Many of us fighterers know about the Big Belly Crew and some of the bikes they’ve messed around with or on. (Pictured below is the ZX-10 Jesse built that was featured in Streetfighter Magazine-issue 190). What most of us didn’t know however, was the long motorcycling history in the Cornell family dating back over 100 years.
Last Summer I had the opportunity to meet up with Jesse Cornell and the Big Belly Family in Springfield Massachusetts. The place of meeting was the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum, which has quite an interesting collection of antique automotive history. Not just the 2-wheeled variation, but cars, planes, pedal-bikes and more. It was really cool to see some of the interesting ideas from way back when and the way things progressed from so long ago! One particular room is devoted almost entirely to machines manufactured by Indian, which was the reason for our visit. Jesse had a Great-Great-Uncle, Stanley, who dealt Indian Motorcycles in the early 1900’s.
As stated in the plaque in the display, Stanley was an Indian dealer, who originally sold bicycles. As things changed and technology progressed, he began to sell and repair motorcycles. He sold a number of brands, including Indian, and became the main Indian dealership in New York for 25 years. As testament to the age old saying “it’s in your blood” it seems that Jesse’s wild antics were passed through the generations from Great-Great-Uncle Stanley, who used to race the old Indians quite successfully with top riders in the nation. Imagine wearing a leather helmet, if any at all, and hopping on a glorified pedal bike with a single-cylinder engine and holding the throttle wide-open for extended amounts of time! It’s one thing to do so on the amazing machines of today, but back then it must have really separated men from boys (or crazy from sane).
I’ve seen some pics from years gone by floating around of Jesse’s dad (pictured below with white beard) wrenching on his bike, Jesse running around in the front yard with a helmet on that was too big, or sitting on the gas tank with his pops. Reminds me, and I’m sure many of you, of how we grew up — bikes, boots, and over-sized sometimes sparkly helmets. For many of us motorcycling is a way of life, not just one of our hobbies, and it will be passed to the next generation from us as it was by our predecessors. To have your own families gear-head-history immortalized in a museum exhibit is not just cool, but something Jesse and family are very proud to see. Congrats guys, I’m going to go reminisce on my moto-up-bringing.