1931 Henderson Streamline Special KL
Early OPP motorcycle patrol officers had to purchase and maintain their own motorcycles. Because each officer purchased his own bike, the motorcycle fleet was a mixture of makes and equipment. One of the more popular was the Excelsior Henderson, which had a reputation of being fast, comfortable and reliable – three traits vital in any police patrol vehicle.
The Henderson Motorcycle Co. began in 1911 in Detroit by two Henderson brothers. In 1917, they sold the Company to Ignaz Schwinn whose Excelsior Motor Mfg. & Supply Company in Chicago produced motorcycles and bicycles. In March 1931, Schwinn collapsed motorcycle production in favour of focusing on their core bicycle business due to the economic depression, despite there being orders on the books for more Henderson motorcycles.
Provincial Constable John Melville Hinchliffe was fortunate to be among the last to be able to purchase a Henderson in their final year of production. He took delivery his 1931 Henderson Streamline Special KL from P.A. McBride Cycle in Toronto in exchange for the princely sum of $525.00. The KL was a version of the Streamline KJ model introduced in 1929 that boasted 40 hp from its 1301cc in-line 4 cylinder engine. Several minor engine enhancements resulted in the Special KL producing 45 hp. With highway speed limits set at 35 miles per hour (mph), a reliable motorcycle with some power was required.
What happened to this Henderson after Hinchliffe's ownership is not known, but fellow patrol officer and friend of Hinchliffe, Chief Superintendent Robert (Bert) McKie purchased it from a Waterdown resident in the early 1970s. McKie joined the OPP in 1940, initially serving as a motorcycle patrol officer in Perth. He became director of the OPP Traffic Division in 1969, a post he held until his retirement in 1975. The first time Hinchliffe and McKie met was at P.A. McBride Cycle in Toronto. Hinchliffe (Ottawa) and McKie (Carleton Place) worked in neighbouring areas and would occasionally meet up at the county line. Both received commendations for "assistance rendered" following the collision of a troop train and passenger train at Almonte in 1942. They also socialized outside of work occasionally. In 1990, McKie rode the Henderson for the last time on the occasion of his 80th birthday. After his passing, his widow Gertrude and daughter Margaret donated the Henderson, the oldest known original OPP vehicle, to the museum in his memory.
The years of storage and display took its toll on the Henderson and in 2010 concerns were raised about its long-term condition and stability. While the museum is supported financially as part of overall OPP operations, funds are very limited for major expenditures and the Henderson project was something bigger in scale than could be taken on.
When told of the potential to have conservation and restoration work done on this very special and rare artifact, Friends of The OPP Museum stepped up to the plate to raise the funds required for the project.
Friends is a non-profit charitable volunteer organization that is dedicated to supporting the Museum's efforts to preserve and celebrate the history of the Ontario Provincial Police. Through the support of its generous donors, Friends was able to sponsor the professional restoration of the Henderson on behalf of the Museum.
Rob Olsen of 'O4' Motors in Parry Sound, Ontario was selected for the restoration. Rob is a world renowned Henderson specialist and impressed the Museum Curator and the Friends Board of Directors with his extensive specialized knowledge and professionalism.
In addition to his expertise and knowledge, Museum Curator Chris Johnstone was impressed by Rob's willingness to collaborate with her in reflecting not only the historical accuracy of the original bike itself, but in maintaining the integrity of its evolution through the years.
Olsen also has a special connection to this Henderson as he knew Bert McKie and, in fact, had purchased McKie's stores of Henderson parts, tools and paperwork. When he learned of the bike's connection to the museum, Olsen did some digging in McKie's files and discovered a file of materials related to the bike's original 1970s purchase and restoration by McKie. Olsen has since generously donated these archival materials to the museum's collection providing valuable background and historic context.
Unlike today's police vehicles, there was very little in the way of standardized police equipment or markings on the bike and it was up to each officer to select things like sirens or storage equipment on their own. A small snapshot was the only evidence the museum had of the bike's original configuration and it was realized that an important piece of equipment – a storage rack over the back wheel, was missing. Taking on the challenge, Olsen tracked down the original specifications for a factory storage rack and compared those to the photo. He then painstakingly built a rack for the bike, bringing back some of the original functionality that it would have had. Bert McKie recalls that during his time on motorcycle patrol he actually carried a typewriter with him on his bike as all of their reports had to be submitted typed – in duplicate.
During the restoration process, it became very evident that the restoration was overdue. In addition to certain historical inaccuracies, significant deterioration was uncovered that would have only become worse over time.
Although the bike has now been faithfully and accurately restored inside and out, and is fully operational, there are no plans for it to be ridden again.
No detail was overlooked; parts were re-chromed, plastic lenses replaced with period appropriate glass, multiple layers of UV protective varnish was carefully applied over the authentic Washington blue paint scheme and finished off with reproduction decals and meticulously hand painted pin-striping all coming together to reproduce as close to original authenticity as could be achieved.
This restoration would not have been possible without the financial support of Friends of The OPP Museum's generous donors.
- Year manufactured: 1931 model (Autumn 1930 production)
- Country of Origin: USA
- Make: Henderson (Excelsior Motor Manufacturing and Supply Co. Chicago, Illinois, USA)
- Model: KJ /KL (Streamline)
- Engine Size: 1301 cc.
- Engine Make & Type: Henderson IOE in-line KJ 1929-31