The Hendee Special: 1914 Indian

13 Sep

Over a hundred thousand V-twin Indians had been sold since 1907 and 31,950 motorcycles were built during 1913 alone. By1914 the Hendee Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of motorcycles in the world and had over 3,000 India

Hendee Special with Princess sidecar

Hendee Special with Princess sidecar

 

Hendee Special -- 1914 sales brochure.

Hendee Special — 1914 sales brochure.

The two-speed gearbox was introduced in1910 and the success of the Indian race team at Isle of Mann in 1911 led to the design of the Tourist model the following year. The Tourist models featured dual rear brakes (drum and band), knockout axles, roller bearings on the rear hub, and were fitted with the new Gustafson kickstarter. The innovation for 1913 models was the “Cradle Spring Frame” that, along with the front leaf spring of 1910, provided the first complete suspension system for a motorcycle. Something impressive was required for the next model year.

 

Patented Indian kickstarter.

Patented Indian kickstarter.

Seven Indian models were introduced for 1914, one with a single-cylinder engine and six V-twins. The Hendee Special was the elite model and featured the first electric starter used on a production motorcycle. Unlike on the other two electric models where the batteries had to be removed and manually recharged every 12.5 hours (or less), the starter motor also functioned as an electric generator to automatically recharge them. Another innovation was the use of waterproof condenser coils to provide the spark, which improved the reliability and efficiency of ignition and certainly made starting easier. It was a brilliant design and it utterly failed.

Charles F. Kettering developed the first successful electric starter for an automobile in 1911 and they were installed in the 1912 Cadillac. President George Hendee was inspired by the idea and proposed the development of a similar starter for the Indian motorcycle. Considering the popularity of sidecars–with configurations that included delivery boxes, flat beds, taxis, and passenger seating—it was a valid concept, especially since the Hendee Mfg. Co. planned to make 4,500 sidecars in 1914. A component of Kettering’s starter had been, or was being, made by General Electric in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (formerly Stanley Electric Company) a factory noted for developing transformers and electrical devices. In January of 1913 the engineers at the GE factory began working on the electric starter for Indian motorcycles and by early spring the first prototypes were tested.

Splitdorf magneto

Splitdorf magneto

 

Hendee starter/generator

Hendee starter/generator

The starter motor/dynamo was designed with compound winding—two sets of wire windings, each with two poles and two sets of brushes. When operating as a starter motor it required 12 volts, using both the shunt and series windings with all four poles and brushes. As a charging dynamo it used only the shunt winding with two poles and two brushes to generate 6 volts. A manually operated, spring-return switch mounted in the front of the toolbox controlled whether it was used as a starting motor or dynamo.

 

The 12-volt, 1.5-horsepower electric motor was connected to the engine by an enclosed roller chain (the same size as the drive chain) and had a 2:1 gear ratio that would turn over the engine at 500 rpm “when the batteries are at their maximum strength.” This was protected from the main crankshaft by a cone clutch that acted much like a shock absorber.

 

The 6-volt dynamo had a two-part magnetic regulator. A “vibrating” armature controlled the amperage to prevent the batteries from overheating. Their maximum charging rate was 9 amperes per hour. The second part was a battery cut-off that would disengage the charging system if the voltage increased beyond 7 volts and also would prevent the batteries from discharging themselves through the dynamo when the motorcycle was operating at slower speeds. The dynamo would begin charging the batteries when the motorcycle reached 8 mph in low gear or 12 mph in high and it developed its maximum output (i.e. 9 amp/hr) at 12 mph and 16 mph respectively.

Hendee electrical system

Hendee electrical system

 

Hendee Special

Hendee Special

The Hendee Special used two special 6-volt batteries that had 35 Ah (amperes/hour) capacity (12-volt, 70 amperes when in series). These differed from those used in the Tourist model by having their internal plates protected by wooden spacers that also acted as baffles to prevent battery acid from slopping around. The pair of batteries weighed 23 pounds.

 

A number of innovations were used in constructing this electrical system. One was the use of waterproof coils with their own condenser (one for each cylinder) to replace the standard magneto. The other was the inclusion of two removable “interrupter” plugs under the saddle. These were nothing more than copper rods with insulated ends that broke the circuit when removed and prevented the motorcycle from being started and stolen. (Ignition keys had yet to be invented.)

 

It’s commonly believed that Hedstrom and the engineering staff opposed the release of the Hendee Special and that President Hendee pushed it through over their objections. Another rumor is that Hedstrom objected to the $100,000 that allegedly was spent to develop the new electric system. This might well be true, although no evidence of such exists in the Indian archives. Hedstrom retired from the company on March 24th. At this time the board of directors held the controlling stock in the company and were in the process of falsely inflating its value. Perhaps Hedstrom “read the writing on the wall” and departed ahead of disaster or that he was tired of the weekend commute to his home in Portland, Connecticut. Whatever his reason for leaving it is unlikely to have been the Hendee Special months before its release.

Hendee Special

Hendee Special

 

Indian Tourist Standard -- 1914 sales brochure.

Indian Tourist Standard — 1914 sales brochure.

The 1914 V-twins were rugged machines and E.G. Baker set out on a Two-Speed Tourist Standard to break the transcontinental record. The only modifications made to this stock electric model were the addition of an engine belly pan and 3-inch wide tires that required removal of the rear fender. He covered 3,378.9 miles from San Diego to New York in 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes and earned himself the nickname “Cannonball.”

 

The company certain knew that a problem existed with the Hendee Special and resorted to including an extra set of batteries (another 23 pounds) with each sale, but not for the other two electric models. This has created the misconception that the batteries were at fault. The rough roads of the era would have been one cause for the system’s failure, but the batteries for the Special were constructed with baffles and spacers while those on the other two electric models were not. Yet Cannonball Baker brought his electrified Tourist model cross-country without reported incident.

 

Just doing the math shows that under ideal conditions at maximum output (over 12 mph in 1st gear; 16 mph in 2nd) it would require four hours to recharge the batteries from half strength to full capacity. However, around town or on rough roads the cut-off system (under 8 mph / 12 mph) would frequently be engaged. The real problem was the rapid depletion of battery charge with repeated starts, which was compounded by the dynamo cut-out and slow (maximum 9 Ah) charging rate. The long electrical leads between the batteries and starter would have exacerbated the problem due to electrical resistance and increased the number of amperes required. Although the 61cu/in engine didn’t have high compression, the 1.5-hp electric motor had only a 2:1 gear ratio to assist in cranking it. This suggests that a substantial number of amps would have been required to “spin” the engine.

 

Hendee electric system

Hendee electric system

The 1914 Indian reportedly could only sustain between one- and two-dozen starts before the batteries failed to deliver sufficient amps to turn over the engine. In comparison, a 1965-84 Harley usually has an 18 Ah (amp/hour) 12-volt battery and a generator with a 10-amp output. Even on a modern motorcycle a considerable amount of battery capacity is used when starting the engine. If the generator on your older Harley has ever failed or you’ve had difficulty getting your ignition to fire or you made too many starts and stops between runs, you undoubtedly experienced the same frustration as an owner of a Hendee Special.

 

The Hendee Special electrical system was a technological accomplishment that failed and production was discontinued in March of 1914. Some sources claim that less than 100 of these were built, but this seems too low for the premier model of a company with 17 assembly plants located from across the United States as well as in Canada, England, and Australia. One of the few surviving examples– engine number 76F700– was made in Toronto and is fitted with the only known example of the specially designed kickstarter that was retro fitted to this model. Ironically, a couple of surviving examples have been fitted with modern batteries, but then again, these valuable machines have not been subjected to rough roads or repeatedly started. Regardless of why, in light of the failure of the Hendee Special an electric starter wouldn’t reappear on a motorcycle until1958 and Harley-Davidson wouldn’t introduce one until1965.

 

The Princess sidecar was introduced for the 1914 model year.

The Princess sidecar was introduced for the 1914 model year.

Hendee Mfg. sidecar shop.

Hendee Mfg. sidecar shop.

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2 Responses to “The Hendee Special: 1914 Indian”

  1. m. richardson March 26, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    Many years ago I interviewed a member of Oscar Hedstrom’s immediate family and was told that he had an argument with George Hendee regarding something involving the way the motorcycles were being built in the factory and because of that argument he decided to leave. The watering of the stock by the board of directors did not occur until much later when George Hendee was retired and out of the picture. Even tho there was a board of directors, Oscar Hedstrom was at that time the second largest share holder in the company, followed by George Hendee who was the largest. The proof for this statement is in Harry Sucher’s book where he stated the sum that it took to buy Hedstrom out of his contract. Well that sum was required because as the terms of his buy out stated that he had to divest himself of all Hendee Mfg. stock. It was the purchase of that stock by Mr. Hendee and the board of directors who decided to buy back some of that stock is the reason for that huge sum of money by 1914 standards.

    • touringroads March 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

      Harry Sucher’s book, “The Iron Redskin” is essential reading, but it is filled with inaccuracies and a few fabrications. Others, including myself, have been researching the Indian history and we have discovered documents that disprove some of the personal recollections that Sucher obtained from former employees of the company. Why Hedstrom left seems to have two main theories: stock manipulation by the board of directors and a falling out with his partner George Hendee. Stock manipulation was taking place about this time, but an actual date for when this started has not been discovered. Another was a disagreement with Hendee that has, true or not, been associated with the Hendee Special. Although a large sum of money was spent to develop the electric starter, there were so many other developments of far greater expense –the previous development of two aircraft engines is one example–that it seems improbable that this would cause Hedstrom to depart the company. If you have any leads that can be researched, any verifiable information on this (or any other) aspect of this history PLEASE contact me and I’ll get it into the official archives in Springfield. Thanks for reaching out.

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