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Rebuilding The Indian [Hardcover]

Fred Haefele
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 12 2012
Maybe he's losing his mind. Maybe he's having a midlife crisis. Or maybe he's simply fulfilling a lifelong dream despite its near impossibility. Fred Haefele--a writer who can't get his novel published, an arborist who has sporadic work that's murder on his aging muscles, and an expectant father for the first time in more than twenty years--impulsively tackles the restoration of a 1941 Indian Chief motorcycle. This daunting project starts with a massive leap of faith--the purchase of a basket case--a $5,000 heap of indeterminate old Indian parts in a cardboard box. From this grab bag, Haefele will slowly but surely resurrect one of the most beautiful machines ever built. With limited mechanical skills, a budget that relies heavily on a Visa Gold card, and a cast of local experts, Haefele takes us around every curve on his rocky road to restoration: the thrill of finding an original spare part; the joy of completing a repair that was previously beyond his ability; the nagging doubt that he's insane and the bike will never be finished; the suspicion that, once it looks finished, it won't run; and finally, the sheer headlong, heart-thrilling rush of riding the gleaming midnight-blue Millennium Flyer. Fred Haefele writes with poetic ease about making something--in this case, both a gorgeous motorcycle and a beautiful baby girl--and how the most versatile tool in his kit, for both jobs, was the fervent wish to do it right.

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From Publishers Weekly

An Indian, Haefele explains at the outset, is a make of motorcycle not built since 1953 but highly esteemed by American bikers in the 1930s and '40s. A Montana tree surgeon and an ex-teacher of creative writing, Haefele (City of Trees) set out to reconstruct an Indian, and that task gives the principal thrust to this memoir. The rehabilitation project involved searching for abandoned machines, negotiating for old parts, purchasing replacement parts when originals were not available and keeping an eye out for "basketcases"?a motorcycle built from a hodgepodge of makes?from which valuable parts may be salvaged. Also included are accounts of the birth of his third child (the first of his second marriage), the vagaries of Montana weather and portraits of other bikers. But all else takes a backseat to the machine, and such a focus limits the book's appeal to readers equally committed to or fascinated by the construction of a what he calls a technological "work of art."
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

An entertaining if somewhat flawed look at how a middle-aged hobbyist finds new meaning in life through rebuilding a classic motorcycle. Haefele is a frustrated novelist and academic who works, albeit happily, as a tree surgeon. Deciding after visiting an annual motorcycle rally to invest in a vintage American-made Indian Chief motorcycle, he finds himself friends with bikers and other assorted characters whom he would normally avoid. In the end, he finds that he has much in common with these folks, even as he has managed to sell his first novel and, by books end, is back on the academic trail chasing down university jobs. Because of the setting (Montana) and motif (motorcycles), Haefele's book is doomed to comparisons with Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. These similarities notwithstanding, Haefele is able to guard himself well from any influence anxiety, though in one particular scene where he uses beer can slivers as a maintenance tool, the similarity is a little too close. Haefele's style is more relaxed and he isnt, for the most part, prone to the didacticism that mires down Pirsig's work. Unfortunately, the bottom begins to fall out when, for instance, the ``naming ceremony'' for his newborn daughter, Phoebe, is juxtaposed against the episode in which he names his motorcycle the ``Millennium Flyer.'' By the end, Haefele has dubbed his biker friend and tree-surgeon assistant Chaz the ``mythical trickster'' who has kept him going on his quest to rebuild his bike, and even more clumsily, he draws open comparisons between the clothes bought for his daughter and the parts bought to help build his cycle when most readers would catch the similarity on their own. These slips are not enough to ruin Rebuilding the Indian, though, which leaves one curious to see his forthcoming novel. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but it could have been better. Dec 5 2001
By A. Reed
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The author tries really hard to make this a story about the motorcycle. Unfortunately the book is mostly a personal memoir of a guy who just happens to be restoring a 1940's motorcycle. The author talks too much about his prozac medication when you really want to hear more about bike restoration. He doesn't go into too much detail about which parts fit where and how hard to torque the bolts. Instead he talks more about what goes on in his life and how restoring a motorcycle makes him feel.
One thing that really disappointed me was that the author did not rebuild the engine himself! He sends off the motor at the beginning of the book and then gets it back at the end. The stuff in between is a story about waiting for parts and finding enough money to pay for the restoration. "Rebuilding the Indian" is really about bike-people and bike-culture and only slightly about bike-rebuilding.
Lastly, the author makes a big point about how wonderful his Indian looks painted in midnight-blue, but the photographs in the book are only black and white. The publisher could have at least put one color photo on the cover, showing the completed motorcycle. This book was a good effort, but not quite 100-percent of what one might expect from the serious-sounding title.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Moto Kierkegaard Jan. 4 2001
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Is he a frustrated English Major out to write a book no matterwhat? That's one explanation. Or perhaps been assigned a writingproject to augment counseling to deal with his end-to-end relationaltroubles with his son-from-first-failed-marriage as well as his ownfather-now-married-again-to-someone-not-the-author's-Mom? That wouldbe another explanation. Or is he the tree surgeon overspending on anexpensive hobby he can't really afford? Yes, yes, and yes. Thosewould be some author-centric comments, to which must be joined someexplanation of the motorcycle subject (the old Indian) and thedramatic sideshow issues (the types of people whom he encounters alongthe way to rebuilding the old motorcycle, and how commenting on themreveals the author's own story).
Here's what strikes me: Just whenyou think Fred has careened down the path of absorbing somelowest-common denominator biker behavior, he mentions having a Latt'ewith someone. Or having a dinner party at his house for poets andwriters. Then, from the other end, when he gets into a critique ofhis first failed marriage to a comparatively more-uptight academicwoman, he swings up into the trees with references to his preferencefor hanging out with marginal law-breakers who drink, cuss, and felltrees for a living. So in the interstices of all of that, he cleverlycatches readers who may be located anywhere within this spectrum ofmotorcycle enthusiasts.
For it is the motorcycle person who reallyloves this book. Anyone who has ever taken apart a lawnmover or amini bike will instinctively identify with the drama of getting theold Indian together and running, along the way meeting the types ofartisans so admired by Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art ofMotorcycle Maintenance.
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By A Customer
Rebuilding the Indian by Fred Haefele rings very true from my experience. I've been around car collectors, rebuilders, restorers, etc. for practically my entire life and I thought that the process that Haefele went through represents that of many others around the country and probably around the world. The need to scrounge, the need to pay others to fix things that you can't do yourself (few people can do everything themselves and probably shouldn't given the services available today), the frustration, the TIME, but most of all the relationships and conversations that evolve around vehicles all struck me as genuine. I can also say as someone who got divorced, like Haefele did, because the marriage brought out the worst in both people, that his reflections on the life he left and the new life he has created are both authentic and heartening. I think this is an excellent book and a rare chronicle of the sense of achievement that comes with hands-on mechanical (or other) work combined with the very human aspects of the highs and lows involved in realizing that achievement.
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The preceeding, somewhat slighting, Kirkus Review of "Rebuilding the Indian: A Memoir" seems rather elite and out of touch with the clear vision of the author. Fortunately nonfiction reveals many of the foibles, inconsistencies, and unfathomable decisions of humans. If you are looking for everything to be neat and consistent, read fiction.
Fred Haefele has written a giant of a work. He draws the reader into the archane world of motorcycle restorers and the more archane world of Indian Motorcycle enthusiasts. We begin with him the unfocused search for an Indian Motorcycle (a basket-case) and follow the step-by-step restoration process. Each component of the bike has a story: Engine, fork, wheels, generator, tires, paint and fuel tanks. The assembly process is a wild hyperactivity of searches and discovery of parts. Often these parts are in the custody of ecentric motorcycle people that are more focused on maintaining the connection to the past glory of ancient motorcycles than on any business or profit motive. Haefele buys his basketcase for $5,000 and then spends by his accounting $13,000 or more to complete his restoration of his Indian Chief motorcycle. The gratis labor and undercosted restoration services make the rebirth of this Indian Chief a product of huge personal and monetary investment by a man with limited resources. There are a number of pages of excellent photos detailing the restoration in haunting black and white. These photos seem to speak of another time and era, when men of adventure took to the highways on these huge beasts.
The author comes to grips with these vibrant childhood dreams, and memories that many middle-aged men carry in their private corners.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars best motorcycle book
this book could be twice as long as it is. it was such an enjoyable read, i just couldn't put it down. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2003 by CD
3.0 out of 5 stars Juggling the Responsibilities
This is not a restoration book on how to rebuild Indian motorcycles but a story of a man who bought a 1941 Indian Chief and his joys and tribulations of trying to get the bike on... Read more
Published on April 14 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Rebuilding the Indian and a Life
I very much enjoyed and identified with this book. After a difficult divorce, I turned to motorcycling as a new way to enjoy being alone and found it to infect me with enthusiasm... Read more
Published on Dec 16 2000 by Brett Ringger OD
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read!
This is a short book, but the author manages to cram lots of information and exposition into a small package. Read more
Published on June 25 2000 by Mike Hinchey
5.0 out of 5 stars THE BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ!
I recommend this book to anyone you loves their motorcycle. Stroker brings his Indian to life with the help of Chaz.
Published on April 4 2000 by cath@internetcds.net
5.0 out of 5 stars I want to do it too!
I read this book after hearing about it on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." The premise intrigued me, even though I've never ridden or driven a... Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2000 by Majicpat
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Best Basket Case
Rebuilding the Indian is a joy to read. A smart, funny, and informative adventure that revolves around starting a new family at fifty and (as if that wasn't enough) rebuilding a... Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2000 by Ralph Beer
4.0 out of 5 stars a project finally finished
Being a person who has started many a "project" I can truly appreciate the pride and satisfaction found in completion. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2000 by kristina batalden
4.0 out of 5 stars Men, Montana, and Motorcycles
The author's midlife crisis is solved by rebuilding a motorcycle and having a new baby. Starting over at 50. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 1999 by Mike Cussen (cussenm@pacfor.com)
4.0 out of 5 stars Pursuing a dream he didn't even know he had
Fred Haefele does a wonderful job of describing the unpredictable fraternity that surrounds his restoration project. Read more
Published on Sept. 23 1999
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