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1914 Emblem Model 108
Today, the rules are pretty clear here in the USA: Motorcycles are for fun; cars are for transportation.
Yes, there are exceptions. You can find the occasional individual, even today, who chooses to never own a car, traveling everywhere on two wheels (or three). And on the other side of the equation, well, there are convertibles. But the general rule is pretty clear, and it has been for decades.
Which is what makes this 1914 Emblem V-twin, owned by AMCA member Frank Westfall, so fascinating. Because it offers a glimpse into a time when things were different.
In the early years of the 20th century, motorcycles and automobiles were competing for the same audience. Most people traveled either on or behind a horse, while the avant-garde were fascinated by those new-fangled bicycle things. So anything with a motor represented a giant step forward.
The limited power available from early internal-combustion engines put an emphasis on light weight, where motorcycles clearly had the advantage. And two-wheeled vehicles could often traverse rutted dirt roads that would stop an automobile cold.
In addition, there was the matter of money. Early automobiles often cost $1,000 or more, making a $200 motorcycle the only viable option for many ordinary Americans.
So there were a lot of practical reasons why people chose motorcycles for transportation in those early years. But by 1908, all that began to change.
Late that year, Henry Ford brought out the original Model T, at a price of $850. As the company benefited from assembly-line efficiencies and economies of scale, though, the price just kept dropping, reaching $440 in 1915 and $240 in 1925.
The Model T may have been just about at the end of its run by that stage, but the fact that a full-sized car was now cheaper than a $335 Harley JD changed the American transportation scene forever. Motorcycles still had the edge in performance and fun, but when you needed to get yourself and the family somewhere, you bought a car.
In the teens, though, when this bike was built, the battle for transportation supremacy was still being waged. And one man was out to prove that motorcycles were the family vehicles of the future.
That man, Maurice Gale, became known for tackling long-distance rides by himself; with his wife, Mattie; and even with his entire family, all aboard specially modified machines that he used to promote the Emblem Manufacturing Company.
Like many motorcycle brands, Emblem got its start in the bicycle business. Before the turn of the century, William G. Schack was involved in small-scale production of the Emblem bicycle brand. By 1904, he had established Emblem in the little town of Angola, New York, about 15 miles south of Buffalo. And a few years later, in 1907, Emblem expanded into powered two-wheelers, offering the Model 100, a single-cylinder bike based on a Thor engine. The machine looked remarkably like an early Indian, which is no surprise, since Thor also supplied many parts for that firm’s first-generation bikes.
But Emblem really created its own identity in 1913 with the introduction of a new V-twin engine displacing a then-massive 76.6 cubic inches (about 1,255cc). The big twin, made by combining two of the company’s single cylinders, made Emblem’s Model 108 the largest production machine a rider could buy at the time.
By then, Gale, who lived in Angola, was already associated with his home-town brand. Historian Geoffrey Stein, author of “The Motorcycle Industry in New York State,” notes that Gale was a bicycle enthusiast who married fellow bicyclist Mattie Perkins in 1899. Shortly thereafter, the two became interested in the new field of motor-powered cycles, and in 1906, Maurice attempted a motorcycle ride from Kansas City back to his home. He had to abandon that trip in Missouri, but that didn’t diminish his enthusiasm for long-distance riding.
Over the next couple of years, Gale took several trips aboard Emblem bikes, entering competitive rides of up to 500 miles. And by 1910, he had set a record for a ride from Chicago to New York, covering the distance in 35 hours on the bike over 3½ days. Stein indicates that Gale wasn’t an employee of Emblem, but the company paid his expenses for these rides and promoted them in its advertising.
At some point, Gale’s rides began to include additional people, either his wife or other motorcycle enthusiasts. But instead of the usual two-up configuration, with the passenger behind the rider, he preferred a side-by-side seating arrangement.
Since manufacturers didn’t offer side-by-side motorcycle seats, Gale made his own, featuring two bucket-style seats, one on either side of the fuel tank. Gale operated the controls from the left seat, while his passenger rode in the right seat.
Gale’s modifications required a strong frame, and he benefited from the fact that the Emblem had an unusual design that included triangular braces inside the round tubes. This design had been introduced in 1909 with the claim that the resulting frame was “as strong as a solid bar of the same diameter.”
Stein uncovered a description of Gale’s unique tandem riding experience from the perspective of a passenger, A.P. Strogonoff, an Emblem dealer from Schenectady, New York.
“To a trans-continentalist and rough rider of Gale’s caliber,” Strogonoff said, “macadam was suitable only for ‘old women,’ as he expressed it, and in a few minutes we were navigating rutty and sandy stretches along a country road leading out of Angola. Having every confidence in the driver of the outfit, I kept on talking to him and felt in good spirits. Turns were taken with considerable speed, the sharper ones being literally skidded around, with a sufficient touch of the brake and a quick release when the machine was pointed in the proper direction.”
One of Maurice’s most frequent passengers was his wife, Mattie. In 1911, the two rode 600 miles from their home in western New York to Boston in two days, then turned around and participated in an endurance run back to Buffalo.
The next year, Stein reports, the two tackled a more-serious challenge, setting off on a ride they hoped would take them all the way to San Francisco. They started out heading to the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) meet in Columbus, Ohio, then continued on to Chicago, Kansas City, Denver and Laramie, Wyoming.
On that leg of the trip, they hit conditions that give some insight into the difficulties long-distance motorcyclists faced on dirt roads nearly a century ago.
“It began to rain after leaving Fort Collins (Colorado), and from there to Tie Siding (Wyoming), was one continuous climb up through the mountain,” Gale wrote. “The rain made the road surface very slippery and a good many times (we) were obliged to both get off the machine and let the machine pull its own weight only, I running or walking along the side of the machine, holding it up and letting the clutch slip just enough so that I could keep up with the gait of the machine.”
When the two reached Laramie, Maurice had to be hospitalized for exposure, and they ended up taking the train back home.
For 1913, Gale braved January cold and snow on a 500-mile ride to put his machine on display at the big motorcycle show in New York City. The trip, through rain, sleet and snow, took four days, and when he arrived, his “travel-stained machine with its mud-plow, luggage carriers, and other equipment, told the story of Emblem sturdiness.” He also rode to the Chicago motorcycle show, braving sub-zero temperatures to display his machine there.
The highlights of that year included a record 19-hour run from Angola to Boston, and a 2,315-mile trip back from Denver with Mattie aboard as passenger.
But in 1914, Gale found a way to attract even more attention to his riding exploits when he expanded his two-person side-by-side seat to include two smaller seats behind. With this arrangement, he and Mattie were able to take their sons, Herbert and Edwin, with them on motorcycle trips. Photos from the era show the family all traveling together, and indicate that Gale even found a way to mount a large umbrella on the machine for weather protection.
One of their four-up journeys that year took the family to Saratoga, New York, for an FAM meeting. Stein uncovered a report in the Bicycle World and Motorcycle Review noting that, out of 1,150 motorcyclists in attendance, the Gales were the most remarkable.
The Gales attempted an even bigger feat in 1915—a ride to San Francisco, this time using a Schickel Big Six motorcycle, powered by a 600cc single-cylinder, two-stroke motor. Instead of putting the family on seats aboard the bike, Gale built a four-wheel wagon, resembling the Conestogas of decades past, that he would tow behind the Schickel.
The journey lasted only 1,514 miles, ending in Marshalltown, Iowa, after 48 days. But even that distance is remarkable, considering that the single-cylinder Schickel was struggling to haul a rig that totaled more than 2,000 pounds.
Maurice Gale’s remarkable career as a long-distance motorcyclist ended in 1924 when, like so many other Americans, he bought a car. And for decades, no one knew what became of his one-of-a-kind, four-person Emblem motorcycle.
Then, in 1994, Frank Westfall was returning to his home in New York from a Henderson rally in Tiffin, Ohio. Along the way, he stopped at the home of a car collector in Angola, where he discovered the machine you see here, hanging in a shop.
Westfall has made a point of tracking down rare machines from his home state. And he has ridden Henderson motorcycles in four cross-country rides for antique machines, two of the Great Race events and both Cannonball rides. So when he discovered the story behind Maurice Gale’s four-person motorcycle, he was hooked.
“I just fell in love with it,” he says.
It took a number of years, but Westfall recently heard that the machine he’d first seen back in ’94 was for sale. So he traveled to Angola, made an offer and took it home.
The bike is a bit of a mystery, since the 1914 Emblem base machine does not appear to be the same as the motorcycle shown in photos the Gale family has preserved from that time. Although it has a coat of faded paint that looks a little like Emblem’s distinctive “French Blue” (which the Gale machine originally wore), underneath, it appears this bike came from the factory in “Carmine Red,” another Emblem color option.
But there’s no mistaking that the four-person seat, proudly displaying its Emblem logos, is the device hand-crafted by Maurice Gale 99 years ago. There are some pieces missing, including a pair of “crash bars” that Gale used to support his feet back then. But everything else matches up exactly with the period photos.
Motorcyclists back then, like riders today, used and reused parts on multiple projects, so it’s not impossible that Gale himself fitted the seat assembly to a different machine. Or it could be that the bike was assembled by someone to preserve the Gale legacy.
Either way, Westfall is happy to have discovered a piece of history that keeps alive the memory of a man who pushed the limits of motorcycle capabilities a century ago.
“It’s amazing that this still exists,” he says, “and I’m in awe that I’m able to preserve this historic machine.”—Bill Wood
Thanks to Geoffrey Stein for sharing his research into the remarkable riding history of Maurice Gale.