George Tinkham’s WWII motorcycle on display at Lincoln museum

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By Tara McClellan McAndrew
Correspondent
Posted Jun 16, 2019 at 7:22 PM Updated Jun 16, 2019 at 7:22 PM

Why you should know him:

George Tinkham, a Springfield attorney and motorcycle collector, has a motorcycle manufactured for World War II in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum’s current exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Tinkham bought his 1942 Indian model 841 through eBay.

What was your motorcycle made for?

“Solely for desert warfare during WWII. It’s a very specialized type of war equipment. (The Allies) knew there’d be fighting in North Africa. They suspected they might fight in the outback in Australia, so they needed a motorcycle that could handle the abrasive environment of a desert. … That’s why (it was made with) the shaft drive, where you have your entire drivetrain sealed against the outside environment.”

To protect from overheating, “it had air-cooled V-Twin engines.” To decrease the effects of a bumpy ride, it had rear suspension instead of the common rigid frame. So the soldier could keep his hands on the handlebars, “they used a hand clutch — you just reach out with your fingers to pull in the clutch, and a foot shift — you shift the gears with your foot.”

Was your bike used in the war?

“I wish I could say this was a pivotal piece of machinery in Patton’s march across the Sahara, but I can’t. … (The bike’s) history was lost when the person two owners ago bought it, we think at an auction, but he did not keep great records. Whether any Indian 841s actually came close to seeing action is unclear.”

When did you learn about this type of motorcycle?

“When I was a farm kid back in the ’50s, I didn’t understand why motorcycles had the design they did. I thought, ‘Why don’t they put the cylinders out in the air where they belong, sideways, so they could get cooled? Why don’t they use a shaft drive?’ When I was older, I found out that Indian made such a motorcycle and owning one was one of my dreams.”

What condition was the Indian in when you bought it?

“It ran horribly, but it did run. I was excited to have it, but I realized I had a real project on my hands.” Tinkham’s been working on the bike ever since and can drive it now. “I tell people, ‘The bike’s a bit rough, but everything’s there, everything works. It starts first kick and I wish I could say the same thing about me.’”

What do you use the bike for?

“I use it for numerous displays, not static displays. I think a motorcycle is a dynamic piece of art, so it’s better appreciated in motion. We have local motorcycle events, like the ABATE Freedom Rally, the Vintage Iron Riders Park and Display at the Springfield Mile races … and having it at the ALPLM is a way for me to share it with the world.”

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