Saturday, August 16, 2008

Powell P-48 Model Scooter -- 1949/1950

Transportation Item Number 3

At the end of the school year in 1949, my brother Ben decided he would forgo his senior year of high school and move to Muncie, Indiana, to live with our mother. For the first time in my life, I was not living with a member of my immediate family. Ben and I had always been together. Faye, Bob, and Lenna went to other relatives homes and I saw little of them. Sometimes they didn't feel like family as we weren't raised together.

So, here I am alone with my grandparents in Celina, Ohio. One day I met an adult who had a P-48 Powell Motor Scooter for sale. This scooter cost $300 brand new in 1948 (a lot of money then) but he wanted to get rid of it. He offered it for $50. I told Grandpa about it and he said that wasn't possible and that I didn't understand what he wanted for the scooter. He said he wanted to see it and we'd decide if it was worth the amount he wanted. This scooter was perfect. When Grandpa asked him what he wanted for it, the man said $45. SOLD!

Now I had a Whizzer Motor Bike and a P-48 Powell Motor Scooter to get around on. Let me tell you about the Powell. This scooter could really go. I checked the speed with a friend driving a car (no speedometer on the scooter) and got it to 70 miles an hour! It had a 7 horse power motor that was kick started. No key for this one either - a switch to click and you kick start the engine. You could take this scooter if you knew how to ride it. A centrifugal clutch meant no shifting gears. Just give it more gas and away you go. It has a two gallon seat shaped tank (you sat on it with a cushion) and the scooter got 50 miles to a gallon of gas. 100 miles to a tank.

The Powell was made in Compton, California. Here I am in Ohio with a product that was made a few miles from where I now live in California. They are no longer in business. I think they made scooters through 1950 or 1951 and stopped business.

I never took a picture of this scooter. Another regret! So a few years ago I wrote to Reminisce Magazine to a feature they call "Can You Give Me A Hand?" and asked if anyone had a picture of the P-48 Powell. I got seven or eight responses and one even sent me the Parts List of this model which included the picture below. I corresponded with a fellow from Northern California by email for a while. He had a 1950 model which looks more like a small motorcycle. He sent me a picture of it. We exchanged stories of our riding memories and I lost contact with him. If any of you reading this had one of these scooters, let me know in the Comments section at the end of this story.
That summer, Grandma became ill and it was difficult for her to be responsible for a 15 year old as well as her husband. So another home was needed for me. (Grandma passed away the following summer.) In September 1949 I moved to Kansas City, Missouri to live with an uncle and aunt. I had to decide what I was going to do with the two items of transportation that I had. I sold the Whizzer Motor Bike to a fellow Daily Standard newspaper delivery boy named Paul Shiverdecker for $100. He was happy and so was I. I shipped the Powell to my new home and used it around Kansas City. I rode it in the winter and got double pneumonia which nearly took my life at age 15. Another story - another post. I rode the scooter to school and parked it on the street. Again, no one ever took it without my permission. Something that couldn't happen today. During 1950 the scooter broke down and I gave it to Uncle Bob who lived in Indiana. He was very handy with machines. The last thing I heard it was in his garage still not fixed. I don't know what happened to it.

I was very fortunate to have the funds to afford these items for my personal pleasure. Grandpa was supportive and helped me to keep them in working order. I had freedom to get around the town and into the surrounding countryside. It was handy in Kansas City as well. I never had a license plate on either of my toys or registered with the DMV as you now have to do. Of course, at age 15, I didn't have a driver's license either. That is needed today. Too much bureaucracy now! A kid can't be a kid anymore! Oh yeah - no helmet!

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, those were the good old days. Reminds me of my first car, a 1929 Model A 4 Door Sedan which was in good condition. I purchased it in Santa Ana, CA from the widow of the original owner for $75.
Since we lived in an area which was considered a farming area, between Santa Ana/Orange I was able to get a drivers license at age 14. I always wanted a Motor Scooter but the family said NO! Thanks for sharing the good memories.

Dick said...

Just a reminder of those leaving comments on the Anonymous section, I need you to give your name at the end of your comment -- like this:
Dick Moore

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Nice article, I've got one of these scooters.

Anonymous said...

In 1954 I was a sophmore in highschool in Gardena Calif. I bought a P-48 that didn't run real well. I think I paid about 30.00 for it. My uncle, who was a elderly mechanic, helped me rebuild the engine, centrifugal clutch and magneto. It took me a couple of months to save up the money for the parts. That thing could haul butt when we were through. It looked kinda cool too. The only problem was the magneto didn't put out much juice to the headlight so it was kind of risky on the highway at night.
That Powell experience led me to owning some kind of motorcycle all my life. Right now its a 1990 HD Softail Custom with 70,000 miles on the clock. perfect mileage for a 70 year old now living in Florida/
Tom Dorsey

Anonymous said...

I sold my Shadow 500 to a man who told me stories about his family business - his last name was Powell. when he was 17 years old - his job was to test ride the scooters his family built. I never heard of a Powell before this Friday - now here I am reading a great story about this bike. Thanks,

Bruce said...

Dick... Great story. I bought a P-48 new in 1948 when I got my first drivers license. I was in Jr high at the time, living in Long Beach CA. Have an old picture and would love to share stories. Bruce

Anonymous said...

My dad bought a P48 new in, 1948, in San Rafael, Ca. I was pretty young. I remember several of the passanger burning their leg on the exhast. We moved to Paradise, Ca, the powell went with us. After a year or so dad sold it. Then about 4 yrs. later bought it back for me.I was about 12. I rode the heck out of it. It would get up and go. If I remember right you had to lean it over to the side and prime the carb. before starting. It was difficult to start. We lived on a gravel road and it got away from me several times. Like you said no helmet. We sold it to a freind of mine and I don't know what happen to it. PETE

Anonymous said...

I have a Powell 48 that is lacking a carburator. (Which is the only reason we still have it). Does anyone have information or parts available?

Larry said...

i had a p48 was very fast scooter would bow away local mustangs would pick up 5 miles per hour when head light was turned on might think bad ground donot think that was problem
blew head gaskets 100 200 miles kept spare and wrench taped under seat would set timing by start with belt of hold wide open move magneto advance plate untill engine sounded like highest rpm
took engine apart to see what made it tick jack gledhill the anahiem calif powell dealer told me to be carfull withe the crankshaft you can get it out of alingment a familly friend and mechanic sai he would check it i put it back together it vibrated so bad you could not see so much for a 13 year old mechanic trying to fix something that is not broken
would like to purchase another powell
larry morgan
larryandsallymorgan@msn.com

Ken Harris said...

Ken in Lima Ohio, My father bought a Powell 48 at least I think it was. The Gas tank was the seat. When you filled up your bottom got a little cold. Replaced the lining on the clutch with brake lining, the kick starter wore out, had to stick twigs in the clutch and push start the darn thing. It was fast, was clocked by state patrol at 60 mph with a friend on the back. this was in 1956 or there abouts. Rocker arms finally broke. Powell actually sent me a pair, but did not have gaskets. Never put it togerther. also Magneto gave out, it was replaced by a 4 cyl tractor mag runing of a chain sprocket on the output for the origional mag. with a jumper wire between two nipples on cap. worked fine.

Unknown said...

From Jack: I had P-48 in 1949 or 1950, I bought it out of junk yard for $ 20. it was in mint condition except as I discovered later it had a blown piston. I was a pretty good mechanic at 14. My dad owned a garage and I worked there since I was 10 after school. Any way I replaced the the piston it was a standard ford flat head piston. The magneto was slightly out of time and I fixed that as well. After all that that little Powell was very fast and go up to 75 mph easily. I loved that little motor scooter more than life itself. I rode it all though high school even in the winter in Iowa. I wish I could find another one

tedd said...

I bought a P38 brand new. I always
had money from working as a kid.
Paper routes, soda jerk, etc. I was in the 8th grade at Leland Jr. High in Bethesda MD. Dick, I also rode it at 70mph on the way to the Mannassas Motor scooter races. They would not let me enter due to being too young. I live in Huntington Beach, CA and just bought a BMW R1200RT motorcycle.
I ride for fun not transportation.
I am a member of the SCBMWRC.com.
Dick do you still ride? My email is
twdenney@hotmail.com Let me hear from you. Ted Denney

Anonymous said...

I had a powel P-51 it had a single rear leaf spring & boy woulod that thing go & rode like a dream
The leaf spring broke into & my uncle welded it broke again I tried
to find a new spring but no luck
at that time.Wish I could find another one,I was only 14 then,did"t need a licence or plates
to ride back then or helmut(good times).If anyone knows ehere I can find one let me know, email jport210@gmail.com , James Portwood

Anonymous said...

In 1949, my brother and step-dad bought me a custom powell, actually only thing powell was the motor, wheels and forks, it all was mounted on a cut down jeepett frame, you rode it like a motorcycle, it was fast, 60 mph on the road, a motorcycle shop on Florence in Inglewood Ca. built it, it was small hardly 2 people could ride on it, cop stop me once because 2 of us
were on it. slap the rider in the face, did that hurt he ask,it will be worst when you fall off..rode it for 2yr to work..p martin

Anonymous said...

22in 1949 Had a custom Powell, only thing powell about it was the forks, wheels and motor, you rode it like a motorcycle, very low and short frame,could not ride two people on it, it was built by a motorcycle shop on Florence Ave in Inglewood Ca. it was a one of a kind and it was fast, 60 mph rode it to work for 2 yrs..

Anonymous said...

IT'S O.K. IF NO ONE EVER READS THIS STORY...
I WAS JUST 15 IN VILLA PARK ILL. BACK IN 1956...MY DAD BOUGHT ME A 1948 POWELL TO RIDE TO SCHOOL..I RODE IT AS FAST AS IT WOULD GO AND WENT EVERY WHERE EVEN IN ILLINOIS WINTER.....THEN THE MAGNETO GAVE OUT BY SHERING THE KEY WAY ON THE CRANK....DAD TRIED EVERYTHING INCLUDING MAKING A CAR DISTRIBUTER FIRE THE DAMNED MOTOR....I FINALY TRADED IT FOR A WHIZZER OF 1954 AND THEN RODE A BIT SLOWER EVEN FURTHER AWAY FROM HOME....ONCE AT SCHOOL I REMOVED THE PLUG WIRE SINCE IT HAD NO KEY OR ON OFF SWITCH....AFTER SCHOOL IT WOULD NOT START....I.E. NO PLUG CONNECTION...I HAD TO PUSH IT 5 MILES HOME AS CARS DERIDED ME AND MY" WOULD HAVE STARTED JUST FINE WITH THE PLUG WIRE CONNECTED"....I NEVER MISSED IT AFTER THAT BUT THE URGE TO GO FAST STAYED WITH ME TILL THIS DAY..OH AND A FULL TALK OF GAS WOULD LEAVE YOU WET AND SMELLING LIKE CHEAP REGULAR....

Anonymous said...

I have parts if anybody needs some
Lance 720-296-1026