“Certified Motorcycle Nuts” Jeff Decker & Jesse James love to do investigative work to discover the rarest, so the most valuable motorcycles and memorabilia of our motorcycle industry. And they just scored huge with the unearthing of the “Tramp” one of the most famous dual purpose motorcycles of the 1950’s. Built by George Smith Sr. of S&S Cycle Fame and based on a 1937 Harley Knucklehead engine, it is the bike that started it all by setting National Speed Records in Drag Racing and at the Bonneville Salt flats.
With a custom machined 80″ motor on alcohol running through twin Riley carburetors “Tramp” ran 125 mph at the Half Day Drag strip in 1952. This earned Smith a 1952 Midwest National Championship. In 1954 the motor size was increased to 92 cubic inches and in one of the most epic battles in Bonneville history with the Joe Petrelli Knucklehead, the “Tramp” got the better of the Petrelli bike with a top speed of 152.2 mph. sealing the Tramp’s fate as one of the most historical bikes in American racing history.
Jesse told me the story of the chase to uncover this iconic motorcycle. To make a long story short, in the 1970’s a gentleman by the name of Bill Gamen purchased Southside Harley Davidson in Chicago. The bike was owned by the dealer and went with the deal. For the next 40 years the bike sat untouched and unchanged from its glory days of racing. In 2009 enter Jesse James & Jeff Decker both convinced they could find it. Jesse began the slow process of prying this national treasure from the hands of Bill Gamen. In March 2011 the deal was done and Jeff and Jesse traveled to Chicago to inspect the “Tramp”. There they found it sitting all these years in a small single car garage next to a busy freeway.
Although I suggested to Jesse to restore and race it again in Bonneville, he told me ” This bike is amazing! It is one million times better in person than it is in pictures. I’m going to leave it exactly the way it is, and park it in my living room.” Jeff said “This is one of the most important Knuckles ever. It is the American version of the Rollie Free Vincent, and it was Faster! I’m jealous that Jesse got it.”