Under Old Barnstormers Remembered this is an interesting story of a young man and his love for his Henderson motorcycle that his son John thought we all might like to read about.
Ray was born in 1914 and grew up with a passion for things mechanical. He left school when he was 14 years old and started as an apprentice pattern maker/floor molder in Seager Bros foundry on the Auckland waterfront.
As a 17 year old Ray was given a 1917 Henderson 4 cylinder motorcycle. It wasn’t in the best of condition and the only way Ray was able to transport it home was as parts in a steel wheel garden barrow. A pretty easy task if you lived next door however Rays trip was from Onehunga, over the old Mangere Bridge, along Coronation Rd, Favona Rd to Station Rd Otahuhu. Not a pleasant journey and no doubt took the best part of a day to complete.
Specifications of the 1917 Henderson Model G –
Engine in line 4 cylinder 990cc, IOE valve operation, magneto ignition
Transmission 3 speed with kickstart
Lighting – Acetylene
Top Speed 75 mph
Price – $325
Rays motorcycle would have cost $370 as it was the deluxe version and was fitted with electric lighting which was quite advanced for its time.
Even New Zealanders had success in competition on Hendersons – A motorcyclist would have had to have been wealthy to own a new Henderson in 1917, and slightly eccentric to want to race it as well.
Ray put his self taught mechanical skills into rebuilding the Henderson in the outside wash house at his family residence in Station Road. Who knows what was actually required to complete the rebuild but as we know bikes from that period suffered greatly and due to poor road conditions, low quality fuel, and limited machine maintenance their survival rate was not high. Despite what ever situation put this machine off the road Ray completed his rebuild and the finishing touch for the completed motorcycle was to hand paint the transfers onto the sides of the navy blue petrol tank. With Rays skill it would have been a job well done.
To learn more about Henderson motorcycles click here.
While living at home Ray kept the Henderson in the outside wash house, and even this room had stories of its own. Besides Ray having to cut 3 rebates out of each of the door jams to allow the extremely wide handle bars to pass through, hanging on the walls was a Indian PowerPlus frame and sidecar chassis right next to 3 Corbin motorcycle speedos. All these items went to the local dump when the family moved out in 1965. The vintage movement was in its infancy and these bits had no value nowadays Corbin speedos run out at about $2000 each. Hmmmm if only???
The reliability of the Henderson was proven as Ray used it as his daily transport for many years, from Otahuhu into Auckland for work at Seager Bros.
Ray on his Henderson aged about 20 years old.
It was this bike that spurned Ray onto wanting to own a new 4 cylinder American motorcycle. By this time there was only one american manufacturer of 4 cylinder motorcycles left and if Ray really wanted a brand new, sparkling 4 cylinder machine then it would have to be an Indian. So in 1937 Ray wrote to the Indian Motocycle Company enquiring about purchasing a new Model 437. In encouragement for Ray they sent back the letter below complete with a Owners Handbook and a Sales Catalogue of the new models for 1937. There was no indication of prices and due to the 33% import duty imposed by the New Zealand government in 1925 on imports from the U.S. this would have been a very expensive purchase (the tax was imposed to encourage the purchase of British manufactured items, and to restrict things even more a U.S. import licence was required which was nigh on impossible to get.) In 1938 this model retailed for $425 US.
The difficultly in importing such a vehicle probably assisted Ray in deciding to purchase a 1 year old Chevrolet coupe instead for just £175. It may have had 2 more cylinders than a new Indian 4 (or an older Henderson 4) but practically it was just the vehicle a young single man needed for night time socialising. And perhaps it was this vehicle that got Ray the nickname of ‘Nookie Moss’?
Click on the letterhead to see the complete reply from Indian.
WW2 interrupted Rays riding when he enlisted in the airforce in 1941. He worked as a Air Frame Fitter under the rank of LAC (Leading Aircraftman) and served in New Zealand, then throughout various postings in the pacific. During his service time in NZ he used the Chev as transport and as there were wartime restrictions on fuel he mounted a one gallon tin on the firewall with a 2 way tap. Topping up the tin was courtesy of a piece of hose and one of the many drums of aero fuel that were stored on base. The Chev never ran so well as it did during that war time period.
On his return Ray was retrained as a plumber/drainlayer by the Ministry of Works due to the shortage of returning skilled tradesmen. Marriage followed in 1949 and then 2 children. However motorcycling was never far from his mind and Ray continued to ride the Henderson up to 1953 when it was finally retired. As his son John grew up Rays interest continued in motor vehicles as they took in various motorcycling and motor racing events together including the Mangere TT, Western Springs Speedway and Ardmore.
Below is the complete 1937 Catalogue that Ray was sent. It is in a flipping book format so you will need Adobe Flash Player.
[book id='10' /]
Grab anywhere near a corner or edge (Left Mouse click and hold, the drag the mouse) to turn the page. Alternativley use the > or < buttons to skip forwards and backwards through the book.
Retirement of the bike meant that it lay for many years unused in the back wood shed. John is not really sure what happened to the Henderson, except that in 1965 when he was just 14 he came home from school one day and the bike was gone. The only thing that remained was the black pancake oil stain on the concrete floor. Whether it had been sold for a price that Ray could not say no to, or given away to remove any temptation that may have existed in young John wanting to ride motorcycles nobody will ever know. However the upside of this is that John did get to ride motorcycles, his first (of many) being a 1947 Norton ES2 500cc single. But that’s a complete other story.
Ray on his son Johns 1917 HD 7/9 in 1974.
Ray passed away in 1982.