The Epic Adventure of the 1912 Henderson Four

Motorcycle
In the early 1900s, two adventurous souls named Carl Stearns Clancy and Walter Storey embarked on an incredible journey from Philadelphia in 1912.

Their trusty companions for this daring expedition were the innovative 1912 Henderson Fours, cutting-edge motorcycles of their era. The mission?

To travel around the world. Unfortunately, fate had other plans, as Storey’s bike met its end in Ireland on day one, leading to his departure in Paris.

Undaunted, Clancy pressed on, keeping sponsors Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review updated through telegrams.

From Japan, he shipped to San Francisco, navigating the basic U.S. roads to reach New York by August 1913, completing an 18,000-mile adventure in just 10 months.

The Motorcycle Marvels of 1912

In the early 20th century, motorcycles had been around for 18 years, mainly featuring the French De Dion-Bouton single-cylinder engine. This engine, with total-loss lubrication and a unique starting method, defined the early motorcycle experience.

However, the 1912 Henderson Four emerged as a game-changer, ushering in a new era of long-distance touring.

Henderson vs. FN and Pierce: Changing the Motorcycle Game

Before the Henderson Four, two other four-cylinder motorcycles existed in the U.S. The Belgian FN introduced the concept in 1905, while Percy Pierce, inspired by FN, founded the Pierce motorcycle in 1909. However, these early fours couldn’t handle the challenging American roads.

Enter William Henderson from Scotland, who, along with his brother Tom, founded the Henderson Motorcycle Company in 1910. They created a bike with a 7 horsepower 934cc four-cylinder engine, offering ease of use and reliability on rough American terrains.

The Evolution of the Henderson: A Journey of Upgrades

The original Henderson design was well-suited for 1912 America, featuring a low center of gravity, mechanically operated valves, and an efficient splash lubrication system. It was a pioneer in motorcycle technology, even including a clutch, a rarity at the time, for rider convenience.

Over the years, William Henderson continued to enhance the model, introducing improvements like a 2-speed hub in 1914 and shortening the wheelbase in 1915.

By 1917, the Henderson boasted three speeds, wet sump lubrication, and an enhanced clutch, solidifying its status as a leader in motorcycle innovation.

A Change in Ownership: Henderson under Schwinn’s Influence

As World War I unfolded, the Henderson factory faced challenges. Ignaz Schwinn, owner of Excelsior Motorcycles in Chicago, recognized the Henderson’s potential as a police motorcycle. The Henderson brothers sold their venture to Schwinn, who tailored it for police use, shifting production to Chicago.

This change led William Henderson to create the sporty Ace motorcycle. Schwinn continued Henderson production until 1931, leaving a lasting impact on the motorcycle industry.

The Rarity and Magic of the 1912 Henderson

Today, the 1912 Henderson Four is a rare gem among collectors. Only a few, including Frank Westfall’s operational model, are believed to exist. Frank, an enthusiast of antique American motorcycles, acquired his Henderson through a fortuitous turn of events.

Frank Westfall and His 1912 Henderson Adventure

Frank Westfall, a custom leather designer and antique motorcycle lover, stands out among collectors.

Unlike those who keep their treasures as static artifacts, Frank rides his 1912 Henderson through mud puddles and across the country. Participating in events like the Great Race and Cannonball Run, he relishes piloting this century-old marvel.

Despite its age, the 1912 Henderson surprises with its agility, reaching an idling speed of 40mph. Frank describes its smoothness, comparing its sound to that of an antique car. He embraces the challenges, including the small clutch and tricky maneuvers needed to get the bike rolling, as part of the joy of riding this historical masterpiece.

The Legacy Lives On: A Timeless Journey on Two Wheels

In Frank Westfall’s hands, the 1912 Henderson Four defies time, connecting the past and present. As one of the oldest practical motorcycles still in existence, it’s a testament to the enduring allure of classic American engineering.

For Frank, riding the Henderson is more than a journey through history; it’s a slice of heaven on two wheels, a sentiment shared by enthusiasts who appreciate the beauty of a bygone era’s craftsmanship.

The Antique Wave: A Collector’s Delight

Frank Westfall’s acquisition of the 1912 Henderson wasn’t a straightforward affair. It began with a mysterious rear wheel, an odd hub from an ice racer. Intrigued, Frank brought it to a swap meet, seeking insights into its origin. Little did he know, this seemingly insignificant wheel held the key to a rare treasure.

Mike Smith, a renowned motorcycle restorer, recognized the wheel’s significance. Despite Frank’s curiosity about its year, Mike remained elusive, creating a sense of mystery around the find. Two years later, at another swap meet, the 1912 Henderson reentered Frank’s life.

Mike, having worked on the Henderson during the intervening period, revealed that the motorcycle was almost complete and up for sale.

The price was steep, but Frank, captivated by the allure of the rare gem, decided to acquire it. Selling five bikes from his collection to raise the funds, he humorously remarks, “I’m cash poor and metal rich.”

The Aesthetic Marvel: Striking Red and Black

Frank’s 1912 Henderson, resplendent in striking red and black, isn’t just a mechanical marvel but a visual spectacle. Judged by the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, it earned an almost perfect score of 99.5 points, a testament to its meticulous restoration and preservation.

Despite its rarity and considerable value, Frank Westfall refuses to relegate his treasure to a static existence. He defies conventional wisdom, choosing to ride the 1912 Henderson through mud puddles and various terrains.

For Frank, the joy lies not just in its historical significance but in experiencing the sheer thrill of riding this centenarian machine.

Challenges of the 1912 Henderson

As with any antique vehicle, the 1912 Henderson presents its own set of challenges. Frank Westfall acknowledges the bike’s weak points, such as the small hand-operated clutch, which sometimes struggles to cope with the powerful engine.

To get the bike rolling after starting, a delicate dance is required – disengaging the clutch, applying the brake pedal to stop the rear wheel from spinning, and carefully re-engaging the clutch. Frank describes it as a tricky yet rewarding maneuver, a unique skill acquired through time spent with this historical treasure.

Another aspect of the 1912 Henderson that Frank highlights is the small flywheel, lacking significant inertia. This characteristic requires the rider to maintain a higher RPM while ascending hills.

However, he praises the singular brake on the rear wheel, noting its surprisingly effective performance for a coaster brake. The bike’s lightweight construction, under 300 pounds, contributes to the brake’s efficiency, reducing the strain on the sole braking mechanism.

Preserving the Legacy: A Journey Through Time

In the hands of Frank Westfall, the 1912 Henderson Four not only survives as a piece of history but flourishes as a living, breathing testament to the craftsmanship and innovation of a bygone era.

Frank’s decision to actively ride and participate in events like the Great Race and Cannonball Run ensures that the Henderson isn’t confined to a museum; it’s a rolling relic, traversing landscapes and captivating onlookers with its timeless elegance.

As the custodian of this antique marvel, Frank embodies a spirit of preservation and celebration. His dedication goes beyond mere ownership; it’s a commitment to sharing the joy, challenges, and beauty of the 1912 Henderson with enthusiasts and onlookers alike.

In a world inundated with modern marvels, Frank’s choice to embrace the past on two wheels stands as a poignant reminder that history isn’t meant to be observed from a distance; it’s meant to be experienced, felt, and ridden into the future.

The Timeless Symphony: Riding into the Future

The 1912 Henderson Four, with its distinctive roar and timeless allure, isn’t just a relic confined to the pages of history; it’s a rolling symphony, echoing the pioneering spirit of its creators and the unwavering passion of those who continue to revel in its journey through time.

As the sun sets on each ride, the legacy of the 1912 Henderson lives on, leaving an indelible mark on the asphalt of history, an ode to the enduring spirit of American engineering and the thrill of the open road.

What historic motorcycle journeys or rare gems from the past captivate your imagination? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thank you for joining us on this exciting journey through time with the 1912 Henderson Four. If you enjoyed the ride, share this article with your family and friends. Let’s spread the love for classic motorcycles together!

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