John Stansbury said his 40 or more vintage bicycles and motorbikes are “like my kids,” but none is dearer than his unrestored 1901 Steffey motorbike.
Stansbury, 65, of Overland Park, beams as he talks about his stable of bikes, motorbikes and riding toys. The story of how he came to own the Steffey is intriguing.
“It was early in the morning at the famous Chief Blackhawk swap meet in Davenport, Iowa, and I saw a man roll this out of his trailer,” he said. Stansbury honed in on the bike like a retriever after a downed duck and knew he had to have it. Within minutes he struck a deal and this ultra-rare bike, one of five made, was his. It’s a good thing, he said, because in no time crowds gathered around it, and he would have missed out.
There’s nothing quite like the patina of an unrestored motorbike that is 114 years old. The single-cylinder engine has an exhaust that looks like water pipe, but the filigreed headlight is as beautiful as jewelry. The front fork is sprung by two small coil springs, and the horn is activated by pressing it against the rotating front wheel. Motorbikes of this era did not have throttles. The engine was either off or running wide open. The rider controlled the speed by adjusting the spark advance.
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Stansbury and his business partner, Bruce Young, have been laying carpet together for 47 years. He started collecting bicycles about 30 years ago, but in the last dozen years or so his collecting has centered more on motorbikes. When the economy took a downturn he sold half of his collection to pay off his house, but now he is back to buying and restoring again. His collection contains little-known brands such as Johnson, Shaw, Evans and Marman.
He likes his motorbikes to either be original or look as if they were brand new, and many of his are perfect specimens. “Motorbikes were transportation, not toys,” he said. They cost less than $100 when the price of a Model T was between $400 and $500.
Stansbury relies on several longtime acquaintances for help. Jeff Wilson of Pleasant Hill does his paint work, Bob Bond of Lee’s Summit does the pinstriping and Performance Plating in Olathe does his chrome and nickel plating. “I hate pits,” Stansbury said, “so Performance goes to extra lengths to get the plated parts perfectly smooth.” Wilson and Bond are perfectionists and it shows in the incredible detail of Stansbury’s restorations. He has two Johnson Motor Wheels. One is a watercooled 1922 and the other is an air-cooled 1915. Johnson later became known for outboard boat motors. He also has a second 1901 Steffey that he is restoring, and a 1911 Shaw that was built in Galesburg, Kan.
“I am passionate about my hobby,” he said. “When I’m not working on a restoration I’m searching the Internet.” The smile on his face is proof of how much he enjoys it.