The Lewis Motor House, Clare

Lewis Motor House, Clare, 1914

In the middle of 1904, J.W. Ohlmeyer, Watchmaker and Jeweller in Clare, took a bold step: he had the building next door to his store fitted out as a bicycle repairing depot. In addition to using his "thoroughly up to date plant" to make repairs to any make of machine, he took on an agency for the bicycles and motors of the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, "types of which he (had) in stock" in October 1904. Although the decision to mix jewellery and motorcycles might seem a little odd, J.W. (Will) Ohlmeyer and his brother Albert (also a watchmaker and jeweller, but based in Tanunda) were no strangers to motorised propulsion, having been pioneers in the mid-north region on their very early Minerva-powered Lewis motorcycles. The brothers were the first country members of the Automobile and Motor Cycle Club of South Australia when it formed in 1903.

In September 1910, Vivian Lewis Limited purchased the Ohlmeyer business in Clare. The timing coincided with the acquisition of the W.J. Richards motor business in near-by Burra, and followed on the heels of the move of their main operations to the new premises in Gawler Place South in Adelaide. Clearly these were times of expansion.

This photograph at the top of the page shows the Clare Branch of Vivian Lewis Limited in about 1914, at which time Mr C.O. Scott was the branch manager. The water-cooled Lewis Precision motorcycle on the left and the Lewis outfit on the right both date from around this period. The two shops on the right are likely the 1904 Ohlmeyer shops, but if so the verandas and facades have been modernised.

Lewis motorcycle outfit powered by overhead-valve JAP motor

It is a pity that the existing print of this photo is a little indistinct, because the machine powering the sidecar outfit is an interesting one indeed. The carburettor high and central under the fuel tank suggests an overhead valve V-twin motor, which in this period would most likely be a 6 or 8 h.p. JAP from J.A. Prestwich in London. The vertical shaft and control handle of the NSU 2-speed epicyclic pulley can be seen clearly, so at least there was the possibility of a dignified departure! A surviving but badly-rusted Lewis frame (number 17203, suggesting c1913 manufacture) has exactly these features: the top tube is bowed to clear the valve gear of an overhead-valve V-twin, and the remains of the NSU control are still fastened to the tank top. Given that the frame was discovered in the Clare district, and the rarity of a Lewis machine with these features, the surviving frame is likely to be from the bike shown.

Water cooled Lewis Precision motorcycle

The Clare Branch was listed in Lewis advertising into the early 1920s, but it closed in 1923 as part of the company restructuring.

Can you help? An address, another old photo, a faded sign on a surviving building, a recollection... please email me if you can add to the Lewis story in Clare.

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