Hampshire Review Correspondent
ROMNEY – American Pickers have nothing over Hampshire County native Steve Rinker.
Rinker has been the recent caretaker of the oldest original American-made motorcycle on the planet, a rare find in anyone’s book.
The motorcycle has been stored amongst Rinker’s collection of Indians.
Steve and his father Buck operate Buck’s Indian Motorcycle Museum, located beyond the Gap just west of Romney.
It’s not something one makes a lot of fuss about until the time is right, according to Rinker.
“This thing is so rare there won’t be another one like it to be found anywhere,” Rinker said.
It was last fall when Rinker got a call from his friend, Josh Ruby.
Ruby and his father Randy are owners of Wolfe International Auctions (WIA), which Rinker is associated with.
“I find pieces of equipment for them, help them with sales and have even done some auctioneering,” said Rinker.
But it was the call from his friend that started a process which led Rinker and WIA on the find of the century.
“Josh called me and said he had heard where there was a 1903 Indian moped,” Rinker said. “First of all, they aren’t called mopeds and secondly there aren’t any 1903 Indian motorcycles left to be found, one that’s original.”
At least that’s what Rinker thought.
“There may be some pieces of one here and there, but to find one completely original would be impossible,” he said.
Again, at least that’s what he thought.
“I ignored him and blew him off,” Rinker said, “I could care less about going to see this thing because it didn’t exist. It had to be something else.”
Just before last Thanksgiving his friend called again, asking Rinker if he wanted to go look at the 1903 Indian motorcycle.
“He told me some lady in Westminster, Maryland was wanting to sell off her bikes, and that there were five of them,” Rinker said. “So I said ‘sure, why not? Let’s go take a look and settle this thing about a 1903 Indian Motorcycle.’”
The bikes, according to Rinker, had belonged to Charles Alder, father-in-law of Joan Alder.
They had been passed down to her husband Charlie when Alder passed away.
Then, just last year, Charlie died in a tragic motorcycle accident so she wanted to get rid of the bikes that had been sitting in her garage, covered up with sheets and blankets, “Rinker said.
And so Rinker, along with the Rubys, traveled to Westminster to visit Mrs. Alder.
“I walked into the garage and removed the first blanket and there was a 1926 Harley Davidson,” said Rinker. “I removed the second blanket and there was a 1923 Harley. And all of these bikes had been restored.”
According to Rinker, under the third blanket was a 1917 Harley and under the fourth, a 1919 Indian.
Being owners of an Indian Motorcycle Museum, Rinker said the 1919 Indian really intrigued him.
“I pulled off the fifth blanket and there was a 1903 Indian Camelback, all original parts, untouched as far as restoration,” he said. “I just stood there in shock with Josh tapping me on the shoulder asking me, ‘Is that it, is it really it?’”
Rinker said it took him at least 10 minutes to regain his composure because he was looking at a piece of riding history.
“You just don’t find something like this,” said Rinker. “Not in a lifetime.”
Although Rinker said he would love to have the bike for the museum, and had even offered Alder a price, he said he couldn’t rightfully purchase the bike out from under the auction.
“Whoever buys this bike will have an enormous responsibility,” said Rinker. “This bike should be shown to the public in a place like the Smithsonian or the American Motorcycle Association in Ohio.”
Rinker said his research shows that this 1903 Indian Camelback is the oldest American-made motorcycle anywhere on record.
“There may be other 1903 motorcycles out there, but none that are all original like this one,” he said.
Indian began building motorcycles in 1901 when they built just one bike, according to Rinker.
In 1902 they took the one bike apart and used it as a pattern to build approximately 25 bikes.
“Indian has built bicycles since the 1800s,” Rinker said. “Basically, what they did was take a bicycle frame and put a motor on it.”
In 1903 around 600 Indian motorcycles had been built and only this one is left in its original condition, he said.
Rinker said Alder also had numerous other antique items for sale, including old gas pumps, WWII items, old trains and more.
These items, including the 1903 Indian, will go up for sale this Saturday in Frederick, Md.
The bike, according to Rinker, could bring an enormous amount of money, simply because it is such a piece of American transportation history.
“I think Mrs. Alder should be very pleased this Saturday,” Rinker said. “I just know I am thrilled to have been a part of this and to have been the caretaker of it for a while.”
Rinker said he feels kind of sad, however, because it is probable that the person who purchases the motorcycle will likely put it in a private collection and it will never be seen again.
“I took it to Daytona and put it on display,” Rinker said. “I had people lining up to just take a picture of it.”
Whatever happens, Rinker said he feels sure that, with the price the bike is likely to bring, it will be preserved as a piece of transportation history.
So does he think the bike might someday be restored?
“To restore this bike would likely get a person shunned in the motorcycle community because it would be such a shame to ruin the originality of the bike,” said Rinker.
The value in the bike, he said, is its original condition.
To take that away would not only destroy the bike, but also destroy its priceless value, Rinker said.