Henderson Restoration Project
2013 — As part of the festivities unveiling the refreshed exhibit Behind the Badge -The Story of the Ontario Provincial Police, the Museum and Friends of The OPP Museum unveiled our recently restored 1931 Henderson KL motorcycle.
The 1931 Henderson KL motorcycle is the oldest known OPP vehicle. It was purchased new in February 1931 for $525 by John Hinchliffe who was a motorcycle patrol officer in eastern Ontario at the time. Back then, motorcycles were the only vehicles used for regular patrol by the OPP; and the member had to purchase their own bike. As a result, the OPP fleet was a mixture of whatever the members purchased. The Henderson, manufactured in Chicago, was popular in North America for police use because they were fast, comfortable and reliable. Unfortunately, Henderson motorcycles ceased production in 1931, primarily due to the Great Depression.
John Hinchliffe originally joined the Ontario Department of Public Highways as a motorcycle patrol officer, which was absorbed into the OPP in 1930. He served at a number of locations, including a reenlistment into the Canadian military during WWII and passed away from a lengthy illness while still on the OPP in 1958. A colleague of Hinchliffe during his posting in the Ottawa area was another patrol officer named Bert McKie.
The two apparently remained friends following their respective transfers to other parts of the province. In 1969, McKie became director of the OPP Traffic Division with the rank of Staff Superintendent. He was also an avid collector and restorer of vintage vehicles. Although the lineage of the Henderson is not completely clear, we do know that McKie purchased it from a private citizen in the early 1970s. Its condition upon purchase is unknown but we do know that it underwent some restoration by McKie using the resources available to him at the time. He retired in 1975, and the Museum has a photograph of him riding the bike for the last time in 1990, on his 80th birthday! His family donated the Henderson to the OPP in 1996, following his death.
By 2010, the ravages of time, storage and display were increasingly taking their toll, raising concerns about its long-term condition and stability. While the Museum is financially supported as part of overall OPP operations, the funding required for restoration was beyond the capacity of the Museum. In 2012, Museum curator Chris Johnstone approached the Friends of The OPP Museum with her dilemma, and the Friends agreed to fund its restoration. Once that decision had been made, the first challenge was to find a restoration specialist with expertise in a line of motorcycles that had not been manufactured in over eighty years. With the assistance of Ed Christie, a retired technician from the OPP Garage, Friends made contact with Rob Olsen of ‘Olsen 4 cylinder Motors’ (O4 Motors) in Parry Sound, who is an internationally respected expert in Henderson motorcycles. Rob impressed the Museum and the Friends Board with his knowledge and professionalism and agreed to undertake the task. Bob also had a special connection to the Henderson as he knew Bert McKie and had previously purchased his stock of Henderson parts and tools. He also had some documentation related to the bike which he has generously donated to the Museum, enabling the Museum to fill in some of the history of the bike.
Rob commenced the laborious task of completely disassembling the Henderson and inspecting every part. It was during this stage that it was discovered that the deterioration of our Henderson was much greater than originally thought. Throughout, Rob chronicled his work in photographs which he forwarded to the Museum on a regular basis. Every part was inspected, cleaned, repaired where necessary or replaced as required. Parts that could not be salvaged were either replicated by Rob or, when available, replaced through his network of contacts in the vintage motorcycle fraternity.
One of the original goals of the Museum was to not only have our Henderson restored to its original condition, but to retain and preserve some of the existing elements that reflected its life as an OPP vehicle. During his restoration, Rob collaborated with curator Chris Johnstone to ensure that this history was preserved. An example of this can be seen just under the fuel tanks, where the handle of the fuel shut-off had been repaired by soldering a 1977 penny in its place – a creative repair dating to McKie’s time with the motorcycle where the correct handle was either unavailable or too expensive. This is a modification that Museum staff opted to maintain as a nod to McKie’s contribution.
Although all the internal mechanical components are in place, it has been restored to a non-operating condition. There are numerous logistical, risk and liability issues, as well as mechanical concerns, in attempting to operate a vehicle of this age and value, on a very occasional basis, and the Museum decided against it.
On May 28th, during a gathering in the auditorium at OPP General Headquarters to introduce the new Museum display, OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes and Friends Board Secretary Len Aitchison, unveiled the restored Henderson. Afterwards, Len presented a mounted photograph of the bike with a certificate of appreciation from the Friends and the Museum to Rob Olsen and his assistant Elliott Stevenson. Rob said he had developed a connection with the bike and was sorry to part with it, but knew it was ‘going home’. Following the event, the bike drew a sizable crowd and Rob stood by to answer many questions.
The Henderson is now back on display in the Museum, both restored to its original colour and condition as well as preserved, which will minimize any further deterioration. It will stand as a proud element of the Museum’s collection of artifacts of OPP history long into the future. Friends of The OPP Museum was honoured to partner with The OPP Museumin its largest undertaking to date. The almost $30,000 restoration cost was made possible by the generous donations of Friends members and supporters, particularly the annual Pedal For the Past Bike Ride. Additionally, both Friends and the Museum are grateful for the efforts and commitment of Rob Olsen and his team in restoring the Henderson. He has every reason to be justifiably proud of his work.
In spite of the considerable logistics and planning involved, the Museum hopes to take the Henderson to a limited number of events where it, and its unique place in OPP history, can be showcased.