Friday, March 19, 2021

Old -time motorcycle dealer left behind fond memories and one forgotten 1955 Royal Enfield Indian Fire Arrow

Man poses with motorcycles outside storefront.
Dealer John Ciccarelli with Indians for the Utica Police Department.

It's a 1955 Indian Fire Arrow motorcycle. It's special, but not because it was expensive or powerful in its day.

An Indian Fire Arrow is a rare find in the United States, but it's not really a rare motorcycle given that it has many Royal Enfield cousins in Britain.

What makes this particular motorcycle special is that it's still in the family of the dealer who originally stocked it. How does the dealer's family have it, more than 60 years later? The reason has to do with the way dealer John F. Ciccarelli ran Endres Cycle in Utica, N.Y., back when Royal Enfields were sold as Indians.

1955 Indian Fire Arrow motorcycle.
1955 Fire Arrow was a 250cc single built by Royal Enfield for Indian.

For a few years in the mid-1950s Fire Arrows were built by Royal Enfield in Redditch, England, and supplied to the company that owned rights to the Indian brand in the U.S.

"The (U.S.) Indian marketing rights belonged to a UK company called Brockhouse at this time," noted Graham Scarth, chairman of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK.

"Fire Arrow No. 4888 was dispatched from the Redditch factory on the 14th January, 1955 to Brockhouse depot at West Bromwich (UK) for subsequent export....

"Apart from the Indian tank transfers, head ornament on front fender and the high handlebars and associated longer cables, the Fire Arrow is identical to Royal Enfield’s own 250 Clipper produced from 1954 to 1957."

1955 Indian Fire Arrow motorcycle.
Fire Arrow was one of the Royal Enfield-made Indians John Ciccarelli sold.

Graham's comments were in response to Joe Ciccarelli, a resident of Maryland and son of dealer John Ciccarelli.

"My father was an original Indian dealer in Central New York and when Indian had Royal Enfield make their bikes, my father purchased several to sell. This was one of those bikes," Joe wrote me in an email.

Endres Cycle in Utica was an Indian dealership and would later handle Royal Enfield, BSA, Matchless, Norton, Vincent, CZ and Douglas motorcycles and, later, even Kawasaki and Suzuki.

John Ciccarelli and his wife Josephine remained active in the enterprise even after their retirement in the mid-1970s.

John died Jan. 14, 1993, but he's still remembered. I found this recollection of the dealer in a 2016 Facebook post by one area resident:

"I remember going there for parts for my Whizzer motorbike. Also service for (an) outboard motor. The store was a cluttered mess but John knew right where everything was."

1955 Indian Fire Arrow motorcycle.
Casquette lacked the pilot lights of more expensive Royal Enfields.

"The business was not just motorcycles," Joe Ciccarelli explained. "When you are in Central New York with a short motorcycle riding season, you sell items that can keep you going year-'round. He sold Schwinn bicycles, Ariens snow blowers, Arctic Cat snowmobiles, lawn and garden equipment, boats and motors, canoes, Lionel model trains, and various other things."

There are three Ciccarelli sons, John (called Jack), Joseph, and Thomas, and a sister Kathy. All were "part of the business." Jack is considered the family historian and wrote an article for a local magazine he entitled "Blame It on My Father." Here's part of what he wrote:

"Well I like motorcycles especially the events. The guy I blame this all on is my father. He started taking me to motorcycle events before I could walk. As a matter of fact there is a photo of me sitting on my father’s Indian Chief at 3 months old (my mother was holding me).

"I can remember going to the Indian factory when I was 3 or 4 years old. He would take a few guys with him and ride new motorcycles back. My mother would drive the car and I would sleep on the way back.

1955 Indian Fire Arrow motorcycle.
Not fancy or fast, the 250cc Fire Arrow was a low priced model.

"Let me tell you a little bit about my father... His father (my grandfather) got around with a horse and wagon. My father hated cleaning up after a horse so he saved his money and in 1923 bought a new Harley-Davidson JD.

"Then by 1924 Otto Endre took him under his wing and he started hill climbing. Otto also hill climbed and they would travel all over the country to hill climb events...

"In 1937 Otto got burned real bad and died and my father bought his business; at that time Otto sold Indian Motorcycles. That is how he got into the motorcycle business."

And he stayed in it. The January, 1961 American Motorcycling magazine lists John Ciccarelli as president of the Central New York State Motorcycle Dealers Association. They were sponsors of the Gypsy Tour based in Caroga Lake, N.Y.

The magazine's listing for shops had this: "UTICA - John Ciccarelli - Indian Sales and Service. Where Riders of All Makes are given Equal Hospitality and Service. 41 Genesee St."

(Endres Cycle and other stores were demolished in 1968 to make room for Utica's Bagg's Square Bridge project. John moved Endres Cycle Store to 326 Catherine St., in Utica.)

According to American Motorcycling magazine, John Ciccarelli was on the Competition Committee of the American Motorcycle Association at annual meetings in Houston, Texas, in 1961 and San Francisco, Calif. in 1962. He served on the hill climb subcommittee in 1961.

"As time went on he had a hard time getting around so I started taking him to events and he enjoyed it," his son Jack wrote in his article.

"I would take him to Indian Motocycle Day (at Springfield, Mass.) and he would sit with Brownie Betar, drink beer and talk about the good old days. I remember him telling me at Indian Day that this wasn’t the factory (we were at) and he was right; it was a warehouse when they sold the English Indians."

Joe told me that his brother Jack worked at the dealership after school on Friday nights when he was 10 years old. He remembers the English motorcycles arriving, and recalls that his father bought all the models: the little Brave two-stroke, Trailblazer and Tomahawk twins, and the Woodsman and Fire Arrow singles.

"The Trailblazer and Tomahawk were sold to a married couple. They traded in an Indian Chief," Joe wrote me.

"The Woodsman went to a local person who was friendly with our father. He competed in local enduros. Somehow my father got him tied in with the factory, who would make mods to the bike so he could compete in the flat track and road racing. Since we were close to an airbase, an airman started racing this Woodsman and was winning local races and started to move up in the amateur division in Laconia. He liked the way the Royal Enfield/Indian handled.

"He sold a lot of the Royal Enfield/Indian Chiefs. He was given a police version of the bike and gave it the local police to use for a few months. After a few months, they didn’t like it so they didn’t purchase the machines. They wanted Harleys so my father worked with another dealer to supply the bikes.

"He sold the Fire Arrow to a man named Walter who actually lived upstairs in his shop. When my father bought the building there were several borders living in the upstairs where there were several rooms and a bathroom. My father didn’t have the heart to throw them out so he let them stay there until they left on their own.

"Walter traded in an Indian 149 for the Fire Arrow. For some reason, he couldn’t start the Fire Arrow so my father’s mechanic would start the bike so he could go for a ride on a Saturday, which was his day off from the railroad. If it stalled while he was out, he would push it back. One time he was almost 50 miles out and walked it back."

Walter eventually moved out of the store, leaving the Fire Arrow. They don't know what happened to him.

"My brother Tom told me that our father could have sold that bike many times over but he wouldn't in case Walter ever came back for the bike," Joe wrote. 

"I’ve had it in my garage for at least 20 years. Prior to that it was in the business... The missing speedo, headlamp, and brake pedal are a mystery. Many times, my Dad would take parts off of his machines to make a customer happy. The other signs of use could be from when my father's friend stored the bike for him. We don't know but we believe the friend and his sons might have ridden the bike on dirt trails. The bike is relatively clean."

That's the story of the Fire Arrow. But there's more to know about dealer John Ciccarelli.

"He competed at the amateur level in the sport of hill climbing starting in 1924 where he used a Harley-Davidson JD. Later on, he used an Indian Scout to hill climb (my brother has that motorcycle)," Joe wrote.

"He was an active member of the local American Motorcycle Association and the National AMA where he was a member of the Competition Congress. While at the AMA Competition Congress, which is the group that proposes and approves the rules for competition, all of the members were arranged alphabetically so my father sat next to a person named Walter Davidson (yes, that Walter Davidson one of the founders of Harley-Davidson).

"When it came to hill climbing, my father was a local celebrity. Every year, his AMA club would sponsor a local hill climbing event in Bridgewater, N.Y. My father competed every year until he was 65 and every year, he would be on the local news TV and radio stations being interviewed to promote the event. The papers would always have an article on him. It was considered one of the best run hill climb events in the country."

John Ciccarelli's sons would all become motorcyclists, but not necessarily very young.

"My father would not allow me to ride a motorcycle until I was 18," Joe recalled. "Once I was 18, he took me for my driver’s test. I’ll never forget that day since it was a miserable rainy day and my dad forgot his driver’s license. The tester allowed him to get it and come back while I sat on a motorcycle in the pouring rain. Lucky for me, I did pass the test.

"My brother Jack was around 17-18 and started riding British motorcycles mostly off road... When he returned after military service he continued riding off-road and eventually took his motorcycle test to get his road license around 28 years old... For some reason, my brother Tom was on a bike at 12 years old."

Their mother was president of the local AMA ladies auxiliary. Her involvement in motorcycles got an early start, Joe wrote. 

"I will never forget the story my mother tells about their honeymoon. At that time in 1941, my father rode and owned only motorcycles and my mother owned a Buick. My father told my mother that they were going on their honeymoon to Canada.

"It turns out there was a national hill climb competition in Muskegon, Mich. on their way to their honeymoon. When they stopped there is when she realized that is why he wanted to go. A friend brought the hill climber to Muskegon for him."

But there's more.

"I remember when it was Christmas Eve, he would be out delivering bicycles so children could wake up to see what Santa brought them. We would wait for him to get home before we would have our meal, which was around 9 p.m.

"When he passed back in 1993, his wake was held on a snowy miserable day but the funeral home was filled with former customers. I remember several of them telling me how they thought the world of my dad, who would help them out. They had to show and give their respects to him even though a snow storm was going on."

As for the Fire Arrow, Joe writes, "I am torn to sell or try to find parts and keep it."

4 comments:

  1. That was a terrific article--enjoyed every bit of it!

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  2. Can't say it better than oldjohn did...

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  3. Thanks for that moving article. There's history all around us! It's inspired me to start working on my own Fire Arrow project - Thanks!

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  4. That was a great little article. If he does choose to keep that pretty little bike, it seems Hitchcocks in England might be able to supply whatever parts he needs. The Parts Book for the '59 model "Clipper" (the Royal Enfield badged name) is available online at: https://www.hitchcocksmotorcycles.com/partsbook/15/1959-clipper. Additional support and advice might also be found on the "Unofficial Royal Enfield Community Forum's" Vintage Royal Enfield/Indian section at: https://forum.classicmotorworks.com/index.php?board=5.0

    ReplyDelete

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