Wheels Through Time Museum, Excelsiors and Indians
Dale Walksler’s Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, NC is quite a thing to see. Not only is it filled with 300 excellent examples of early American iron, it also has numerous cars, printed posters and other art, and numerous mechanical oddities. Unlike many static museums, Dale keeps these bikes in running condition, and fires them up and rides them from time to time. Check out the videos on his website to see more.
If you ever find yourself near Maggie Valley, stop in and take a look. But be sure to give yourself several hours to see it all.
Here are some photos of the Excelsiors and Indians that caught my eye during my visit this summer. The first X is a 1912 model with a 50cubic inch Vtwin and flat belt drive. For many X fans this bike is the top of the heap; The Bike To Have. Twin cylinder belt drive bikes aren’t common anymore, and the remaining ones aren’t ridden much, which is a shame. But this one is ready to use and goes down the road just like it did 98 years ago. While that single speed drive belt might occasionally slip a little bit when compared to the later chain drive, the V twin will still pull it up most hills without struggling. Note the leather lagging attached to the pulley on the rear wheel. It grips the leather belt in a leather-on-leather friction sandwich. In the first photo several of the distinctive Excelsior linkages are visible. One interesting one is just ahead of the gas tank. It takes the motion from the rider’s right twist grip and opens the carburetor throttle which is hidden just behind the nickel plated “V” between the cylinders. To stop the motor, the linkage closes the throttle, and a small bell crank just ahead of the motor transmits some motion diagonally downwards through another rod to some more cranks and levers that open the exhaust valves, thus killing the compression and stopping the motor. A clever arrangement. In 1915 X moved the exhaust lifter linkage, mounting it on a portion of the gearbox shifter linkage. In 1916 it was moved again, now actuated by the kickstarter. Then to kill the motor, the rider (me!) steps lightly on the footstarter lever while the motor spins and the kicker ratchet click, click, clicks. Not the most elegant method, but it is functional.
The long lever on the left side of the gas tank pivots just in front of the motor pulley, then brings a 2” wheel into contact with the bottom of the drive belt. By levering the unit front to back, the belt tension can go from slack to tight. This bike also features a clutch, which can be seen on the outboard end of the motor pulley. The long black rod running upward diagonally to the left twist grip allows the pilot to control the clutch with a strong forearm.
A painting depicting the Excelsior headquarters in Chicago.
A 30.5 cubic inch, 500cc Excelsior single. This early model has an automatic inlet valve, without a cam lobe, pushrod or rocker. 3/4” Schebler carb, Troxel seat, skip tooth chain and sprocket. The oil feed from the tank goes into the timing chest, not into the crankcase as other makers did. No magneto on this model, it uses points, coils and batteries.
One interesting thing I just noticed: The RIGHT hand twist grip controls the timing, the LEFT hand controls the carb throttle. This wasn’t a modification from a previous owner (like maybe to match his old Indian with left hand throttle). X made bikes this way. I’ll drop in an old X advertisement which shows the left hand throttle linkage:
An Excelsior Big Valve racer. This motor design was a factory update to the 1915 Big Twin, with new barrel/head casting to accommodate huge valves. Of course, this required a new inlet manifold, bigger carb, different exhaust pipes and nuts, the inlet pushrods have to be bent to clear the fins, etc. If you look closely in the 2nd photo, you can see the exhaust valve lifter is hand operated, at the top of the crankcases between the jugs. I can’t see enough of the frame to know if this was a home-made cut down, or one of the factory short-coupled frames. The short coupled bikes had the rear wheel brought in closer to the motor, where the toolbox used to be located. That shortened the wheelbase by a few inches for racing. [pay no attention to that left foot pedal! ;)]
Lots of Indians in the museum. Here’s one in a color you don’t often see. Those pre1916, pre Powerplus motors sure are gorgeous. Like jewelry.
A lot of stuff in this photo. The black cylinder below the gas tank is the ignition coil. The three cylinders below it are the battery. The cylinder under the seat is acetylene for the headlight. The red tank between the motor and the rear tire is the oil tank. This bike also has a speedometer fitted on the frame top tube, with an armored cable running back to the miter gearbox and gear that meshes with a two-peice gear that is screwed onto the spokes.
Early camelback Indian, twin cylinder model. This one has a great pillion seat, complete with passenger handlebars!
This one looks normal enough, until you spot the 2nd magneto hanging off the front of the motor.
Dual magnetos… hmmm. That works well if you want to install dual plugs on your heads. But these are both single cylinder mags. So now the motor has to give up the power required to spin two different armatures through two magnetic fields, but still only gets the same amount of sparks as a factory setup. In the top photo, the linkage was modified to retard and advance both magnetos with one lever, which was done pretty well.
I’m not sure what the builder was trying to accomplish with this one. Neat bike though.