The History of the Pennsylvania State Police Motorcycle Unit
The Pennsylvania State Police Historical, Educational, and Memorial Center (PSP-HEMC) was recently contacted by the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington D.C. One of their staff was researching the history of the Pennsylvania State Police and the motorcycle. What follows is my response to her; if anybody has anything to add please email me at email@example.com.
The P.S.P and the Motorcycle Compiled by Thomas Memmi
In April of 1920 the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) purchased 70 motorcycles from Harley Davidson. They were a “V-Twin” engine, and I think they were the “F Head;” I don’t know the actual engine size (c.c.). They had a left-handed tank shifter, so I’m assuming they had a right-handed throttle. Many of the motorcycles were equipped with sidecars and a McClellan saddlebag could be placed on the back. At this time, in PSP history, the town of Newville, Cumberland County, was the location of their Training School. My grandfather, Sgt. Thomas Martin, was sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to learn how to ride and maintain the Harley Davidson motorcycle in 1920; I can’t prove it, but I believe he was the first member of the force to ride a motorcycle in an official capacity. He, along with two employees of the Harley Davidson Company, trained volunteers from the ranks of the PSP at Newville. I only know the last names of the two men from Harley Davidson, which are Ryan and McDonald. My grandfather trained at least two groups of men, and I don’t know how long Ryan and McDonald stayed in Newville. The inserted photo (1923) is of those first “Harleys” (my grandfather is the rider in front).
In 1923, it became necessary for the state of Pennsylvania to form a policing unit responsible for the enforcement of the vehicle laws. The new law enforcement agency, the Pennsylvania State Highway Patrol (SHP), would purchase their motorcycles from the Indian Motorcycle Company. There were both politicians and citizens, in the state, who still feared a large state police organization; they only saw these uniformed men as “strike breakers.” There might have been a desire, by the state, to provide the SHP with Indians; this way the public wouldn’t confuse the two groups. The PSP and the SHP had similar uniforms; the basic differences were the badge (the PSP didn’t wear badges) and their shoulder patches were dissimilar. Another possibility for using a different manufacturer was that the Indians came standard with a left-handed throttle; the obvious advantage was the patrolman’s ability to fire his revolver.
I’m not sure if these first Indians were the “Scout” or the “Chief.” Most of the records are hard to find or they were simply thrown away. The SHP used both the “V-Twin” and the four cylinder models; they might have used other variations, but I’m not sure. The other inserted photo is of seven members of the SHP (the photo comes from our recent 2005 PSP History Book). The Indian Motorcycle Company provided instructors for the students; the initial training took place at Mt Gretna, which is near Hershey. I don’t know the original number that was purchased from Springfield, Mass., but by May 22, 1924, 150 Indian motorcycles were in use.
In 1937 the PSP and the SHP merged forming the Pennsylvania Motor Police (PMP). By the time of the merger there were over 500 motorcycles in the SHP’s inventory, but they were very dangerous, especially with the poor roads. Before the roads were paved, the riders would have to stay in the rut formed by four wheeled vehicles. There was always the danger of having a tire getting caught in the tracks of a town’s trolley system (I counted 17 members of the department who were killed in crashes involving motorcycles). The motorcycle was slowly fazed out, and a safer patrol car was its replacement. I don’t know when the PSP stopped purchasing Harley Davidsons (maybe late 1920’s or early 1930’s), so the Indian appeared to become the motorcycle of choice. It was used, on a limited basis as a patrol vehicle, until about the 1950’s. I have only two names of men, who did patrol work, for the PSP (the Pennsylvania Motor Police was renamed the Pennsylvania State Police in 1943) in the 1950’s; there might have been more, but I’m not sure. Their names were William “Gus” Steinmeyer and Maurice “Moose” Lawler. The inserted Trooper photo is of Lawler (photo from 2005 PSP History Book).
Another prominent use of the motorcycle by the PSP was with their field exhibitions. These were shows involving men, horses, guns, dogs, and motorcycles. The PSP events, known as the Rodeo, were performed to showcase their varied skills and to provide money for their annual pension fund drives. The motorcycle drill team would perform intricate maneuvers, and then there were the trick riders. They would perform stunts like the “Rear Stand, the “Two Man Head Stand,” the “Tulip,” the “Four Man Stand,” the “Shoulder Ride,” and the “Airplane Ride.” They would even do a jump, and apparently the large motorcycle, which I believe was an Indian, would land with a thud. There was the final event where thirteen riders would ride on one motorcycle; the thirteenth man, Cpl. Charles Covage, would hang off the back end. There was one stunt rider named Willis “Wild Bill” Hayman, who performed in the 1930’s. He would stand on the seat and play a violin (he claimed it was a Stradivarius); he would be the only one on the moving motorcycle at the time. Most of the trick-riding motorcycles were altered with welded braces, handles, or whatever additions were needed to perform the tricks. The model years of the Indians included (but not limited to) 1936, 1939, 1948, 1950, and 1951; one part of Cpl. Covage’s clown act, was to ride an Indian Papoose.
In the early 1960’s the department purchased new Harley Davidson Duo-Glides for the Rodeo, and as far as I know, they were never used on patrol. At the time, Cpl. Howard Endy was sent to Milwaukee for instruction, just like my grandfather did about 40 years prior (there might have been others, who were sent, but I’m not sure). The tanks and fenders were red, and I was informed this was not a standard color offered by the manufacturer; these were specially ordered. The Duo-Glides were used by the drill team, but I’m fairly certain the Indians remained the stunt “bike” of choice.
There is one individual I don’t want to forget about, who had a role in both the SHP and the PSP. His name was Ed “Shorty” Frey, and he had a Harley Davidson dealership in the 1920’s, which was located on High Street, Elizabethtown, PA. As far as I know he never enlisted in the SHP, but he worked with them as a civilian. At an SHP exhibition, in Longwood Gardens, he leaned his motorcycle over and raised the Indians sidecar tire off the ground, while his passenger stood in the sidecar. The story was that he learned the trick when his sidecar had a flat tire; he had to ride three miles with his motorcycle on the unusual angle. After the merger in 1937, he was at the PSP Training School in Hershey; it was passed on to me that he was an instructor and mechanic there, and apparently he wore a trooper uniform. Prior to working for the state, he was a well known for racing motorcycles and he even competed in “bowl racing.” In 1914, he rode 700 miles from Haute, Indiana, to Elizabethtown in five days.
“Shorty” retired from the PSP in 1945 (according to a newspaper article). As I mentioned earlier, sometime within the next 10 to15 years the motorcycle was no longer used as a patrol vehicle. On August 17, 1989, the motorcycle returned to the PSP with the Harley Davidson FXRP, and as of, at least, 2005 they were using Harley Davidson FLHTPI (I assume that it’s the model still in use in 2008).
Some additional information, on the topic of the PSP and the motorcycle, has been provided. In 1976, for the Bicentennial, some of the Harley Davidson Duo-Glides returned to the road. Seven members of Troop J, Embreeville, escorted wagon trains, from all over the country. It was recalled that the riders were Troopers Robert Margolies, Robert Jones, Martin Kiggins, Robert Foose, Richard Klinikowski, and Richard Kase (info. provided by Cpl. Robert Margolies, Ret. ). In addition, Trooper Karl Grill obtained a Duo-Glide, from the Academy, from Trooper Howard Endy. Following a quick course in the spark advance and the reversed controls, he went back to Plymouth Meeting and patrolled the eastern part of the PA Turnpike; the area covered, by motorcycle, was from the Philadelphia Exit to the Valley Forge Exit (info. provided by Cpl. Karl Grill, Ret.).
Some additional information has been offered concerning the previous article on the PSP and motorcycles:
§ Retiree James Wheeler passed on that his stepfather, Richard E. Fitzpatrick, patrolled by motorcycle; he enlisted in February of 1935 (info. provided by James Wheeler).
§ A Sgt. Price, who was once stationed at Butler, appeared to have his lower jaw offset to one side. This was result of an injury sustained when in pursuit, on a motorcycle, and a cable was purposely stretched across his path. The wound was so severe that at least one of his teeth had to be removed from the back of his neck (info. provided by John Hudock).
§ Capt. Wilson C. Price got in trouble for endorsing the Indian Motorcycle (info. provided by Leo Luciani).
§ Gerald Henneman remembered using the early 1960’s Duo-Glides at the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in June of 1988. Cpl. Richard, Tpr. Frye, Henneman, and others were part of this patrol detail. Their success, at the event, was believed to be the impetus for the return of the motorcycle in 1989 (info. provided by Gerald Henneman).
Information and Photos provided by Thomas Memmi Chairman, Historical & Educational Committee, of the PA State Police Historical, Educational, & Memorial Center (PSP-HEMC) & Marc J. Infantino provided some photos(from his book “The Pennsylvania State Police, a History of the First Uniformed Origination of its Kind in the Nation, 1905-2005”).