by Tim Leary
Several weeks back, I was given a tip by fellow M.M.M. staffer “Scoop” Wanchena about a guy in Crystal, Tom Jones (the teacher, not the singer) who owns an early Thiem motorcycle. I knew this St. Paul-built bike was fairly popular but, since it wasn’t built for very many years, this might be a rare treat.
A rare treat, indeed. But not just the 1914 Thiem. At Tom’s home, I had to drag myself past 70 vintage and classic bikes just to get to the Thiem. Indians, Lilacs, Lubes, Victorias, Sunbeams…32 different brands!
Each of the bikes he owns has a different story. One of his bikes, a Sanglas which was never sold in the U.S., came to America in the bomb bay of a buddy’s war plane. Another bike, a classic factory road racer, was given (as in free,) to Tom because the former owner just knew that Tom would take good care of it.
All of his bikes have had different price tags, but, unbelievably, most have cost much less than $1000. His ’46 Indian with the sidecar cost him $35. His first Harley, which he still owns, cost a whopping $350. Not even the Thiem was more than $1000. “You have to buy when the opportunity presents itself,” advises Tom. But don’t be fooled into thinking that you can buy any of these bikes from Tom. They’re not for sale.
After wiping my drool off of his garage floor and promising to control myself, we went into Tom’s basement to see the Thiem. There, covered with baby oil to ward off rust, was one of the most complete Thiems in existence; and, it’s the only twin cylinder known to exist. Tom loves the fact that some books written about vintage bikes say that no Thiems are known to exist.
Tom said that the bike came from a farm near St. Peter, MN. Bought new from the Joerns-Thiem Motor Company, a farmer rode it for a few years until tipping over on it. Spooked, he put the bike in a shed and never rode it again. That was in 1920.
Sixty years later, two teenagers searching for metal to cut up and sell for scrap found the Thiem buried by the grain from a collapsed storage shed. They bought the bike for $35 along with some other “scrap”.
Not knowing what they had, they asked one of the locals what he thought the bike was worth. The local, who knew a lot about Indians, told the teens that what they had there was an antique; that’s something that somebody like Steve McQueen in Hollywood might buy for several hundred dollars! Enthused, the boys took their treasure home. The local, who also happened to be a good friend of Tom’s, called Tom immediately.
Tom drove to St. Peter, crisp hundred dollar bills in hand, and paid a visit to the teens. While their mother stood there making breakfast, the boys said that they were going to advertise the bike for a month in hopes of attracting someone from Hollywood like that Steve McQueen guy. After a month, they would sell it to the highest bidder.
Tom told the boys that it was unlikely that someone from Hollywood would see their ad, come all the way to Minnesota, look at their bike and buy it. Tom told them that he was ready to buy the bike right then and there. He pulled out the envelope containing the money and laid each of those crisp hundreds side by side on the table in front of the boys. With each bill he pulled out, he wondered if he should just stop there and try to get a good deal from these country kids. But he didn’t. He laid out every bill he had and asked the boys if he had a deal. Before the boys could answer, their mother came over, scooped up the bills and said, “Mister, these boys ain’t never seen that much money before–sold!”
Tom has kept the Thiem in its original condition rather than restore it. It’s in such good condition, which is very rare for a bike of its age, that it may be more valuable in this original state. And the Thiem is virtually complete. The only things that were missing were the original white tires which stayed stuck to the floor and broke off of the rims when the boys removed it from the shed.
Tom has had the bike and engine completely apart for a thorough inspection. One of the more unique features of this Thiem is its two speed hub. Contained within the gearbox were the “planetary gears” which allowed the engine to work less hard yet produce more speed.
Tom says the Thiem could run if it received some simple repair to the magneto and the cracked oil pump casing (from when the old farmer tipped over on it). But Tom doesn’t want to risk damaging the only known V-Twin Thiem. Besides, riding it couldn’t possibly give much more pleasure than just looking at it.