Meet A. J. Lewis (4-10-1916
In April of 1916, while his father and mother were showing land speculators through the Indian territory, A.J. was born in the badlands near Guymon, Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, he and his family returned to their home farm in Hammond, Illinois.
A.J.'s first motorcycle, a belt driven forerunner of the Indian, he got at the age of 6. His father operated a machine shop and auto garage at the farm in Hammond in which A.J. started machine work on his fathers lathe and mill before he started school. While still in grade school he operated and helped maintain a large steam engine that pulled a thrashing rig at harvest time. His next motorcycle was a two speed Harley Davidson with the gear box in the rear wheel.
In 1930 he drove a 1929 Model A Ford to California, transporting his Arthritis crippled father to join family members in the Los Angeles area. While attending Jefferson High School during the day, he worked nights and weekends at the Climax garage rebuilding and overhauling truck engines. He later opened his own garage, the Black Diamond, and operated this until going to work for Northrup Aircraft in 1935.
In 1938 he went to Locheed as one of the company's first 20
employees. His first job there was to paint Lockheed's President,
Robert Gross's black Cadillac. While with Lockheed, the company
built many special aircraft for customers such as Yellow Bowl
Pipe Company, Gilmore Oil and Amelia Earhart. A.J. helped install
and test the first tricycle landing gear used on airplanes.
During much of his stint at Lockheed, A.J. was riding a 1939,
61" Harley Davidson. A.J. On 1939
About the time Lockheed started building the Hudson bomber for England, he saw and bought his first British motorcycle, a 500 c.c. twin Triumph Tiger 100.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Lockheed went into full production of US Military aircraft. A.J. stayed with Lockheed throughout the war working in A & E shakedowns, radio hops and deliveries of primarily B17 bombers. Meanwhile he purchased with co-owner, Sam Dockery a Triumph 500 c.c. Single Tiger 90. Sam raced the motorcycle while in the Navy stationed in Florida. When discharged, he rode the bike to California where it was converted to a pure racing machine and competed in quarter and half mile flat track ridden by Bruce "Boo Boo" Pierson.
."Boo Boo" Pierson and Tiger
Sam, A.J., Boo Boo & Tiger 90
At the conclusion of the war, A.J. opened a trucking business in the San Diego, California area. Missing the world of motorcycles, he sold the business, moved back to the LA area and went to work for the west coast distributor of Triumph and Ariel, Johnson Motors. While working for Johnson Motors, A. J. built, at his home, the record holding "Lake" motorcycle for Sam Parriott.
In the late 1940's Art Sparks ask A.J. for help in building engines for the Sparks Indianapolis racing cars. A.J. accompanied Sparks and his racing team to Indianapolis that year taking two Maseratis and one Miller Special.
Maserati at Indianapolis (pictured A. J. Lewis, Pete De Paolo, Tim Witham and driver Lee Wallard).
Though asked to return the following year, he declined because
he had opened the "A. J. Lewis Motorcycle Speed Center"
in Maywood. The shop specialized in selling speed equipment and
building race motors. Their motorcycles were sent to many race
sites including Daytona's "old beach" track.
His next business ventures included a shop in El Cajon and one in Long Beach before he purchased "A.J. Lewis Triumph/Yamaha" in East Los Angeles. He operated this shop for several years, offering sales, service and parts. He was still building motors to race at TTs, drags, flat track and road races and working as an official at local tracks.
When A.J. became aware of the interest in the now discontinued Ariel, over 100 used machines were imported from England, in addition to hundreds of spares. Many Southern California dealer's Ariel parts were purchased including all those still at the former west coast distributor, Johnson Motors. With this as a source, A.J. had the largest supply of Ariel Motorcycles and parts to be found anywhere. An added bargain was the factory literature, parts books and other related materials, unavailable anywhere else.
Many of the motorcycles are still in AJ's possession as well as parts and accessories. At 80 he is still active in rebuilding engines and gearboxes and on April 20, 1996 was inducted into the "Trail Blazer's" HALL OF FAME.
A. J. with his favorite "TOY"
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