Johnson Brothers Company Motor Wheel


| October/November 1997



motorized bikes

P.O. Box 701, Carthage, Missouri 64836-0701

I would like to share my story of this little gas engine, in hopes the story will interest other gas engine collectors and maybe even stir a few memories for some of the 'older folks' who had one of these engines.

In the winter of 1914 the Johnson Brothers Motor Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, saw the need for an inexpensive means of transportation and, since the main form of horseless transportation in the early 1900s was the bicycle, the Johnson Brothers designed and built these gasoline engines for the purpose of making 'motorized bikes.' The Johnson Brothers Motor Company completely built these engines, but the magnetos would not operate properly at high speeds. Dick Oglesby, an inventor from South Bend, Indiana, offered his magnetos to the Johnsons to try on their engines and the perfect match was found. The Johnson Brothers moved to South Bend, and there they formed the Johnson Brothers Motor Wheel Company and started full production of these gasoline engines.

The engines were 1 HP, opposed cylinder, 2 cycle, 2' bore with 1 stroke, two flywheel magnetos, one magneto for spark to fire both cylinders at once, and the other magneto for a bicycle headlight (3 volt); bronze bearings and float feed carburetor and weighed out at around 25 pounds.

The engine came with a rear wheel unit consisting of the wheel, hub tire, shock-absorbing spring sprocket holder, wheel sprocket and chain, handle bar controls for choke, throttle and engine shutoff, a three quart gas tank and gas line, and all necessary fittings to adapt the engine and rear wheel unit to any 26' bicycle. This complete unit was named the Johnson Motor Wheel. To make a motorized bike, the bicycle rear wheel was removed and the Johnson rear wheel unit put in its place, the engine placed on top of the rear mud guard and secured to the bicycle frame and the gas line connected to the carburetor, the engine controls fastened to the right side handlebars, the pedal and engine chains hooked up and adjustments made, the gas tank filled and, away the 'motorized bike' wentall this in less than thirty minutes!

The controls on the handlebar for the engine consists of two stacked levers and cables. The bottom lever, when held to the far left position, operates a cable and rod which holds open the two engine exhaust valves and, at the same time, makes contact with the engine 'ground out' wire to the magneto to keep the plugs from firing. The bottom lever was held in this position in order to pedal the bicycle to prepare for starting the engine. When a little speed was established, the bottom lever was released and this allowed exhaust valves to close, the magneto to give spark and the engine to start.