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Tralette Trailer and American Pickers

Several years ago, I came across a brochure for Tralette trailers. It piqued my interest, and in the fall of 2007 I pitched the idea of researching and writing a column about some of the interesting old pieces of advertising I’ve discovered for The Antique Motorcycle magazine. This glossy publication is essentially the newsletter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, and the column became Pulp Non-Fiction, and I’ve penned more than 50 of them.

However, the research team at American Pickers came across my work regarding the Tralette, as Mike and Frank discovered a single-wheel Tralette trailer. Happily, I was able to provide scans of the brochure — some of which were recently seen on an episode of American Pickers.

Here’s the original text of my first column for The Antique Motorcycle, plus the brochure scans for anyone else interested in Tralette.

Tralette Cycle Car

With the increasing interest in motorcycles at the turn of the last century, many ingenious solutions were arrived at to help make a two-wheeler more utilitarian. Sidecars, for example, allowed owners of these less expensive modes of transportation the ability to move either family or gear.

Trailers, too, help increase the carrying capacity of a motorcycle, and the unit offered by the Tralette Division of the Penninsular Metal Products Co. of Detroit, Michigan, is an interesting example.

From what little can be learned about the Tralette, it would seem to have been produced for only a few years in the late 1930s, possibly from 1936 to 1939. According to AMCA archivist Bruce Linsday, the motorcycles attached to the Tralette in this undated brochure are a 1938 Harley-Davidson UL and a 1938 Indian Chief – thereby giving some indication to the year of manufacture.

According to the brochure, ‘Now you can save money and give better service on your deliveries’, and, ‘You can have the speed, ease and economy of a motorcycle plus the capacity of a 1 / 2 ton truck all in one Tralette motorcycle unit’.

Tralettes were available as a two-wheel unit for motorcycle use, or as a single-wheel unit for towing behind an auto. For towing behind a motorcycle, a special feature of the Tralette was its hitch. When attached, the trailer held the motorcycle upright, and was suggested the unit could be: ‘On or off in 3 minutes. The Tralette Hitch, is simple and effective. The Motorcycle Hitch requires only the simple insertion of a king-bolt – the tightening of a nut – and you’re off’.

Three models were available, the Tralette Two-Wheel “Cycle Car”, Two-Wheel “Commercial Car” For Automobile and Motorcycle Servi-Car Use and the One-Wheel “Sportsman Traveler”. Specifications for all are much the same, with the exception of the hitch – the Cycle Car hitch was available for Indian or Harley-Davidson, while the Commercial Car had ball and socket style, and the Sportsman Traveler had a cross bar with bumper clamps.

The pressed steel, weatherproof body of the Tralette offered 61 cu. ft. capacity, had 10” ground clearance, stood 35” tall, 65” long and 56” wide. The Cycle Car Tralette featured power brakes, semi-elliptic springs, 20 x 4” tires and had a Yale lock, tail and stop lamp and a license bracket. Complete weight was 400 lbs., and cost $165 F.O.B. Detroit.

With a Tralette, the sales pitch stated: ‘Your baggage problem is solved! Stow your baggage in a Tralette and enjoy your trip in perfect comfort’.

Joe Cooper and Cooper Smithing Co. — HAND MADE IN AMERICA

Back in early  2011 I was assigned to write a story about a Sportster for American Iron Magazine. I got a name and a phone number.

The builder’s name was Joe Cooper of Cooper Smithing Co., and we had a great conversation about bike-building and metal-shaping. Joe’s attitude was refreshing, and he was clearly a talented craftsman. Along with many other pieces he created for the Sportster, he hand formed the rear fender and the gas tank —  it’s clear he was honing his skills.

Today, Joe is turning out some very high-quality hand-crafted Made in America fenders, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on many new custom builds.

Thought I’d take this opportunity to post up the AIM story. Take a look at Joe’s newly-launched website, and watch the video. An artisan at work.


Joe Cooper’s custom 1999 Sportster belongs to Scott Weinmann, photo courtesy Joe Cooper.

The most important tools at Joe Cooper’s disposal are his hands.

With them, he has built other tools, ones necessary to fabricate exquisitely detailed motorcycles. But even those other tools are simple. Take the hollowed out stump he uses as a sheet metal form.

In this humble piece of wood, a remnant of a tree felled on his Pacific Northwest property, Joe hammered out both the fuel tank and the rear fender seen on this featured 1999 Harley-Davidson XL.

“I had a half-hollowed out stump, a piece of sheet metal, and a hammer to smack it with,” Joe says of his process. All of the forming occurred in that stump, and Joe simply smoothed up the metal pieces later with a planishing hammer and an English wheel – tools he again built for himself.

Joe was born and raised in one of the smallest towns in Oregon, with just one paved road leading out of it. When he was young the thought of hitting that one road out of Crane, Oregon aboard a motorcycle appealed to his rebellious nature. Plus, motorcycles are machines that, as he puts it, only take a twist of the throttle to make the world behind you disappear.

And that’s what he did. His motorcycle took him to Seattle, where he learned to TIG weld while making airplane components. Still in Seattle Joe found himself working in a custom motorcycle shop, where he lent his hand to over a dozen builds. More interested in t-shirts than motorcycles, though, the business was in jeopardy.

It was then that he took control of his future, and set out on his own to open Cooper Smithing Co., a home based shop in Buckley, Washington dedicated to nothing but metal fabrication. While working on several smaller projects Joe began his first full bike build under Cooper Smithing Co. when a blacksmith friend donated a wrecked 1999 Harley-Davidson Sportster. “He said, ‘Here, why don’t you try to make something out of this bike’,” Joe recalls.

Starting with the damaged and bent frame, Joe cut away all of the Harley-Davidson tubes, leaving just the engine in the factory cradle. Next, Joe found a use for the 16” Harley rims he had been given in part trade for some of his metal work. These rims were laced up to the original Sportster hubs, and Coker reproduction Firestone tires fitted.

Joe placed the wheels and the engine on his frame-building table, a stout piece of equipment he bought as surplus from a Boeing airplane factory. With its 4’ by 8’ almost perfectly flat steel top and holes drilled every 6”, the table turned out to be the ideal platform for his frame jig.

Using his lathe Joe machined up a neck, and proceeded to bend and weld tubes around the engine and wheels. “I connected the dots,” he says. The rigid rear features 3/8” axle dropouts that Joe machined and fit into notches in the chainstays, the tubes of which are also internally gusseted. “They’re not just a plate welded to the tubes,” Joe says, and adds that it was important to him to make the chassis as strong as he possibly could.

Joe next turned his attention to the fork, an item he created using beefy, gusseted tubes and forgings built by his blacksmith friend who had donated the Harley. Atop the springer fork is a handlebar Joe created, and a Korean War-era signal lamp was repurposed to function as a headlight. Hand forged by Joe, the single headlight mount was bent to match the line of the handlebar, an item that is adorned with Sportster hand controls.

In fact, several other pieces of the donor Sportster were implemented. While he could have built one-off parts such as foot controls, Joe says the bike didn’t seem to want them. The slightly worn rubber footpeg rubbers suited the organic feel of the custom. Joe also used the Sportster’s brakes, mounting the front caliper to a custom made bracket.

Joe fashioned a metal seat pan, over which he slipped and stitched an old leather cover from another saddle he had in the shop. While Joe crafted the fuel tank and rear fender using the tree stump, the oil tank is an old helicopter engine cylinder. With its cast fins, the cylinder based oil tank was mounted in front of the engine where it would hit the majority of cooling air.

When it came time to rebuild the engine Joe tore down the powerplant and checked the Harley-Davidson manual to insure all of the tolerances were within spec. There weren’t many miles on the mill, as all that was required was a light hone to the cylinders. But all bearings, seals, gaskets and rings were replaced before the unit came back together, topped off with heads that only needed the valves lapped and the carbon deposits removed.

The stock carb was left in place and the air filter cover is the sump cover from a Yamaha XS850. A two-into-one header ends with another remnant of a Boeing surplus auction, this a hollowed out cable spool for an airplane wing flap.

Finishes are simple, too. The frame and the back legs of the fork are painted black, while many other objects, including the front fork legs, handlebar, headlight mount, oil tank and sprocket cover are copper plated. Wheel rims were the only parts treated to powder coating. The gas tank, rear fender, headlight and exhaust are nickel plated, and that led the bike to be nicknamed The Jefferson, as that’s the president on our American nickel.

Joe says he didn’t build The Jefferson as a show bike, but after completing the machine he did truck it out to the 2010 AMD World Championship in Sturgis. Here, he entered the motorcycle in the modified stock class, and returned home with a second place trophy. Since then, The Jefferson has been sold to Scott Weinmann of Ateliers Velocette, a New York based high-end motorcycle rental company, where machines can either be used for riding, or in a movie or fashion shoot.

If anyone rents The Jefferson to ride, Joe says: “They’ll have a hard time riding around on it without a smile on their face – it’s got an old-timey feel to it, and it sounds great.”

Here are the build details:

Owner:         Scott Weinmann

Builder: Joe Cooper, Cooper Smithing Co., Buckley, WA

Year/model: 1999 Harley-Davidson XL

Time to build: 5 weeks

Chromer: American Plating, Centralia, WA

Polisher: American Plating

Powder coater: Kens Powder Coating – Spanaway, WA

Painter: None

Color:         black and nickel


Engine, year/model: 1999 XL

Builder: Harley-Davidson

Displacement:         74”

Horsepower:         stock

Cases:         stock

Flywheels (make & stroke):         stock

Balancing:         stock

Connecting rods:         stock

Cylinders (make & bore):          stock

Pistons (make & comp. ratio):         stock

Heads:         stock

Cam (make & lift):         stock

Valves:         stock

Rockers:         stock

Lifters:         stock

Pushrods:         stock

Carb:                  stock

Air cleaner: Cooper Smithing Co.

Exhaust: Cooper Smithing Co.

Ignition:         stock

Coils:         stock

Wires:         stock

Charging system:         stock

Regulator:         stock

Oil pump:         stock

Cam cover:         stock

Primary cover:         stock

Transmission, year/model:         1999 XL

Case: stock

Gears:         stock

Mods:         stock

Clutch:         stock

Primary drive (belt/chain):         stock

Final drive (sprocket/pulley manufacturer):         stock


Frame (year, model):          2010 Cooper Smithing Co.

Rake: 34°

Stretch: stock

Front forks: Cooper Smithing Co.


Swingarm: rigid

Front wheel (size and make): XL hub w/16-3” rim

Rear wheel (size and make):         XL hub w/16-3” rim

Front brake (make/# piston caliper):         stock

Rear brake (make/# piston caliper):         stock

Front tire (size and make):         Coker/Firestone 500-16”

Rear tire (size and make):         Coker/Firestone 500-16”

Front fender:         N/A

Rear fender: Cooper Smithing Co.

Fender struts:         N/A


Headlight:         Korean War era signal light

Taillight: Cooper Smithing Co.

Fuel tank: Cooper Smithing Co.

Oil tank: Cooper Smithing Co.

Handlebars: Cooper Smithing Co.

Risers:         Cooper Smithing Co.

Seat: Cooper Smithing Co.

Pegs:                  stock

Chain guard: Cooper Smithing Co.

Speedo:         N/A

Dash:         N/A

License bracket: Cooper Smithing Co.

Mirrors:         N/A

Hand controls:         stock

Foot controls:         stock

Levers:         stock



Modern Motorcycle Mechanics and Speed Tuning (1945) Reprinted

For those who are interested in older motorcycles, this is the manual to have. Written by J.B. (Bernie) Nicholson in 1945, the treatise was the follow-up to the Fist Edition of 1942.

Plenty of information regarding early American motorcycles such as Harley-Davidson and Indian, and popular British brands of the day. The book is a snapshot of the motorcycle industry as it was set to recover from the Second World War, and also features a special chapter on training Army riders, as well as a section on Speed Tuning.

Not a word of Nicholson’s advice has changed, we’ve kept the book exactly as he wrote it. Printed with pride in Canada, where it was first published, and then sent around the globe. Visit to purchase.

Calgary Herald, 2009 Harley-Davidson Cross Bones People’s Test Ride, by Greg Williams


This piece first ran in the Calgary Herald’s Driving section, Friday May 15.

All photographs are courtesy Chris Crump.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s some motorcyclists would remove bits and pieces from their stock machines.
They were effectively paring away excess weight, and they’d make changes by putting on a smaller headlight, ditching the front fender and cutting or ‘bobbing’ the rear fender.
Those in the motorcycling fraternity referred to these early custom machines as ‘bobbers’.
What goes around comes around.
Ten years ago, the custom rage was for a mile-long front end, a stretched frame and a super wide rear tire. Today, bobbers have returned as the popular custom of choice. Sometimes, simpler is better.
And Harley-Davidson gets that.
Last year, the Motor Company introduced their own factory bobber, the Cross Bones, a machine that comes from their Softail family of motorcycles. The Cross Bones returns in their 2009 lineup, and we were able to get Calgary motorcycle enthusiast Chris Crump out for a daylong test ride.
Crump, 51, was born in Bermuda but raised in Regina, Sask. He bought his first brand new motorcycle in 1974, a Honda CB360 — and he worked two or three jobs to pay for the ride.
“The bike was all round transportation for me,’ Crump says. After a bad crash wrote off the CB360, Crump moved up to a Honda CB750. Since then, he’s owned several motorcycles, including many Harley-Davidson products, from Super Glides to Electra Glides.
After being bit by the road racing bug in 2000, Crump started racing Buell motorcycles on the track. Now, Crump and his team are campaigning the new 2009 Buell XB1125.
And during the summer Crump commutes to work from Bragg Creek to Calgary, and he puts some 20,000 km on his H-D Ultra Classic touring machine. Whether it’s on the road or on the track, motorcycling has long been Crump’s passion.
img_3195“The Cross Bones is an interesting looking motorcycle,” Crump says of his initial reaction to the ‘bobbed’ styling. “With the spring fork out front and the sprung solo seat, it looks like an old-school bike. From an uneducated point of view, you probably couldn’t tell if it was old or new.”
Adding to that old-style look, says Crump, is the flat black paint — a colour H-D refers to as Black Denim — and the pin striping on the gas tanks and rear fender.
Crump is not usually a fan of tall handlebars but in the case of the tillers on the Cross Bones he says they suited his 6’2″ stature.
“The bars made the riding position quite comfortable,” he says. “Its quite an upright riding position, but it felt like I was sitting on an office chair. My feet were on the floorboards and my knees were bent at 90 degrees — for me it was the perfect riding position.”
Those floorboards, together with the sprung solo saddle, are a throwback to the past. The floorboards on the Cross Bones are shaped in a half-moon configuration — a style of board Harley-Davidson was famous for on its older machines.
But the floorboards, in Crump’s opinion, were mounted either too low or too far away, as he was scraping them on corners, even in the city.
“I wasn’t riding aggressively, but even on some cloverleafs or heeled over in an intersection they’d touch down,” he says. “My (Ultra Classic) doesn’t drag like the Cross Bones did.”
However, the saddle found favour with Crump. He says it helped make for a comfortable and smooth ride.
Crump put 158 kilometres on the Cross Bones, and he started his test ride from Calgary Harley-Davidson in the northeast. He put it through its paces on the city streets, and then rode out towards Bragg Creek, and back into town along Highway 22X.
In the city is where the bike shone, he says. The 1,584cc Twin Cam engine provided good power, and Crump felt that the six-speed gearbox was the smoothest shifting item he’d ever experienced in a Harley product.
On the highway, Crump felt a full blast of wind hitting his chest, and says he probably would have been more comfortable had the bike been fitted with a windshield. Either that, he joked, or he is too old to look cool without a windshield.
He found the Cross Bones was ‘flickable’, which surprised him. Crump thought that with two big cross-section tires (front is a MT90B16, rear is a 200/55R17) the handling might be compromised, but he didn’t find that to be the case. He intentionally searched out cracks and seams in the roadway, and could not induce any wallowing or wandering. The brakes also contributed to his sense of safety.
“As a racer, I’m used to using a lot of front brake,” Crump says. “And it was quite amazing for that bike how good it worked — it was really quick to bring the speed down.”
The front brake is a single-piston caliper clamping a single rotor, and the rear brake features a two-piston caliper.
As fuel prices edge up once again, Crump thought it prudent to mention that his Cross Bones returned 4.57 L/100 km.
“That’s really great fuel economy with average riding around town and on the highway,” he says.
His final opinion of the $22,499 Cross Bones (before taxes and dealer set up fees)? Crump says, “Throw over a set of saddlebags and put on a windshield, and the bike would be a great all-rounder.”

Inside Motorcycles, Aermacchi Singles, by Greg Williams

Story first published in Inside Motorcycles February/March 2009. Visit

If the text is too hard to read, the story follows in its original format. Sorry about the poor quality of the scans.



Harley-Davidson is currently famous for its big V-twin motorcycles — machines the American company has made almost since its inception. But there was a time when Harley-Davidson felt the need to be competitive in all areas of the market. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Japanese makers such as Honda and Yamaha were introducing lightweight, sporting motorcycles to a whole new breed of rider. To help stave off the import onslaught, in1960 Harley-Davidson looked overseas to Italy and purchased 50 per cent of the Aermacchi motorcycle company.

Aeronautica Macchi (a loose translation would be ‘air machine’) was founded in 1912. The company produced seaplanes, and in WWII they built fighting aircraft. After the War, Aermacchi was no longer allowed to focus on planes, and instead started producing a three-wheel truck. Following the truck was a lightweight motorcycle — this one designed by Lino Tonti, a talented designer who had been lured to Aermacchi from Benelli. Tonti was responsible for a number of small capacity machines, but he left in 1956 and Aermacchi replaced him with Alfredo Bianchi.

Bianchi was challenged with the task of creating a motorcycle that was originally sketched by Count Revelli, a well-known car designer, and the result was the 175cc Chimera of 1956. The machine was unorthodox looking, as it featured an enclosed engine; the body panels flowed under the seat and also formed the tail section. The machine didn’t sell well and Bianchi was asked to make some changes. What he kept of the design was the large tube backbone frame and the engine with the forward-canted — almost horizontal — single cylinder. Racing successes followed for both 175cc and 250cc examples, and that’s when Harley-Davidson entered the picture. They bought half of the company in 1960, and began importing Aermacchis to North America. The Harley-Davidson name was, of course, added to the side of the gas tank. Harley-Davidson Aermacchis came in a variety of sizes, including two-stroke 50cc, 90cc, 125cc and 175cc motorcycles. The most widely recognized bikes, however, were the four-stroke 250cc and 350cc Sprint models. Later, these machines received designations such as SS and SX.

Harley-Davidson bought the rest of the Aermacchi company in 1970. However, Aermacchi’s were generally slow selling and Harley-Davidson quit importing the Italian machines in 1974-75, and sold Aermacchi to Cagiva in the late 1970s. What goes around comes around, however, and in 2008 Harley-Davidson purchased Cagiva and MV Agusta.

John Flynn, 56, of Calgary is reliving his past. He grew up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and was always around motorcycles. His dad and sister had bikes, and Flynn remembers riding minibikes before moving to larger machines. He rode street bikes until his second year of university, when he had a close call while riding a Honda SL350. Soon after that, he sold the Honda and concentrated on finishing school. But he couldn’t leave motorcycles too far behind. In 1993, he got back into bikes with a Yamaha 750 Virago and eventually bought a 2004 BMW R1150.

In 2006 Flynn and a friend rode to the Ponoka Vintage Motorcycle Rally (in Alberta), where he saw a 250cc Aermacchi on display. He remembered seeing a similar motorcycle as a kid in Moose Jaw, and says: “It was such a cool little bike. Most of us were on two-strokes, and that little 250 (four-stroke) sounded great. I thought it was pretty neat.”

So Flynn started doing some research, and found a 1967 SS250 Aermacchi for sale in Ontario. He bought that one and shipped it west. While it was in decent shape, Flynn replaced items such as control cables and tires, and cleaned up the carb. He got the bike to run, and started riding the Aermacchi 250 around town and attending Thursday Night Bike Night at the A&W on 16 Ave.

But one wasn’t enough. He found a second Aermacchi, this one a 1969 SS350, for sale on eBay. The bike was located in Quebec, and while the reserve wasn’t met during the auction Flynn contacted the seller afterwards and made an offer to purchase for the reserve price. This was agreed to, and an incredibly well restored Aermacchi was added to Flynn’s growing collection.

Wanting a machine he could restore himself, Flynn found a third Aermacchi, a 1971 SX350, in Ventura, California. He bought it for $1,250 and had it shipped north. When it arrived, he took it all apart, stripping the machine down to the frame. While mechanically inclined, Flynn does not do his own paintwork. The frame was painted black, and the tin was finished in a stock Aermacchi yellow. Spare NOS parts are readily available, Flynn says, through a number of U.S. suppliers and eBay. He rebuilt the wheels, added a new wiring harness, and shipped the 350cc engine to Aermacchi guru Ron Lancaster, of Lancaster Sprints in Tampico, Illinois.

Flynn surrounded the engine with foam and packed it in a Rubbermaid container and shipped it via FedEx. Once in his shop, Lancaster stripped the engine, cleaned out the crankcases, checked the bearings and put it back together with new valves and piston. He also put the engine in a bike and broke it in before shipping it back to Flynn.

“I didn’t think there was anybody around here who could do it,” Flynn says of the Aermacchi engine rebuild. “Lancaster is pretty famous as an old flat tracker who raced Aermacchis, and he’s good at what he does.” It cost Flynn $950, including shipping, for the rebuild. With the engine back Flynn mated it up to the refinished cycle parts. He found, however, that the rebuilt engine was hard to start thanks to a high compression ratio.

“The bike’s pretty famous for having to be push started; it’s hard to kick it over,” Flynn says. He routinely uses all three Aermacchis, and even trailered them to the 2008 Motogiro B.C. Rally. He and two friends put the small-bore Aermacchis through their paces, and says, “We rode and traded bikes and had a real great time; they’re a real hoot to ride. They’re a narrow motorcycle, they’re low to the ground, and they just have a great feel to them.”