This Handlebar Hobo was called the Tramp
Words & Photos: John Gunnell
George J. Smith was the founder of S & S Cycle in La Crosse, Wis. was passionate about Harley-Davidsons and was devoted to making them go faster. The Tramp is a bike he built after the end of World War II that is now viewed as an important historical milestone in the company’s history Riding the Tramp, Smith raced on dirt tracks outside of Chicago in the early postwar years.
The racer was constructed in the very early ‘50s when Smith punched his 61-cid Knucklehead up to 74 cu. in. using FL cylinders and flywheels. He then employed a set of ULH flywheels to push the engine all the way up to 80 inches.
Smith originally built the Tramp as a drag racing bike. He intended to win a $2,000 prize at a Chicago drag strip. The powerful bike won the race, but the promoter didn’t pay out the prize money. Smith got only the glory of winning. Of course, in the long run, his victory counted a lot. Through his racing achievements, the S & S Cycle Equipment company became known as a winner.
Smith took an updated version of Tramp to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1953 and eventually set records there. The engine in this version of Smith’s bike displaced 92 cu. in. and he used the added power to establish a new World Land Speed Record of 152 mph at Bonneville in 1954.
In 1958, Smith and a friend, George Stankos, started S&S Cycle in Blue Island, Ill., south of Chicago. The S&S stood for the first letters in their last names. A year later, Smith bought out Stankos. His wife, Marge, whose maiden name was also Smith, became the second S in S&S and played a big role in the development of the company. The couple first ran the business out of their basement and used racing to improve their products.
S & S stroker engines made Leo Payne a drag racing legend. Still later, collaboration between the Harley-Davidson factory and S & S helped produce Cal Rayborn’s 265-mph Salt Flats bike. It was also S & S development work that helped Harley introduce the 4.25-stroke EVO engine in the late ‘70s.
The Smiths moved to Viola, Wisconsin, in 1968. George J. Smith died of a heart attack in 1980. Marge passed away in 1992. In 2004, the company opened a distribution center in La Crosse.