Red Eliason

Reader Pete Dopson builds a custom Indian motorcycle.

Photo by Pete Dopson

This is a short story of a motorcycle that is not exactly what it appears to be.

Indeed what is pictured is Red Eliason (more on that name later), an American bitsa (a custom). It is a collection of parts, gathered together with imagination and a sense of adventure, to create a modern street-legal, period-type dirt tracker.

The purists can take a deep breath and relax, knowing that no collectible was butchered to gain the end result. The bones of this custom form an amalgam of sorts: A rigid frame from a 1937 Indian Sport Scout married to 1942 (?) Indian Sport Scout mechanicals. An ideal candidate for a custom is a nonmatching frame and mechanicals.

But here’s the winter twist, an even better reason for building this custom red creation: A mismatch of mechanicals, as the engine was sourced from a snowmobile, specifically an Eliason Motor Toboggan/FWD (Four Wheel Drive Auto Company) of Clintonville, Wisconsin.

Indian powered

Carl Eliason was a mechanic, steam engineer, blacksmith, and general store owner, and in 1924 built his first snowmobile in Sayner, Wisconsin. So, to the discerning eye of a motorcyclist, this engine telegraphs the message that it looks like an Indian 45-cubic-inch V-twin, and indeed it is. But from 1940-1946 Indian sold a block of approximately 300 Sport Scout engines with 3-speed transmissions and kickstarters to Eliason/FWD, for installation in their motorized snow toboggan.

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