Fredericks invited them to sit on some of the Boston Police bikes near the entrance for keepsake photos.

Also touring the museum that day was Bill DeLuca of Los Angeles who has been in the movie business for 36 years and recently completed work on “Terminator 5: Genisys”. A mechanic who builds, restores, and customizes vehicles for television and film projects, Bill said that, unless his scene is cut, he actually appears in a chase segment during “Terminator 5”. Bill worked on the pilot for the MacGyver TV series and has been involved as a mechanic or driver for a number of movies, including “Blade”, “The Black Dahlia”, “Live Free or Die Hard”, “The Hangover”, and “Need for Speed”, as well as serving on the crew of “Fast & Furious 7”.

Bill said he loves coming to the Lakes Region every summer when he can, although he has to go “where the work is”and had not made it to New Hampshire for the past five years. During his visit to the Motorcycle Museum, he was interested in the features that distinguished each of the bikes and Doug was happy to point out how the styles changed through the years, as well as the customizations incorporated for police work.

DeLuca

Bill DeLuca of Los Angeles takes on the role of a motorcycle officer at the American Police Motorcycle Museum in Meredith. Look for him in a chase scene in ‘Terminator 5: Genesys’. (Photo: Tom Caldwell)

Doug and Leslyee also encourage an appreciation of motorcycle history by inviting youths to become Special Junior Motor Officers which gives them a badge and special ID card in exchange for pledging not to bully, to read at least a half-hour each night, and to always obey their parents. Those taking the pledge also get to dress in uniform and have their photographs taken while sitting on a motorcycle, as well as to spend time coloring, gazing at an exhibit of old toys, and perhaps enjoying ice cream.

That relationship with young people is an important element of the museum. Doug said his favorite photographs (many of them enlarged from old, glass slides) are of children gathering around motorcycle cops. Old photographs of the officers and their young admirers graced magazine covers and promotions during an age when the police were seen more as friends of the community than as enforcers —although they were that, too.

There is a section dedicated to Boston Police Officer Bobo Olsen, known as a kind and gentle officer who also could be tough and imposing when necessary. The museum also features a Boston Police exhibit with several modern motorcycles that are just as they appeared on the day they were retired. The older Boston Police bikes lined up as if in procession near the entrance include an Indian Scout that Doug built for the 100th anniversary of Boston’s motor patrol. It includes the names of the six fallen officers killed on their bikes over that 100-year history.

Doug said they try to do dedications whenever an officer falls. There is a display near the entrance that is dedicated to all the officers killed in the line of duty. There is another section dedicated to Sean Collier, the young MIT security officer who had planned to join the Somerville Police Department before he was cut down by the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in 2013. Yet another section is dedicated to three officers from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, who were shot while on duty.

Doug’s connection with the police, and to motorcycles, is a close one. He formerly served on the Hartford CT Police Department and has many friends in law enforcement. While he did not serve on the HPD motorcycle squad, he did go through the police motor training course on a 1931 Indian motorcycle, passing with ìflying colorsî.

Indian Motorcycles

The American Police Motorcycle Museum has a display of vintage Indian motorcycles used by police departments through the years. All are in working condition. (Photo: Tom Caldwell)

As for his love of motorcycles, he said he was always fascinated by them and he bought his first one when he was 12-years-old with money he collected by turning in bottles for the deposits on them. It was a 1955 Royal Enfield Indian three-wheeler, which was a police bike. He no longer has that one but his motorcycle collection grew through the years and, by the time he opened the Motorcycle Museum, it numbered 36 bikes.

“They were all in our house before we opened the museum,” said Leslyee.“I was very happy when we had the museum for them.”

The museum has some of the oldest motorcycles used by police departments, with a display of Indians that shows the progression through the years, from a 1916 Power Plus to a 1952 Massachusetts State Police bike.

Doug noted that, prior to 1941, police departments relied more on motorcycles than on automobiles because they were maneuverable, making it easy to get around. While Detroit claims to have been the first department to utilize motorcycles, Doug says New York City was first, using them since 1903. (Prior to that, motorcycles were used to pace bicycle races in 1901.) The public’s love of motorcycles grew out of seeing their use by the police and in racing.

The Indian motorcycle was the most common and most popular bike in the first half of the 20th century, beginning with the Scout and the Chief. In the 1920s, Indian introduced the Prince, and later the Warrior. Doug considers its four-cylinder model the best motorcycle ever made; however, the company ceased production in 1953. The last motorcycles to leave the factory were destined for the NYC Police Department.

The oldest Indian motorcycle in the display on the top floor of the museum has a sidecar with leather seat and Doug pointed out the acetylene tank used for the headlight. The officer had to strike a match to light it and it was used to illuminate a scene, not to light up the roadway while traveling.

The only real suspension was in the seat; the leaf springs on the front only compressed when the motorcycle went into a pothole. In later years, the springs were mounted differently to provide a smoother ride.

Harleys

A display of Harley-Davidson motorcycles used by police departments through the years is one of the displays at the American Police Motorcycle Museum in Meredith. (Photo: Tom Caldwell)

Doug pointed out that the speedometers on the old bikes were handmade but he said modern radar has shown them to be extremely accurate.

A lot of the old bikes disappeared during World War II when the war effort required metal from every source possible. That makes those at the Motorcycle Museum that much more valuable to history.

Doug has rebuilt 10 motorcycles through the years and currently is completing the restoration of a 1926 Indian motorcycle that is believed to be the first used by the Laconia Police Department. The officer who had the bike retired to Sanbornton and Doug purchased the rusty bike two years ago at an estate sale on the property.

He also built a motorcycle to mark the 75th anniversary of the NH State Police.

Doug credits George Yarocki for his knowledge of how to build motorcycles, and a photo of George is featured in the museum.

A shop on the bottom level of the museum’s three floors provides space for the restoration work. Also downstairs is a motorcycle set-up for photographs, with police uniforms and hats of varying sizes available for people to wear. And far in the back is a military display with a mint-condition Willy jeep and a number of military motorcycles, with a dedication to Carmen Fiore, Leslyee’s father, who was an Italian immigrant serving under General George Patton.

One display on the top floor shows a typical police department in the early days of motorcycle squads, with a desk, a wood stove, and an FM radio. Doug noted that, before police radios, law enforcement would interrupt radio programs to call officers to respond to incidents. There was no way for the officer to return the call, so it was not until the end of the shift that other officers would find out what happened.

Another way to reach an officer in those early days was to leave messages at locations along the officer’s scheduled patrol route. Superiors would know where an officer was at any given time because of the strict schedule; but so would wrong-doers, who could make their plans around that schedule.

Early police radios also were receive-only, giving the officer directions but providing no way for the officer to report back. Some of the motorcycles at the museum feature such radios.

Doug noted that, when he acquires a motorcycle, whatever is in the saddlebag remains in the bag for its historical value.

For those wondering where Harley-Davidsons fit into the picture, the museum has plenty of them, as well. After Indian stopped manufacturing motorcycles, Harley became the most popular brand, and the museum has a display of them, showing how they changed between 1929 and 1965. Doug said he always tries to have the last model showing a particular feature before it is replaced, and the first model with the new feature.

In addition to the motorcycles, there are displays of police uniforms and badges, along with other memorabilia. Doug also has a seemingly endless number of facts he can provide, such as noting that the television series CHiPS ran for nine years using only 40 minutes of actual motorcycle footage.

There also is a display highlighting “Women in Policing”with photographs and books about the women who serve on motorcycles. Doug noted that five percent of the police officers in the country serve on motorcycle squads but only .0005 percent are women.

One other feature of the museum that Doug considers to be important is a section showing old motorcycle racing footage, taken from the late teens into early 30s; one showing stills through time; and a 1957 motorcycle training film that emphasizes safety.

The American Police Motorcycle Museum is located at 194 Daniel Webster Highway in Meredith. For more information, see americanpolicemotorcyclemuseum.com or call 603-279-6387. 

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