1936 Indian Dispatch-Tow

Sometimes, three wheels are better than two.

| March/April 2011

1936 Indian Dispatch-Tow
Top speed:
Engine: 750cc air-cooled flathead 42-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 500lbs (227kg) (approx.)
Price then / now: $458 /$35,000 (est.)  

When I was growing up in suburbia, most of the kids on my block had a plastic toy called a Big Wheel. There was one big wheel out front with pedals, and two much smaller wheels at the back, making it a three-wheeler. You could call the Indian Dispatch-Tow an adult Big Wheel.

A Big Wheel had a low center of gravity, and your butt sat just a few inches above the asphalt. With enough speed, you could pull off some spectacular power slides. Before there even was a Big Wheel, photographer and Indian Dispatch-Tow owner Gary Phelps built his own version. He and his friends would take a tricycle, turn the frame upside down by reversing the fork, and peel the rubber off the steel rear wheels. Then, with the upside down frame and its lower center of gravity, they’d sit on the “step” between the wheels and pull off power slides. Ah, nostalgia.

A Big Wheel or an upside down tricycle are just toys, though, and there are and were other three-wheelers out there — such as the Indian Dispatch-Tow — that were built for a much more practical purpose. Although the Dispatch-Tow is a completely different kind of three-wheeler, it also invokes a sense of nostalgia, and harkens back to a time when things might have been a bit simpler.

From the history books

According to Harry V. Sucher in his history of Indian, The Iron Redskin, the Indian Dispatch-Tow became a reality in the early 1930s, inspired by the needs of a car dealership only a few doors away from the Indian factory.

As Sucher relates it, the Dispatch-Tow was the result of discussions between Indian’s upper management and the owner of the Springfield Packard dealership. In order to provide better service to his Packard customers and reduce wasted time and money, the dealer wanted to find a simple way of ferrying customer cars back and forth from the customer’s home to the garage. He was tired of sending two men in one car, only to have them both come back to the garage, to be sent back out again after the repairs were made. Fact or fiction, it’s hard to know.

Richard Backus
3/14/2011 9:39:09 AM

Good catch, Bill. We inadvertently switched the specs on the Dispatch Tow. Both the Dispatch Tow and the Sport Scout had the same 73mm bore x 88.9mm stroke. Richard Backus/Motorcycle Classics

Bill Lee
3/12/2011 8:59:12 AM

I enjoy your magazine very much. I've had a subscription since I first discovered the magazine in 2007, I find the articles and writing to be very professional and entertaining. I especially like the technical details in the "Essentials" box. I was curious about the engine spec's on the Indian Dispatch-Tow. The bore and stroke are very over square which seemed unusual to me for a motorcycle of that era. Looking at the Indian Sport Scout Racer in the next article the bore stroke dimensions are basically reversed. Is it possible that the bore/stroke dimensions listed for the Dispatch-Tow are incorrect? Keep up the great work! Thanks, Bill Lee

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