Abraham Betar, 90; Indian cycle expert, racer
by Chris Sturgis, Staff writer


Legendary mechanic, racer and collector of motorcycles Abraham "Brownie" Betar died Thursday December 30, 1999, ending a lifelong love affair with classic Indian Bikes.

Betar died five days after Christmas, his 90th birthday, at the Ann Lee Home, where he lived the past few years, after closing the shop, Brownie's Indian Sales, on Broadway in Rensselaer in 1995. Betar loved Indian motorcycles, which were manufactured in Springfield, Mass. from 1901 to 1953.

"There are very few people left with the knowledge that nay of the old-timers had," said Brett Herrey, who struck up a friendship with Betar in 1992 while scouting for parts for his 1947 Indian Chief.

Even after Betar went out of business and sold his collection at auction in 1995, Herrey would bring the master mechanic home to work on his bike. "At 86 or 87 he'd be tuning up my bike, something I can't do at 40," Herrey said, remembering the good-natured ribbing that came with these sessions. "He'd say, 'You don't know how to use tools! I'll show you how to use tools!'"

In his heyday, Betar would get on the telephone from about 10 p.m. to buy and sell cycles and parts because that's when his overseas contacts were available. Betar would call Germany, New Zealand and Australia, wrapping the session about 4 a.m.

Betar's career began in 1925, when he became a mechanic for William "Slim" Nelson, the premier Indian motorcycle dealer in upstate New York. Nelson introduced Betar to hill-climbing races, taking home a $75 purse for his first race.

Betar was called to serve in World War II, but didn't go because Capital Region police agencies argued that he was needed on the homefront to keep all the Indian motorcycles running, Herrey said. The Watervliet police chief later rewarded Betar by letting him ride the pride of his collection, the Black Bomb Indian, as fast as it would go on the still-unfinished 787 in 1963, according to a 1995 interview.

The bike bad a 1947 engine in a 1930s frame, a larger engine, increased compression and an extra carburetor.
"Five o'clock in the morning, we tried it out, we went 150," Betar recalled. The cops timing the ride were impressed, Betar recalled in the 1995 article. "They went nuts over it. Speed didn't mean nothing to me. I'm not afraid of speed."

Betar is survived by a son, Eugene Betar of Abingdon, Va., and a sister, Kathy Lubus of Danbury, Conn., and two grandchildren. His companion of many years was Marie Mosley.


NOTE: This was sent to me by Lou DeGonzague, our late friend Tom's brother, who said in his letter that Tom and Brownie were good friends. After reading this, I believe he would have been good friends with us all.

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