Three Gray Fellows sitting in a row, but the men onboard are not your average enthusiasts. These men were at the heart of the revolution, pioneers of American motorcycle culture in every sense of the word. From left to right are William Sylvester Harley, Frank William Ollerman, and Walter Davidson Sr. in the summer of 1910 mounted on machines made from their own hands. The stories of both Harley and Davidson, two of the company’s founders have been written about countless times. Given that their names are now synonymous with the very idea of the American motorcycle it is an interesting fact to point out that at the time that this image was taken, the now mighty Harley-Davidson Motor Co. had really only just turned the corner into becoming a true manufacturing company.
The quite murky origin story of the 1903 Harley-Davidson had slowly progressed to a legitimate, though not staggering number of production of machines by 1907. The Motor Co. officially incorporated that same year but still only around 150 machines were produced, compared to the mighty Indian who cranked out over 2,000. Frank William Ollerman, the towering gentleman in the center of this photo, was one of the company’s original 18 employees that same year. Having immigrated from Berlin, Germany, the teenaged Ollerman was a capable mechanic, machinist, and had a reputation for jumping into any role that the growing company had need for. Along with Walter Davidson and William Harley, Ollerman was one of the most active participants in the early days of competition for the company and was one of the few factory men who could truly hold his own at the track. As such Ollerman and the two bosses were some of the earliest racers for the Motor Co., the forefathers of the Wrecking Crew.
By 1909 production had swelled to just over 1,000 machines, a new record for them but still 5 times less than the likes of Indian. However, after acquiring their first automatic machines, adding plant employees, growing their sales force, and beginning construction of their new “red brick” facility, the upstart American motorcycle maker began a more steady and rapid ascent to the top of the industry. 1910, the same year that this photograph was taken Harley-Davidson produced over 5,000 new machines, a corner turned, and Harley-Davidson began to claim their spot at the top of the American motorcycle food chain. Here, both Harley and Davidson sit onboard two 4HP, battery equipped Model 6’s which sold for $210 at the time, while Ollerman piloted the more expensive, magneto equipped Model 6A. The photo most likely comes from around the time of the gentlemen’s great showing at the gruelingly muddy 505 miles of the 9th Annual FAM Endurance Contest in August, 1910.
A special thanks to my pal Lucian from dWRENCHED.com for sharing the image.