Cushman Engines and Military Scooters

By Staff
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Larry Airborne Powell
 1942 model 32 military scooter with side car.

Pictured is my 1942 model 32 military scooter with side car . The engine is a 4 HP cast iron Cushman with an oil pump. These Cushamn-engine-powered scooters were made for the United States government in 1942.

The Cushman Motor Works was in the business of making engines for industrial and farm use. Around 1936 they decided that they could sell more engines if they made a scooter to put it on. The company grew slowly until WWII. During WWII they made three models of Cushman scooters: the model 32 as shown, a model 39 three-wheeler and a model 53 airborne that was parachuted out of aircraft.

I am restoring a 1944 airborne at the present time. Only 7,534 of these were made. Mine is the 387th unit made. After the war the Cushman scooter business boomed until 1966, when the Japanese bikes came into being. In 1966 Cushman made 100,000 Eagles. They still make three and four-wheel units for schools, governments, golf courses, and industrial plants.

My scooter was used at the Wichita Boeing Aircraft plant during WWII. My father was a machinist there during that time, so this scooter has special meaning to me. The photo was taken at the Eisenhower Library & Museum in Abilene, Kansas, during the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of WWII. The scooter was obtained in a trade with John McDermott of Colby, Kansas. It was restored over a six month period by me and my 12-year-old sidekick Roy Martin. It is an early 1942 model as shown by the early round kickstand; later model 32s had the 50 Series type kickstand. The body mounts differently to the frame as well. 495 of the Model 32 military scooters with side cars were ordered by the US armed forces in WWII. They were issued with 7-inch, 8-inch or 9-inch tires. This unit was issued with 7-inch tires (to save rubber). I changed it to 8-inch tires. You will note that there is no headlight or taillight on this unit. To save materials during the war, scooters that were to be used in war plants in the United States were ordered without lights. The body has no holes, mountings for taillights, or license plates. I obtained a copy of the military manual for this scooter, as none were available at the time.

Scooter frame #11753 was ordered by the US Army Air Corps for use in defense plants. Both the scooter and side car are tagged “Boeing Aircraft Company, Wichita Division,” with U.S.A.F. over-stamped. The body has no taillight lens bracket or license plate bracket and no locking device for the front fork.

Since this scooter was used to transport pilots and VIPs around Boeing, the military or Boeing made some infield modifications to this scooter diamond plate steel replaced the floorboard, the seat in the side car was welded in place and the side car supports were beefed up. To show how the scooter looked in use, these modifications were left in place.

After its service in Wichita the scooter was kept in military service by the Air Force Detachment assigned to Boeing. Sometime around 1960 it was sold as surplus to the state of Kansas. It was used at Larned State Hospital. It was sold by the state of Kansas in 1992, when I acquired it.

This Cushman scooter was a joy and a challenge to restore. Hours were spent in research. This scooter was painted many times in its life. Paint colors found were original OD, flight line yellow, white, civilian green and finally State of Kansas orange (the last used).

During a break at the D-Day Invasion Anniversary weekend a man came up to me and asked if I was Larry Powell and where I was from. As we talked, he inquired as to my past. When I told him that I lived in Chanute, Kansas, he introduced himself as Paul Anderson, a neighbor boy that I knew and played with on short Lincoln Street in 1956-58. How he remembered my name after 36 years I will never know. When I told this story to Jim Harper and his wife, during supper at their place, Jim said that he lived in Chanute also, a little earlier than I did. We lived about two blocks apart. We enjoyed talking about old times there. Now if I just could find Gary Shaw of Chanute. We were riding our scooters when we were just 13. I had my first wreck in Humbolt, Kansas, at the age of 13 but that’s another story. I wonder how many members lived as kids in Iola, Humbolt, Chanute, Erie, Fort Scott or Topeka, Kansas.

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