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What's a Silver Pigeon?

Whenever I mention to someone that I restore "Silver Pigeon" motor scooters as a hobby, whether the person is a scooter enthusiast or a friend, their first question is always, "What's a Silver Pigeon?" Since, for all practical purposes the Silver Pigeon appears to be extinct, a more fitting name might be "Silver Ghost," but Silver Pigeons they were, and IF you find one, consider yourself as having found a RARE bird indeed.

Hopefully, this article will prove of interest to the reader as I set fourth to place the Pigeon on the American scene of two-wheeled scootering. I should also point out that all the information in this article was obtained from sources other than the original company that sold the scooter.

The Silver Pigeon was made by Mitsubishi of Japan, and marketed and sold in this country by the Rockford Scooter Company, whose address was 1911 Harrison Street in Rockford, Illinois. The president of this company was a Mr. C. Lewis Emery. It was told to me that Mr. Emery sold Japanese sewing machines to Montgomery Ward before he sold Silver Pigeons to them. Sewing machines and scooters were only two of the various things that Mr. Emery's company sold from time to time. The first listing of the Rockford Scooter Company in the Rockford City Directory shows 1958 as their first year of operation. I have a 1957 Pigeon so the date would seem reliable. Remember, scootering was reaching its pinnacle of success in the American market in the late 50's, and I'm sure Mr. Emery felt he could sell them profitably.

During the somewhat short span of eight years, the Rockford Scooter Company sold a total of six different models. No production figures are available, so it's anybody's guess how many were actually sold. The models ranged from the "Plain-Jane" model C-74, which had a straight chain drive, no rear springs, no horn, etc., through models C-75-76-80 on up to the somewhat sophisticated model C-90, which had a Vari-matic type of drive, turn signals, and a "dual" type battery electrical system, wherein the rider could, at low speed, switch his system over to the battery to keep the lighting system operating brightly.

Since I've outlined the various models that were sold by Montgomery Ward. Remember, Cushman was selling its scooter through Sears with the "Allstate" label, so it would only be natural for Wards to tie in with Mr. Emery's Pigeons, since he was already selling them sewing machines. Wards sold four of the previously-mentioned six models and gave them such exotic names as "Miami," which was the bottom of the line model C-74. Their mid-priced models were the C-75, which they called "Waikiki," and the C-80, which was called "Naassau." The top of the line was the model C-90, which was named "Commuter." In my travels around the country, I found both, and received letters from people who had one or the other. It would seem that the Wards Riverside scooters are more scattered around the country, so possibly they did a better merchandising job and even sold more than the Rockford Scooter Company did of the Pigeons.

Let us now make a brief "word trip" through the scooter in an attempt to bring the reader a picture of this Japanese-made scooter.

The engine is probably the most vital part of any scooter, so let us begin there. Three basic engines were furnished, two of them very similar in makeup to the Cushman "Husky." It's just possible that the Japanese used the Husky as a starting point in their engine design. All engines were 4-cycle, air-cooled, two of them being of the upright design. The third was an overhead valve design slanted version.

All engines were thoroughly shrouded to insure correct temperatures and no overheating, since the engine was completely enclosed in the streamline body, and could only be cooled by the air the flywheel could bring in. The cylinder head also had curved fins on top to assist in the movement of air. The engine block itself, except the OHV engine in the C-80, was of two-piece construction-- the lower casting of aluminum and the upper cylinder barrel of cast iron. Internallly, the crankshaft turned in bronze bushings rather than the roller bearings found on the Husky. The engine did, however, have a large "gear-type" oil pump, which moved large quantities of oil throughout the engine. The foregoing information pertains to the basic upright Husky look-alikes, not the OHV model. I know very litttle about the OHV engine, since my only encounter with it was a few years ago, when Big Al Ackerman, from Wisconsin, brought me an entire model C-80 scooter which he had found somewhere in his travels. I immediately took out the OHV engine, crated it up and send it back up to Michican to a Pigeon friend, Mark Hoedel. If any of you Pigeon people have the model C-80 with the OHV engine, contact Mark. He knows all about them.

Carburetion to the engines was supplied in the case of the small engine in the C-73 by an AMAL carburetor, while all others used a NIKKI. One model, again the C-80 even had a "primer" plunger attached to be used in starting the engine.

Let's move on to the power train wherein the engine output reaches the rear wheel. Remember the C-74, the low-priced model? Its total drive assembly consisted of a centrifugal clutch mounted on the crankshaft, and a chain from the clutch to the rear wheel. All other models used what the operator;s manual calls an "automatic transmission." Power was supplied through the centrifugal clutch to a small pulley mounted on the crankshaft, then through a somewhat thick V-belt to a larger pulley mounted behind the engine. Both of these pulley's were filled with coil springs and steel balls, so at various speeds the pulleys would open and close and change the ratio between the engine and the rear wheel. It's been my experience that this system works very well and it has only two adjustments that the operator can make. One adjustment can be made to allow the operator to change the point at which the ratios will change from LOW to HIGH, and the other to take up wear and slack in the V-belt, which will occur through continued use.

Top speed of the C-73 is listed as 35 MPH and all others at 45MPH. These figures seem realistic since I have ridden both my scooters at nearly these speeds. I should also point out in the case of the top speed of my scooters that because of the unavailability of parts, none of them have ever been disassembled, other than a valve-grinding job a few years ago.

As aI write this article, I continue to find myself referring to the various scooters as C-73, C-74, C-80 etc. That's the only way the manufacturer desinated them. Only Montgomery Ward used such exotic names as "Miami," Nassau," "Commuter," and "Waikiki." As far as the Rockford Scooter Company was concerned, they were all "Silver Pigeons."

In the electrical department, we again find a wide range of systems. On the low-priced C-74, there was a headlight and a taillight and a brakelight, all powered by lighting coils in the flywheel. The mid-range C-75, 76 and 80 all had the added feature of a horn. However, the horn was powered by four "D" sized flashlight batteries in a small box under the dash. The high-priced C-90 was an entitely different ball game. It had the usual ligting coils, but additional coils were placed in the flywheel and routed through a selenium rectifier and on to a six-volt motorcycle battery located in the rear of the machine.

Along with this came a five position key-type ignition switch. This gave the operator the choice of lighting coil output at high speed or battery operation for the circuits at low speed. There was even a "park" position which kept the speedometer and tailight operating. I use that position so I can find my Pigeon when it is mixed in with a bunch of Cushmans at the local watering hole. Yes, it even had a light in the speedometer so you could tell how fast you were going at night, and this was back in 1957-58 when Cushman was considered King-of-the-Hill.

Wheels, tires and brakes were of the conventional 4.00x8 tires mounted on two-piece rims. They were tubeless tires, and air-leakage on the two-piece rims was solved by placing a rubber gasket between the halves and sealing the bolt holes with a sealer of some type. Only a single rear wheel enclosed drum type brake was used on models C-73, 74 and 90. Models C-75,76 and 80 had front wheel brakes installed as standard equiptment. The reasoning behind this could have been that the two smaller models had no real need of the front wheel brakes, while the C-90 used a different type of front fork which was not adaptable to the front wheel brake.

What color was a Silver Pigeon? I sure wish I knew. I thought they would be silver or some shade of gray, so that's the colors I painted my little C-73. Since that restoration, I have found only one Pigeon in its original color that I could document. That was a model C-90, and it was painted a medium "apple green" color. {possibly this article will stir up some "Pigeon Person," and I'll learn a bit more about the various paint colors of Pigeons.

What happened to the Silver Pigeon? Where did it go? Why did it go? Where is it now? Some of these questions could possibly be answered by the original people who were with the Rockford Scooter Company back in the late 50's and early 60's, but so far no information has come from them. The Rockford telephone book contains names of some of the Emerys and other officers of the company, so possibly in the future I may learn something from them.

The last listing of the Silver Pigeon in the Rockford City Directory was 1966. From this, one can surmise that the life span of the scooter here in America was approximately nine years. I have no knowledge of the history of the Pigeon in Japan other than a letter of inquiry to the Museum of Transportation in Tokyo, which brought me several pages of pictures of Pigeons made for sale in Japan during this same time frame. All of the information was in Japanese. Any language students out there?

The demise of the Pigeon can probably be attributed to several factors. The greatest of these would be a declining market and lack of interest in the small two-wheeled scooters. Another might be that the Pigeon was of foreign manufacture, with metric nuts, bolts, fittings etc. at a time when metrics were not popular and foreign parts were hard to find. It would also seem that the Rockford Scooter Company was primarily interested in the sale of scooters rather than building a strong dealer service network.

So, add it all up. A foreign-made scooter coming into a declining market through a company which appeared to be after short-term profit rather than long range growth, and what do you have? You got it-A DEAD PIGEON!

Hopefully, this article will bring a few more Pigeon collectors out of the woodwork and more interest will develop at the shows and swap meets. At the present time, my roster of known "Pigeon People" numbers 12. If you are a "Pigeon Person" and interested in them, write me. I'd be more than happy to help you get your Pigeon flying again.

VMBC member.............Marvin K. Wuehle