Jesse James And Jeff Decker Unearth One Of The Most Famous Racing Motorcycles In American History.

“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.”

Zipper's

53 Responses to “Jesse James And Jeff Decker Unearth One Of The Most Famous Racing Motorcycles In American History.”


  1. 1 Barry Brown Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:09 am

    WOW! Great score Jesse! Harley must have known about this bike and if so my guess is they balked at the scenario of having their arch nemesis’ creation in their museum upstaging their factory racers and shining a light on S&S brilliance.

  2. 2 morriscustom Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I totally agree dunk it in WD40,fill the cylinders with 90 weight,and just admire it!!!George Smith is one of my heroes.I think he would have been a Machinist and did all this for free,but his talent and passion for motorcycles led him to create one of the greatest companies in the world!!!

  3. 3 Darin Maltsberger - Instructor@MTI Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    I agree with Cyril, ………bring it back to Bonneville, the place where it all took place, where everything was right…….and still is. Come on, Jesse, you need another adventure. Speed Trials by BUB 2011. Just bikes, the salt and people hung up on speed. It’s the greatest week of the year. The boys from MTI and I will be there along with a long list of friends.

    -Darin

  4. 4 Jose Pratt Apr 10th, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Curious. Price?

  5. 5 Eugenehicksjr Apr 10th, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Great Find Guys Thats A Piece Of History How Does It Compare To Burt Monroes Indian

  6. 6 Scott Long Apr 10th, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Awesome !!!

  7. 7 Jason Hallman Apr 10th, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I hope Jesse leaves it alone…I think we all know that he “could” restore it. I think it is best left alone.

  8. 8 Just Sayin' Apr 10th, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Yeah, great story but…There is a lot more background information to this story than you can imagine. All I can say is that if JJ doesn’t donate/give Tramp back to the Smith family, there will be some real bad blood.

  9. 9 Merle Quale Apr 10th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Great find. S&S rules.

  10. 10 Gas Man Apr 10th, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I think it should be left be and put in a muesum. There are a few top choice spots it could be highlighted. It’s been hidin all these years, best to bring it back out to the public for appreciation.

  11. 11 2Low Apr 10th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    The question is why George Smith Sr. let it disappear? Did he try later to find it? No. So now it belongs to Jesse. period.

  12. 12 Franz Apr 10th, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Great story. Lucky Jesse.

  13. 13 chicagojohn Apr 10th, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Awesome find! Jesse. Yeah keep it the way it is, beautiful patina and all, maybe someday if they build a Bonneville museum, thats where it should end up.

  14. 14 666 Apr 10th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    just sayin why should Jesse give it to the smith s&s family ? If they wanted it they have a lot more money and resources than James does. If they want it now Jesse should just say pay up sucker!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. 15 Bill F Apr 10th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I’m with 666 and 2Low…. it’s Jesse’s and he can do whatever he wants with it. If the great museum hunter’s wanted it, why didn’t they locate and attain it? Jesse should park it in his living room and feel great knowing that he owns another wonderful piece of history.

  16. 16 Rick Apr 10th, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I agree. Jesse found it. Bought it. End of story. Let him do what he wants.

  17. 17 Doc Robinson Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Congrats Jesse, well done! Commiserations Jeff.

  18. 18 Black Shadow Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Very significant find! Jeff, although faster than Rollie Free on the “Bathing suit bike” the Vincent was 61 cubic inches (not 92) and 4 years earlier. By 1952 61″ Vincents were faster than the Tramp. Doesn’t take away from the fact that it was one fast Harley, even if it wasn’t close to stock.

  19. 19 Jeff Nicklus Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Great findg

  20. 20 Jeff Nicklus Apr 10th, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I hit the send button by accident …. I was saying “Great Find Guys!”

    Over & Out,

    Jeff

  21. 21 Woody Apr 10th, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Sweet, love the “street garb” pic with the springer front end. Glad it’s out from under the tarps and back in the sunlight & spotlight again. Hope it stays just like it is, there’s nothing left for it to prove 😉

  22. 22 nicker Apr 10th, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Drool, drool…!!!

    Finders keepers.
    JJ found it, so JJ keeps it.

    But restoring it to run on the salt again would only reduce it’s value.
    And since there are no “parade laps” at the salt flat, that would be a total waste of time.

    As the old saying goes, “…there is no going back in time…”
    So, -IMHO- enjoy it for what it is, the way it is.

    -nicker-

  23. 23 Dave Blevins Apr 10th, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Glad he found it, also glad he is not going to change it.

  24. 24 Conrad Nicklus Apr 10th, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Nice Longhorns hat JJ!

  25. 25 Wiz Apr 11th, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Jesse, I wouldn’t take it to the flats to race again, it would probably blow into a hundred pieces. That old horse did it’s runnin’, let it hang in it’s cozy pasture ‘an enjoy it’s Glory of past accomplishments. Although I would put back on it’s original springer front end, levers ‘an such. Good score! Wiz

  26. 26 John K. Endrizzi Apr 11th, 2011 at 6:13 am

    Like Just Sayin’, I’m not in the position to reveal “the rest of the story”. Suffice it to say, the knowledge of the bike’s existence along with contact with the owner had been made by people other than Jesse and Jeff long before either one had wind of it. The whole story is very deepand many of you might feel differently if you were to know it.

  27. 27 Pepper Massey Apr 11th, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Beautiful.

  28. 28 gina woods Apr 11th, 2011 at 8:18 am

    IF there is more story to tell, then I think it should be told John! (that’s the reporter in me!)

    Great find but like John says others knew about it and now I am intrigued to learn more of it’s history!

    Also curious which Smith child is in Marjorie’s arms?

  29. 29 Doug Wozney Apr 11th, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Having S&S Cycle offer me the opportunity to paint the replica Tramp for the 50th Anniversary celebration, I learned a bit of ‘the rest of the story’ and there’s much untold. I expect most of it will never be known. Nonetheless, its good for all to know that this piece of history does still exist. I hope in the future JJ will find a way for all to enjoy just seeing it – somewhere. I agree with Woody, this machine made its mark in history and has nothing left to prove – leave it as it is.

  30. 30 1550tc Apr 11th, 2011 at 8:42 am

    there is no going back in time…

    JJ i agree just leave it along

    John………….come on give us the story dieing to find out who the the people are and i didnt now there was a grassy knoll out at bonneville! Come on gives us JJ’s cover up and your conspiracy theory??

  31. 31 John K. Endrizzi Apr 11th, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Yeah Doug,
    I’m involved in building a Knucklehead ( ’39 EL ) to race at Bonneville. I know of two other teams that are preparing Knuckleheads for the Salt. One of them is supposedly going to be a Joe Petrali replica. The addition of a real thing bike would be cool , but it wouldn’t be so neat if it grenaded like the Petrali motor did when it was used for drag racing in the 50’s. Those interested in Knucklehead drag racing at Half Day drag strip out side of Chicago, might want to Google Bud Schmidt and his dual engine bike “The Monster ” He ran 129 plus with it in the mid 50’s. Bud also ran the Monster at Bonneville in 1955. He did 157mph in Sept of that year.
    Gina : the kid is I think George Smith Jr. Ask Paul for more info.

  32. 32 Paul d'Orleans Apr 11th, 2011 at 9:26 am

    This bike proved its point a long time ago, and can rest, as is, in our admiration. I would hope to hear the story of its exploits soon, to shed light on Smith’s achievements.

    There’s plenty of skullduggery and tricky dealings behind many a famous motorcycle, even trophy winners at Pebble Beach. And JJ himself is surely sympathetic to keeping a few dirty secrets!

  33. 33 Sid Apr 11th, 2011 at 9:37 am

    What an amazing story!…good job, Cyril! These guys have done a good job to! really iconic bike!

  34. 34 Rollin Apr 11th, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Spectro is again sponsoring the 2011 BUB Speed trials vintage class, it would be nice to display the Tramp for LSR enthusiasts to see during the event. How about it Jesse?

  35. 35 chopmonster66 Apr 11th, 2011 at 10:46 am

    WOW ! A MASTERPEICE OF RACING… CONGRATS ON THE FIND. KEEP IT AS IT IS ……

  36. 36 Michael Schacht/ Crocker Motorcycle Co. Apr 11th, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Incredible find! Looking forward to seeing it on display. Any idea where and when? Congrats!

  37. 37 Miami Chopper Shop Apr 11th, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Outstanding! Love that knuck.

  38. 38 Jo mama Apr 11th, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Sweet find and congrats doing WHATEVER you want to do to it. You own it fair and square! nomatter what the story is?

  39. 39 RogerG Apr 11th, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Great find guys ! I think i can speak for all land speed racers when i say it would be an honor to see that bike run again on the salt. Some of them still going like the great Pete Hill and some still racing like Bud Schmidt, may have even been there to see it run back in the day….

  40. 40 dom choppers syndicate Apr 11th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    WOW!!! Jesse lucky man

  41. 41 1550tc Apr 11th, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Jeff

    Thanks for bring up Rollie Free……….that was some ride he must had………. got love his hi tec tech speed suit 🙂

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_Black_Lightning

  42. 42 Screwball Apr 11th, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Bringing it back to the salt woud be the ultimate honor for this bike. A mechanical resto and a gentle facelift would do the trick. Leave out the 1/4″ of clearcoat. Bring it back to SpeedWeek and let it rip!

  43. 43 David Apr 11th, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Un Earthed ????? Was it buried in Egypt or something ???? Hey that first Pic kind of looks like the two Gay guys living down the street….Gee I thought they were going to kiss each other or…Something !!!!

    SSDD; David

  44. 44 Eric Maurer Apr 11th, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    its not that much of a secret John, but honestly, why bring it up to a new crowd of people who don’t know the backstory. All you did was peaked interest and created a whole new set of rumor and speculation around a very cool peice of motorcycling history.

    Awesome bike…. glad to see it is not “in the wind” any longer (so to speak).

  45. 45 Donnie Apr 12th, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Davis. Your comment is without interest. Unearthed is the correct word even when not buried under ground. Don’t comment to write stupid things.

  46. 46 1550tc Apr 12th, 2011 at 8:51 am

    looks like the two Gay guys living down the street…

    David where do you live down there in Key West, 123 Pecker Touching Bay, Time for a new monitor!!

  47. 47 Larry R Apr 12th, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Congrats, Jesse! Thanks Cyril for the story.

  48. 48 pete waltman Apr 12th, 2011 at 11:12 am

    great find, great bike, personaly I’d get it running,air in the tyre’s but wouldn’t touch the rest…. ride it once or twice a year at shows or the like and keep it ”alive” in my book if it ain’t running it’s a fishing weight,and that would be a waste of a fantastic bike………….
    it’s not like JJ couldn’t afford to get it running…………..just my two pennys worth…..

  49. 49 David Apr 12th, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Donnie….Your reply is without interest….but you see I did invoke your response, which makes your reply in your words “stupid”..Maybe you can unearth a more spritely response.

    1550tc…….Thats right How did you ever guess…Come on down and I’ll introdue you and you can make up your own mind and maybe have a beer with them…I here they like pretty boys :-))))

    SSDD; David

  50. 50 rockyyy Apr 13th, 2011 at 9:08 am

    How ever JJ got it…doesnt really matter now, its his bike and I’m sure he paid dearly for it.

    The bike is a piece of history and should remain untouched and saved, if JJ decided to have it on display that would be cool…racing it again and the chance it could crash and burn would be foolish.

  51. 51 dub performance Apr 14th, 2011 at 6:45 am

    cooooooooollllllllllllll !

  52. 52 SPYDER Jul 29th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Interested to hear about the controversy over the TRAMP.I bought the original offset springer turned down bars from the Tramp at the vintage meet in Oley Pa this past april.

  53. 53 Tom Oct 24th, 2011 at 8:45 am

    The whereabouts of this motorcycle was known for years before Jesse ever made his first fender. The Smith family made several attempts to buy it, but for some reason the owner refused to sell it to them and said he never would. Jesse benefited from his animosity towards the Smith family more than anything else. When you get down to it, Tramp is just another old motorcycle, a few hundred pounds of iron, steel, etc. Its value lies in what George Smith accomplished with it. I believe Stan Stankos, the original “other S” in S&S Cycle Equipment, helped him make the pistons and cylinders. If that’s the case, and I’m almost certain it is, Stan deserves credit too. I tried calling him last year to confirm that, but could never get an answer. If George and Stan had applied their talents to a Cushman Eagle, that’s what the new owners would be gloating over in the photo.

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