It’s amazing what can be created with time, dedication and crafty machine work. Tim Thoele’s 1911 Pierce motorcycle is the perfect example of all of the above.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Thoele, 64 of Kansas City, Kan., bought a Pierce single-cylinder engine in 2005 at a motorcycle swap meet in Davenport, Iowa, and painstakingly built the motorcycle to go around it using photographs, drawings and measurements from an original bike.
“I had it in my head to do this,” he said with his characteristic smile, and seeing the engine for sale was all it took. “This is the last Pierce engine I’ve seen for sale,” he said. The Pierce company also built the Pierce Arrow automobile.
Old motorcycles, and old cars, are nothing new to Thoele. He has several in the process of restoration, and he has been building and selling mufflers for early-1900s bikes for some time. “There aren’t many people involved in the old motorcycle trade,” he said, “and we all pretty much know each other.”
When Thoele dismantled the Pierce engine he found it had damaged bearings, no camshaft and no rocker arms. Surprisingly, he was able to source new bearings because the old ones still had part numbers.
There was no source for a camshaft or rocker arms, so Thoele’s uncle, Martin Wollenberg, enlarged drawings from a Pierce brochure and machined the parts on a special mill. “He’s a wizard,” Thoele said.
Creating the three large-diameter frame sections from scratch was a big challenge, he said. He chose driveshaft tubing, which is very, very strong. Gasoline is carried in the top and front sections of the frame, and the rear section contains the oil tank. Thoele spent hours heating, hammering and shaping the ends of the main tube so it could be welded to the head tube that supports the front fork. He bought the front fork assembly from Joe Turner in Ohio. He shaped smaller frame pieces by filling metal tubing with sand, heating it and bending it to the proper shape.
The engine displaces about 600cc and it produces just five horsepower. The total-loss oil system passes oil from a tank into the engine’s crankcase. What isn’t burned goes out on the ground.
Thoele made almost all of the bike’s small parts with a lathe and milling machine, one part at a time. One day, while looking at all of the parts, he decided it was time to put them together.
“It actually went together pretty quickly,” he said. He finished it about a year ago.
A large leather belt drives the rear wheel that has a coaster brake similar to that of a bicycle. Thoele said it took him three years to find the proper rear wheel hub.
Thoele has ridden his bike on short jaunts several times. “I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” he said. Now it’s on the next project.
Tom Strongman’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org