WASHINGTON, Kan. — Dale Keesecker was 12 years old when he put a gasoline-powered washing machine motor on his bicycle and rode it down a dirt road to a country school near this farm community that straddles U.S. Route 36 about an hour north of Manhattan.
By TOM STRONGMAN
“It would do about 40 miles an hour,” he said. “I was really intrigued by it.” The gasoline motor wasn’t being used after the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) brought electricity to farms. “We did with what we had,” he said.
Keesecker, 75, is a third-generation farmer who “raises crops and pigs” but his hobby is collecting and restoring motorcycles. Because he is a self-described “Type A perfectionist,” his motorcycles are like two-wheeled artwork, and his knowledge about them is encyclopedic.
The Keesecker family has been farming near Washington for nearly 100 years. The farm operation has a couple dozen employees, including his daughter and grandsons. With several thousand sows and guidance from nutritionists and veterinarians from Kansas State University, they raise hogs from “farrow to finish.” Their cropland grows corn, soybeans, milo, wheat and sunflowers.
Keesecker’s collection is heavily skewed toward Vincents and European brands such as Ducati, Laverda and MV Agusta. His love affair with the Vincent began in the early 1950s when the Vincent Black Shadow was the superbike of its day. In 1957, his girlfriend’s brother bought one, and riding it fascinated him. “Some day I am going to have one of these,” he said to himself. He bought his first one nearly 30 years later, and that was the start of his collecting. “I just bought what I liked,” he said.
He scoured swap meets for engines, frames and basket-case bikes that he could transform in his workshop. He and Tracy Tice restore about two bikes a year. They do all of the mechanical work but use a local body shop for paint. Keesecker even assembles his own wheels.
From the standpoint of perfection and uniqueness, many of his bikes are museum worthy. He has several one-of-a-kind specials, including three Egli Vincents designed by Swiss engineer Fritz Egli and built by Englishman Roger Slater. Egli designed a frame to house the 998cc Vincent V-twin engine. One of Keesecker’s Eglis has been modified so that it produces nearly 100 horsepower at the rear wheel.
Keesecker doesn’t concentrate on just one brand, but he does seem to have a weakness for Italian bikes, in addition to the Vincents. He says his Laverda SFC 1000 “is one of the most beautiful Laverdas ever built,” and it won an award at last year’s Art of The Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute.
His vintage motorcycles have been displayed at several top events around the country, and his 1953 Vincent Black Shadow Series C was included in the Guggenheim’s 1998 The Art of the Motorcycle exhibit in New York, Las Vegas and Bilbao, Spain. “I like for people to see what they looked like,” he said.
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