George Yarocki’s lifelong love of Indian motorcycles began nearly 70 years ago. George was just 14 years old when he bought his first Indian in 1941, a 1929 101 Scout. Now, decades later, Yarocki is regarded as perhaps the world’s foremost expert on and restorer of original Indians. Another 1929 101 Scout that he once owned is part of the Indian collection on display at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History on the edge of downtown Springfield, Mass.
The museum underwent an extensive makeover more than a year ago, and Yarocki was on hand when the 40,000-square-facility was unveiled on Oct. 10, 2009. While the museum also displays locally-made Knox, Atlas, Pope and Rolls-Royce automobiles and Smith & Wesson firearms, Indians are the centerpiece and occupy most of the second floor. Since it opened, nearly 50,000 motorcycle lovers have visited the museum; almost 2,000 alone on “Indian Day” on July 18. The date for Indian Day in 2011 has already been set — July 17.
Yarocki declared a 1916 Indian Power Plus “the hit of the show” after taking his first tour, although he did notice that the headlight needed to be repositioned and that the taillight wasn’t acetylene as originally manufactured. It was the Power Plus that “really put Indian on the map. It would go like the wind,” says Yarocki, who lives in Torrington, Conn. He has since become a regular visitor to the museum.
Indians were manufactured in Springfield from 1901 through 1953. Yarocki reported that at its peak year in 1913, Indian produced 32,000 motorcycles. The museum’s collection covers all the decades and includes flat track racers from the 1920s, a 1932 Scout Pony, a 1937 Four, a 1951 Warrior and a 1951 Chief with a sidecar. Much of the collection came from Esta Manthos, who operated a private Indian museum in Springfield from 1974 to 2006. “Indian was the largest motorcycle maker in the world into the 1920s. Harley-Davidson wasn’t nearly the same size,” says museum director Guy McLain.
The museum has a simple purpose. “What we want to do is tell the story of how Springfield was a major part of the Industrial Revolution. We want to tell that bigger story,” McLain says. Some of the display items are surprising, such as the Rolls-Royces. Yes, the British luxury auto maker once had a factory in Springfield. In 1922, it produced 1,100 Silver Ghosts and 1,844 Phantoms, and employed nearly 1,000 workers. Early games from Milton Bradley, old dictionaries from Merriam-Webster and vintage Breck Shampoo products can also be seen. The museum is located at 21 Edwards Street and is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
One benefit of the late opening hour is that it allows time for a leisurely morning ride west along Route 57. Heading from Springfield, the curvy, hilly Route 57 goes through Southwick about 10 miles away, Granville and into New Boston. Three places worth visiting are Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts in Southwick, the Gran-Val Scoop in Granville for homemade ice cream and the New Boston Inn in New Boston. The donuts at Mrs. Murphy’s are apt to still be warm when you buy them. Seasonal favorites include maple in spring, blueberry cake in summer and apple cider and pumpkin in fall. Besides offering rich, tasty ice cream in numerous flavors, the Gran-Val Scoop also has a petting zoo filled with alpacas, llamas and other farm animals. The New Boston Inn, which was built as a private residence in 1737, was once featured on SyFy television’s “Ghost Hunters” because of a murder that occurred there in 1805.
What: The Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History for a look back at the venerable Indian motorcycle brand and a ride for good eats through the hills and woods of western Massachusetts near the Connecticut border.
Where: 21 Edwards Street in Springfield, Mass. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Admission: Adults, $12.50. Senior and college students, $9. Ages 3-17, $6.50. One ticket gives you access to five museums in Springfield. Easy to reach from New York and anywhere in New England.
More info:www.springfieldmuseums.org, www.gran-valscoop.com and www.newbostoninn.com