George R. Helm, 87, of Milaca died Monday, March 30, 2009 at the St. Cloud Hospital.
Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 5 at Peterson-Johnson Funeral Home in Milaca, MN. Burial will be Monday, April 6 at 11 a.m. at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Ripley in Little Falls, Minn.
George was a cornerstone of old British motorcycles in my neck of the woods. He will be Deeply missed.
I'm very surprised that it appears that I'm the only one on this board who knew George. So I guess it falls to me to offer some retrospective on his importance to the British motorcycle community. I think it's important to at least recognize the contribution that people like George have made to our community.
He was probably best known for his involvement with Royal Enfields, and here is a piece from the Enfield web site:
George’s story is best told in his own words.
“I started as a mechanic with the Indian Acceptance Corporation of Chicago in 1937. Back then I mostly worked on Indian Scout and Chief big V-twins - lovely machines. I was just getting going with my very own dealership when I was called up in the Second World War.”
George spent his war years in the Navy but on his return to civilian life he opened a new dealership, Maywood Sales, again in Chicago. In 1955, thanks to the new trading arrangement with Royal Enfield, George began to sell Indian-badged Enfield’s.
“The late 1950’s were great times. There was nothing in America that competed with Royal Enfield. I became involved with a number of race machines, both through customers and for myself. I owned a 1957 Apache, in effect a 700cc Super Meteor engine in a stripped-down Westerner frame - and had a lot of success racing it. We did a standing 1/4 mile in 12.04 seconds. Nothing would touch that bike, including 900cc Harleys”.
George frequently raced the Apache at over 120mph and was able to outpace a Vincent Rapide. He sold more Apaches than any other Indian dealer.
“Several of my customers would ride their Enfield long distances to race tracks, compete in a race then ride home. Those bikes were something else.”
George was also heavily involved in the development of the 700cc police Chief.
“The bike was very heavy and needed reinforcing at the rear to carry a Motorola radio - an essential for a police bike - but the radio itself was as heavy as an engine block. As Motorola was a Chicago-based company, I was lucky enough to become the liaison person for Indian and I also designed and fitted many radio-carrying rear sub frames. We sold 840 Police Chiefs in total.”
When the Royal Enfield-India partnership ended George started to sell Enfield direct imports - the 350cc and 500cc Bullet-based Fury, Crusaders, Continentals and the factory’s swansong, the Interceptor. The Interceptor Series 11 is often times called the best British Twin ever made.
“I sold a succession of BSA and Triumph machines in the 60’s and 70’s and a few Yamahas in the 80’s. But throughout those years I constantly serviced restored Royal Enfield’s, and in particular, Indian-made Enfields.”
Since the 1990’s, George has also serviced many Madras-built Bullets and in 2005, he once again became a new Royal Enfield dealer. When Ge0rge moved his operation to Minnesota he also built a dirt track on his property that was very popular for many years.
“Up until then there was little point in me selling new Bullets because there was already a dealership 30 miles away, but when that business closed I seized the opportunity. I sold five bikes in my first month! These new bikes have come a long way. The 5-speed gearbox is particularly good.”
True to his roots, George is retro-fitting reproduction 1950’s Indian parts to a new Bullet, which he feels be a promising new addition to his showroom.
“It’s all about nostalgia. That’s why people buy these bikes and it’s why I keep restoring them.”
In 2005 George was featured in a pictorial coffee table book commemorating 50 years of Royal Enfield in India. The book has been sold all over the world.
George was as sharp as a tack right up until the end and had an encyclopedic knowledge about Royal Enfield and Indian motorcycles. I’ve never met anyone who could do math in his head so quickly and accurately. His intelligence was off the chart. He was very quick-witted and would have us in stitches every time he visited us here in the office. Sometimes we would close the office for a while just to spend time with him.
We are going to miss him a great deal as will his family.
I remember when George and I were dealing on an old Apache that I had picked up. I had dropped the bike off with him along with an incomplete Interceptor, and we haggled away over these bikes for about 5 years! Finally, about a year ago, I went up to his place and couldn't find the bike. He finally admitted that he had sold it, and we spent the entire day trying to figure out what he had to trade. In the end he had to give up his MKIV Spitfire in trade, but we both went away happy.
His shop was an old barn, and some of us were allowed free reign to explore the hay mow and the back rooms, but there were treasures hidden everywhere! Of course actually getting him to part with any of them was an art form in itself, which I never fully mastered.
He was one of the true masters of our discipline. He was a machinist, a mechanic and a veritable wizard with an old motorcycle. It's hard to express how much we will miss George and how much we have lost. I guess we just have to be happy that we knew him and that he shared some of his experience with us.
Always sad to hear of one of the "old guard" passing, sounds like he lived a full and exciting life.
Despite a lifetime of reading about, dealing with, and talking about British bikes, I'd never heard George's name before this. All the folks associated with Triumph, BSA, Norton, Vincent, etc I think I probably had heard of.
It was likely due to the reputation (deserved or undeserved) that Royal Enfield bikes had in my town during my impressionable years in the 1960s. Toward 1969 and 1970, they were almost giving the bikes away at the dealer, but even at that, the guys I knew that bought them, after a short time of ownership, did nothing but curse and swear and damn at the bare mention of the name "Royal Enfield", especially the twins.
I remember watching a race about 1971 at the old Virginia International Raceway, where a Royal Enfield 750 road racer (clubman class) was roaring around the track looking fast and butch with its chrome tank, and a two stroke Spanish 250 single (Ossa or Bultaco or Montesa) blew around it like it was standing still.
All that I say only to indicate why "I" personally shied away from anything Enfield like it had a stinger in its tail, and therefore never heard about George. I'm very sure that there are folks who love the brand and love lost causes and have found ways to fettle and improve them (like we do with Moto Guzzis) and use them as they are meant.
And IF I were into Enfields instead of my own personal lost causes, I'm sure I would have gained a lot from knowing a guy like George!
I'm like super lazy today. It's like normal lazy, but I'm wearing a cape.
Sorry to hear of the passing of George. I had not heard of him either but I'm sure that he was a guiding light in the early British invasion. I had a '69 Intercepter, and as Lannis said they didn't have a good reputation and mine wasn't any exception. Seems like each different make has it's own following and people that really understand and have the inate ability to make them even more reliable than when they left the factory. Obviously George was one of those people. I'm sure he will be missed.Ride on George. Dick
I am sorry to hear of George's passing. One of his riders, Gary Runge, lives close to me. I will pass the word to him. I met George in 1976, just after I bought a well-used R.E./Indian "Woodsman" and was looking for parts. I drove up to Pease to see him, referred to him by a friend. He gave me "The Tour," and some very rare parts were seen, including two special rigid frames built for flat-track racing. He had a few parts I needed, but the best part of the story is this: In 1995, nearly twenty years later, I was walking thru a swap meet near here, and George called to me. I had not seen him since my visit in 1976, but he rememberd me. He asked me: "Are you still looking for a rear fender brace for your Woodsman? If you are, there is one at the south end of the row, two rows over." YES, it was the right one, and right where he said it was. What a great memory! And what a great guy! Rest in peace, George.