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Oldest American motorcycle to be auctioned in Frederick Saturday

Oldest American motorcycle to be auctioned in Frederick Saturday
Brian Rooney, of Lovettsville, Va., photographs a 1903 Indian Motocycle that will be auctioned Saturday at the Frederick Fairgrounds. The motorcycle is believed to be one of the oldest unrestored American-manufactured motorcycles in existence. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

FREDERICK - Brian Rooney approached an antique motorcycle and steadied his digital camera.

He wanted photographic evidence of what he found at The Great Frederick Fairgrounds Thursday.

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It was the oldest original motorcycle he had ever seen. It might be the oldest, original American-made motorcycle left in the United States.

The 1903 Indian Motocycle Rooney photographed will be auctioned off Saturday to the highest bidder for what antique enthusiasts are expecting to be a staggering sum.

The coveted antique was previously owned by Charlie Alder, of Westminster, who died in a motorcycle crash on North Gorsuch Road in Westminster last May.

Prior to being owned by the Alder family, the Indian classic hung on a Baltimore dentist's wall for 30 years. Then it was kept in a garage and a basement.

Alder's father received the motorcycle for $50 as barter for construction work in the 1950s long before it was considered to have collectible value.

The motorcycle will be sold for considerably more than that this weekend, said Josh Ruby, of Wolfe Auctions.

The motorcycle, one of roughly 600 made in its 1903 model year, is receiving attention from bidders spanning the globe.

A restored 1901 Indian Camelback Motorcycle prototype sold for $133,500 at the Las Vegas Bonhams classic motorcycle auction last year.

Motorcycle experts perusing items up for auction said the 1903 original could go for more than that.

"We could be getting into record territory with this one," Ruby said.

The Indian Motocycle comes from the third model year. The original prototypes were built in 1901. It looks like a five-speed bicycle. Riders start the engine by pedaling.

With the exception of a few alterations made decades ago, the 1903 is all original. One of the three batteries used to power the vehicle is being sold as part of the auction.

Steve Rinker, who operates an Indian restoration firm in Romney, W.Va., said the motorcycle has traveled more miles this year in the back of a van than it did the previous 90 years combined.

Since Thanksgiving, Rinker has stored the Indian at his private museum of antique motorcycles.

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He's not sure how much the motorcycle will be auctioned for. But after being kept in Maryland for more than a century, it could be headed to a dealer in another country.

Rinker said there's an 80 percent probability a foreign buyer will purchase the motorcycle.

Regardless of who purchases it, the new owner should feel a great responsibility to preserve what is a part of American history, Rinker said.

"I hope the next generation keeps as much interest with it," he said. "We have to maintain what we have, or it will be gone forever."

The Saturday Wolfe Auction, which begins at 9 a.m., will also include 1940s automobiles, World War II memorabilia and 1917 and 1923 model year Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

But the Indian is the gem of the auction, a relic that could command a record price.

"I'll be interested to see what that goes for," Rooney said. "I've never seen anything like it."

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