Was it prejudice or guilt that kept a motorcycle hidden for about fifty years?
While walking though the Wheels Through Time museum (see last week’s post) looking at several early-1900s motorcycles, a volunteer guide said to me “have you seen the rarest motorcycle in the world?” Nearby was the one-of-a-kind mysterious Traub Motorcycle. Whatever the true story behind it is, the bike is an amazing machine.
The guide told me a little about it as did a sign. Dale Walksler, curator of the museum, told me a little about it. But there is very little evidence to verify what is said or written about the motorcycle, and Walksler told me that most is just speculation. Much is based on oral history — someone’s memory of what happened or what they were told happened.
I did an Internet search. Based on what I was told and the written records others found, I have put together my best guesses about this amazing motorcycle’s history.
When found, the motorcycle had 1917 license plates (or they may have been added by a later owner). The Troxel Jumbo seat, Schebler carburetor, Bosch magneto and period wheel rims led Walksler to date it to 1916. All the other parts appear to have been machined: they match no other motorcycle parts made.
One story is that in 1967 (others say 1968), a plumber doing renovations on a building in a Chicago suburb tore down a brick wall and found the motorcycle hidden behind it — others said it was found under a porch, but the wall makes more sense to me since it was hidden so long and yet in fairly good repair.
One report says the building’s elderly owner said his son stole the bike before going off to World War I never to return. Because of other reports I read, this actually makes sense to me.
The Traub was sold to Torillo Tacchi, a Chicago bicycle shop owner, who sold it to Bud Ekins, Steve McQueen’s stuntman, in 1972,. [Tacchi’s son says it was when Elkins was in Chicago working on The Blues Brothers in the late 1970s.] Ekins sold it to collector and restorer Richard Morris who sold it to Dale Walksler in the 1990s. It has been on display in the Wheels Through Time Museum since it opened.
On the museum website, Walksler is quoted as saying “Everything inside the engine is magnificent. The pistons are handmade, and have gap-less cast iron rings, the engineering and machining being simply years ahead of their time [Emphasis added].” It still runs, and Walksler rides it from time to time.
“When comparing other top motorcycle makes and models of the era, the Traub has no equal. Comprised of a sand-cast, hand-build (sic), 80 (described 78 elsewhere) cubic-inch “side valve” engine, the machine has the ability to reach speeds in excess of 85 mph with ease.”
Its “three-speed transmission is thought to be one of the first of its kind, and the rear brake, a dual-acting system that employs a single cam that is responsible for pushing an internal set of shoes while pulling an external set, has never been seen on any other American motorcycle.”
There are two clutch levers: the conventional foot-operated mechanism and a hand-operated mechanism near the fuel tank. The unique shifter with neutral spots between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and 3rd operates what may have been the first three-speed gearbox on an American motorcycle.
There also is an adjustable crankcase breather and the engine fasteners, which are unique to the Traub.
During the restoration process, the only thing Dale had to fabricate were the base gaskets. The machine used no other gaskets, another indication it was handmade.
The wonder is that such a motorcycle could have been made without others in the industry knowing about it. Who was the maker? What happened to him?
At the museum, a couple people speculated he might have been of German ancestry and hid the cycle at a time when Germans were unpopular. Perhaps he was incarcerated. Or perhaps he was a soldier who wanted to protect the bike while he was away and never returned.
Dale’s son Matt quoted an on-line an interview with Tacchi’s son that the bike was in good condition when found, that the colors were easily matched and it was repainted but otherwise not restored.
All the rest of this information I owe to other researchers who found a 1907 letter published in the July Issue of Motorcycle Illustrated signed by Richard Traut, 749 North Paulina Street. In the letter, the author says he built a motorcycle working in the evenings and on Sundays.
North Paulina Street is where the bike was found. There were a number of Traubs on North Paulina Street, and it is likely the magazine misspelled his name when they printed the letter.
The 1910 census showed Richard Traub, age 27, a toolmaker, living at 1520 North Paulina. His 1917-18 draft registration shows him at the same address employed as an “experimental machinist.”
He is at the same address in the 1920 census, but the 1930 census and his 1942 draft registration show he moved. He died in 1952, so clearly he did not hide the bike and go off to World War I never to return.
The name fits with the 1907 man who built a motorcycle. As a toolmaker, he could well have built the 1916 bike.
But why would he hide it and not recover it? There are two likely scenarios: the first is he sold it to someone who lived on the street, who walled it up and went off to war never return; or two, it was stolen by someone on the street who walled it up to hide his crime.
And were I Traub and had worked a year or more to build a motorcycle only to have it stolen, I might also have given the business up. I think it was stolen by someone in the neighborhood.
Click on photos to enlarge.