By C.D. DESALVO
Whizzer Motor Co. started in 1939 in Los Angeles as Breene-Taylor Engineering, a manufacturer of airplane parts. Whizzer then started to sell motor “kits” for bicycles as a way to make them motorized. After sales of engines proved to be an unsuccessful endeavor in 1942, Whizzer lobbied the United States government for the right to continue production, claiming that the the Whizzer motor was a way for defense workers to travel to and from work.
In 1946, Whizzer moved its main production facilities to Pontiac, Mich., allowing the company to take advantage of auto-production facilities to outsource the manufacturing of most of the Whizzer components. It was in 1947 when a young Harold Kraus visited Hays City Auto Tops in Hays and purchased a new Whizzer “H” motor kit from owner Swede Gilberg for $110.
“He liked to tinker. He was able to save up money working odd jobs for family members while still in high school,” said Paul Kraus, son of Harold. “He drove the family car to school and this gave him a new mode of transportation.”
Harold, just a junior in high school at the time, installed the engine initially on his heavy duty balloon-tired Gambles bicycle frame as a way to get around the family farm for chores but the white chalk rocky roads of rural Ellis County shook the bike apart and Harold had to purchase a new Schwinn frame made for motors. In January 1951, Harold left for Denver to enlist in the Navy and the bike stayed on the family farm where it was used around the farm by his brothers.
After his military service, Harold returned to western Kansas to start his own farming operation and stored the bike in his barn where it remained until 2007 when it was passed down to Paul and traveled to it’s new home in Erie, Colorado for restoration.
“For as long as I can remember, this thing sat in the back of our barn. When I got the bike in ’07, there was not a single dent in the tank. The fenders were a little rough and it was covered in grime. There were definitely some components missing but the bike was pretty much 90 percent there,” Paul said.
So the five year restoration project began for Paul Kraus. A father himself now, Paul spent most of his time focusing on family, but the bike stayed in the back of his mind.
“After a while, I kept getting squirrely and it kept staring at me so I decided ‘I have got to do something about this,’ ” Paul said.
Paul did extensive research to understand what exactly he had to do to start the restoration and find out if he could even still get parts for the bike. On his quest, Paul met different people from around the country who had advice on how to restore the bike and get parts..mostly from, surprisingly, the scooter community.
“The scooter community of all places has been very open and non-judgemental. They’re always willing to help and free advice still keeps flowing to this day,” Paul said. I met some neat people and made friends for life.”
Paul worked on the restoration off and on as the years went by and it took time trying to find a company that could make new brake pads and a person who could re-upholster the seat in correct detail. A dad of one of Paul’s friends offered to rebuild the engine in exchange for two Maytag washing machine hit and miss motors.
Paul’s own father had a hand in the restoration. Despite being five hours apart, technology allowed Paul and Harold to collaborate on the restoration and it gave Paul comfort knowing that when he hit a roadblock, he could pull up his dad on his phone, show him the bike, and ask questions.
“We were only one state away, but I could Facetime him and say ‘OK, so I’m having trouble with this tell me what you think.’ I could turn the camera around and we would both be working on it together. That was actually really rewarding to be able to share that rebuild … to share when I fired it up for the first time and rode it down the street while my wife held the phone so he could see it go up and down the street,” Paul said.
When on of Paul’s friends sent him a web form about a new Discovery Channel show called “Sticker Shock” (a show about the stories and histories of unique rides, restored vehicles, and automobile memorabilia) and suggested he send the Whizzer restoration in as a possible idea for the show, Paul was skeptical at first but he filled out the form and sent in a couple pictures and a quick video.
Two weeks later, Paul got an email from a casting director and after a few different conversations and interviews, Discovery Channel had arranged for the bike and Paul to be sent to Los Angeles for a taping of the show.
One of Paul’s favorite parts about this whole journey has been the relationships and friendships developed during the Los Angeles trip, and at different vintage motorcycle shows that Paul has brought the bike to.
“We have made a lot of friends around the country through this little experience,” Paul said. This little bike has started so many conversations and invoked so many smiles from nostalgia. I wish we had more objects in the world to help make people smile a little bit more naturally.”
The episode of Sticker Shock featuring Harold’s restored Whizzer is set to air on Discovery Channel (Eagle Channel 64 & 664) on Wednesday, June 27, at 9pm.
The Whizzer will be back home in Hays on Sept. 15 for the Thunder on the Plains Car, Truck and Cycle Show at Frontier Park — and Paul hopes Hays recognizes a piece of it’s history.
“It’s going to be fun to bring it back to Hays and let Dad show his old bike to his buddies. Hopefully Hays recognizes it in some fashion as a little piece of it’s history preserved,” Paul said. “There’s part of me that wants to ride it down Main Street just once.”