Streamline special KL
It’s the oldest OPP vehicle known to exist, and thanks to the generosity of many, it will be around for many years to come
Story by Len Aitchison
Back in the early part of the twentieth century, Ontario had very few highways, and even fewer that were paved. The government didn’t view rural traffic enforcement as a police matter, and in 1919 established Traffic Patrol Officers under the Department of Public Highways. With the explosion in the number of both highways and vehicles, these officers were absorbed into the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in 1930. Interestingly, the OPP did not use marked patrol cars until 1941, so traffic patrol was done exclusively by motorcycle. Each patrol officer had to purchase and maintain his own bike, and he received a small allowance for fuel and repairs.
Because each officer purchased his own, the fleet was a mixture of makes and sizes. One of the more popular models was the Excelsior Henderson, which had a reputation of being fast, comfortable and reliable. The Henderson Motorcycle Company was begun in 1911 in Detroit by Tom and William Henderson. In 1917, they sold the company to Ignaz Schwinn, whose Excelsior Motor Manufacturing & Supply Company in Chicago produced motorcycles and bicycles. With a full order book, the company abruptly ceased motorcycle production in 1931, largely due to the Great Depression.
Also in 1931, OPP patrol officer John Melville Hinchliffe took delivery of his brand-new Henderson “Streamline Special KL” from P.J. McBride Cycle in Toronto for the princely sum of $525. A popular model among American police departments, the Special KL was a version of the Streamline KJ model introduced in 1929 that boasted 40 hp from its 1301 cc, inline four-cylinder engine. Several minor engine enhancements resulted in the Special KL model producing 45 hp.
The history of this bike is still being filled in, but we do know that around 1970, Robert (Bert) McKie, a friend and colleague of Hinchliffe and, by then, a senior-ranking OPP officer, bought the Henderson and did some restoration work. Bert was a vintage-vehicle enthusiast, and there is a photograph of Bert riding the Henderson on his eightieth birthday in 1990; this was the last ride for both Bert and the Henderson. Following his death, the McKie family donated it to the OPP Museum (opp.ca/museum) in Orillia in 1996. It is the oldest known OPP vehicle in existence.
The years of storage and display took its toll on the Henderson, and by 2010, it was in need of further restoration and conservation to ensure its long-term stability. Although the museum is part of the OPP, it has virtually no budget for exhibit purchases and maintenance, let alone something on this scale. The Friends of the OPP Museum (oppmuseumfriends.ca), a registered charity dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of the OPP and its people, stepped up to the plate. Through the support of its generous donors, the Friends were able to fund the professional restoration of the Henderson on behalf of the museum.
Rob Olsen of O4 Motors in Parry Sound, Ontario, was selected for the restoration. Rob is a world-renowned Henderson specialist and impressed the Friends board of directors with his knowledge and professionalism.
Very little is known of the Henderson during its OPP life, and only a few grainy photographs have been found. It is known that certain equipment came and went. Also, unlike today’s police vehicles, there was very little in the way of police equipment or markings. In addition to restoring the historical accuracy of the bike, Rob also collaborated with the museum’s curator, Chris Johnstone, to retain some of the elements that reflected its OPP life.
During the restoration process, it became evident that the restoration was overdue. In addition to certain historical inaccuracies, significant deterioration was uncovered that would only worsen over time.
On May 28, 2014, our restored and preserved Henderson was unveiled as part of the OPP museum’s new “Behind the Badge” exhibit. Although the bike has been faithfully and accurately restored inside and out, since it is a museum artefact, it will not be ridden again. There are just too many issues involved in attempting to restore and maintain a motorcycle that would only operate occasionally. However, the museum does hope to be able to display it at a couple of motorcycle events around Ontario over the next few years.
We are extremely proud of our newly restored Henderson, and are grateful for the assistance of Rob Olsen and his staff. In addition to generously donating many hours gratis, he has also donated to the museum a number of documents he had related to the bike that will help fill in its history.