History: Mini Bike Factories, Suppliers and Dealers

Rupp Manufacturing Inc.
1776 Airport Rd.
Mansfield, Ohio

Mickey Rupp (Rupp Mfg/Dart Kart) took his dual MC10 powered Dart to third in B Super.
Mickey's talents included kart design, tuning and driving and Rupp karts.
To this day are among the most popular with vintage racing enthusiasts.

Mickey Rupp at NCMP June 2010,
Mickey returned to the kart track,
driving a dual rear Rupp Chaparral with twin West Bend 820's ...
he answered some questions for the crowd following his induction into the Vintage Karting Hall of Fame....

Mickey Rupp Vintage Karting at New Castle Motorsports Park - YouTube

1776 Airport Rd.
Mansfield, Ohio

This satellite image shows the former location of RUPP Mfg. Sadly the barren land shows no trace of what was once the mecca of recreational vehicles.

Great new article by Quentin Haines here:

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24023714/Mickey Rupp by Quentin Haines.pdf

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Wow this thread is really great.

Its amazing how the Cycle World Bonanza article (circa 1969) talks about the encroachment of foreign bikes into the US and how good old American ingenuity at Bonanza was able to stem the tide with labor, materials and inventory cost containment. Methods utilized included automation and computer aided manufacturing methods(CAM): critical path inventory(just in time inventory), Co2 automatic micro wire welding machines (MIG/TIG),and electrostatic applied paint(powder coating) All these were way ahead of their time for most any US companies in 1968-69, especially a small minibike maker.

For those who don't know the touted "Japanese" production techniques such as just in time inventory management ect., were actually the brainchild of Edward Deming, an American who was commisioned by the U.S. Government to help rebuild Japan after World War II.

If we could only get back to such innovation in grass roots American Manufacturing. If 100 new companies each created 100 new jobs, that's 1000 new jobs, and so on. That's how to put people back to work. Someone should send that article to the governors of all 50 states and the Secretary of Commerce to refresh them on how the good old fashioned American inventiveness worked then and can still work now.

Well off the soapbox, great thread about minibike history... keep it goin'
HPE/Muskin Cat

Recently, I ran across the online curriculum vitae of Mr. Bob Carlisle who served as a draftsman and product researcher at the HPE/Muskin Colton California from 1972 to 1975. Via email, Bob graciously shared some of his experiences and knowledge:

Bob worked on the original fiberglass male plugs for the Dune Cat and Tri-Cat bodies as well as drafting most of the parts for the bikes. This included the El Gato mini cycle with the ACE 100 Hodaka engine.

All models were designed and manufactured at the Colton plant. The Muskin part of the company was where all the swimming pools were made. This was in Muskin, PA. However, research and development for the above ground swimming pools, all the filtration units for swimming pools, artificial Christmas trees, etc. was also accomplished by the Engineering staff at the Colton plant.


The HPE/Muskin Colton Plant Today (Google Earth Photo)​

HPE/Muskin sold the bikes to Sears, Montgomery Ward, JC Pennys, etc where they all had their own trade name put on the bikes.

The Cat brochure at minidoodle shows the bikes over-laying various snap shots of some of the staff.

The photo below shows Bob’s hand at the drafting board where he worked. He remembers the photo shoot day.

The Chief Engineer was Mr. John Kunzweiler, the head Structural Design Engineer was Mr. Joe Wall, and the head design Engineer was Mr. Dick Patterson.

Mr. Wall and Mr. Patterson can also be seen in some of the background pictures on the brochure.

Some of the last things Bob remembers working on were a 5-port rotary valve for swimming pool filters, a pool sweep design for above ground swimming pools, and a snowmobile. Bob said the snowmobile was a demonstration design and doesn’t think it was ever produced.

Bob recalls doing a lot of R&D of the Dune Cats and Tri-Cats. He recalls test riding a Tri –Cat with two McColluch chain saw engines driving each rear wheels with front lever steering brakes. He recalls, “It was wild.”

When Bob left HPE, they gave him an El Gato powered by the Hodaka Ace 100 cc, which he rode for a few years along the base of San Bernardino Mountains. He doesn’t recall who he gave the bike to however.

Bob's Parting Gift, a Cat "El Gato" powered by a Hodaka Ace engine. (Photo courtesy of Bob Carlisle)

Bob also received a 7’ tall Muskin Christmas tree, which he still uses every year, and figures he’s saved over 40 years of killing real pine trees.

Mr. Bob Carlisle currently lives in Big Bear, Ca designing homes and performing land surveying.

I invite any additions, or corrections to this information.

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Interesting stuff...I like quirky information like that....:thumbsup:

I found a similar ad for a little two seat sports car in a 1950's Hot Rod magazine...went to the address and it's a little house in a residential neighborhood...:shrug:
I am working on finding out where the old Gilson plant in Fredonia was to take a photo. I was told by a local and former employee the plant in Plymouth did not produce the minibikes or gocarts...it is currently a Toro plant. He said he remembered taking apart the stamping dies when they stopped making minibikes when I asked about the stamping the rare clutch covers...he thought that was around 1973-74

The Gilson SNOW BLOWER Shop, Gilson History

"Welcome to the Gilson Snowblower Shop
Proudly Presents

The Gilson story as I understand it is an interesting one. It's one that I have found full of surprises. Every time I thought it would be a straight shot to the 1980's it took another turn. The story as outlined here is based on a number of sources that have contacted me and shared what they knew. The sources include members of the family, employees, local residents and a historian who took an interest in the family. It also cross checks with a number of related online sources. The story seems to begin in 1855 when Theodore Gilson came to Milwaukee and soon settled in Port Washington Wisconsin. He founded Gilson Manufacturing. There was no mass fabrication of parts as we know it today. The only real machining that could be found was at the gunsmiths shop. If you needed any kind of shape to the metal part you needed, it was made from cast iron, such as cast iron pots and pans. The products that Gilson was known to have made from 1855 until 1900 included heating stoves/furnaces, farm plows, other various and non-descript farm implements, cooking utensils, and closer to 1900 "chair irons". The swivel and movable backrest on your office chair was originally patented by Gilson! Theodore was succeeded in this business by his son John and grandson John E. During this period around 1898 Harry Bolens joined the company. This marked the period during which the Gilson Gasoline engines were developed. By 1911 there was a Gilson Manufacturing facility in Guelph, Ontario (Gilson Mfg Ltd) producing engines.

In 1914 the Gilson family owned companies with locations in Port Washington and Guelph were sold.
The Port Washington, Wisconsin operation was sold to Harry Bolens and initially continued operations as Gilson Manufacturing, then as Gilson-Bolens Manufacturing. By about 1940 it was Bolens Manufacturing.

Gilson Mfg Ltd in Guelph, Ontario went on to produce major Kitchen appliance such as ovens stoves and refrigerators and other metal items such as chairs. washing machine A Gilson Snowbird washing machine add from Gilson Manufacturing Company Limited of Guelph Ontario Canada.

Now at this point John & John E. Gilson mentioned above established the JE Gilson Foundry and produced hand tools along with grey and ductile iron castings for industry. This business continued into the early 1960s. The foundry was consumed by fire one night and never rebuilt.

By now you may have seen the path to the snowblowers, tractors, tillers and other implements this site is about but the trail once again has gone cold.
Meanwhile somewhere around 1909 two Gilson brothers arrived from Luxembourg Germany they were Philip and John (yes this is the third John). They started out in this country working at Gilson Manufacturing for a few years. In 1911 the brothers moved down the road to Fredonia, Wisconsin and founded Gilson Brothers Manufacturing. They were also in the foundry business but did manufacture some products such as cement mixers, which are still being produced today, but more on that latter. The early years of the company also saw them producing silo fillers and other farm machinery.

We're not sure what went on with the company until we pick up the story around 1955. A son-in-law of John (from Luxembourg I assume) Gilson was controlling the company and it was under his direction that they moved toward the consumer outdoor power equipment market. It's still unclear to me what the earliest products were. I have seen a number of surviving machines such as tractors, snowblowers and tillers from the mid 60s and my achives point to the roto-tillers. It was in the mid 1960s that a large factory was built in Plymouth, Wisconsin, this led to the closing of the Fredonia location. Eventually the Gilson family was out of the picture but the brand name was retained.

In my opinion by the 1970's Gilson Brothers Company was producing outdoor power equipment with the best of them. The machines frequently featured robust cast iron components no doubt a hallmark extending back through the generations. The company seemed to be innovative with products such as the UniTrol snowblower transmission and the 1972 "Super-8" lawn tractor. The Super-8 is a machine that stands out in my mind to this day for it's progressive styling.

Like many companies Gilson did what it could to diversify by building items that helped utilize their talents and facilities. The mini-bikes barbecue grills and snowmobile shown below were made and sold. To this day they surface occasionaly on Ebay. Snowmobile buffs can see many examples here.

These grills were no doubt another way to keep the foundry busy. In 1988 LawnBoy acquired Gilson to compliment their walk behind mowers. The following year in 1989 Toro acquired LawnBoy. The LawnBoy division of The Toro Company continues to make Gilson repair parts available through the LawnBoy dealer network.

But the story doesn't end entirely at this point. One long time Gilson Brothers product line was cement and mortar mixers. While LawnBoy wanted all the lawn and garden equipment the mixer line was sold to Cleform of Missouri and later transferred to Marshalltown. These continue to be made and sold under the Gilson name.
So that's the story as we understand it. If you happen to hold any other pieces of the puzzle I'd be pleased to hear from you."
I assembled these bikes in 1969 at American Alum and Steel on San Fernando Road in Cypress Park CA.. Each assembler built three at a time ther were about 10 of us we each had a rack that held 3 frames, went to the engine room got three engines on a cart installed on frames, went to the wheel bin got 3 front 3 rear, We had girls who assebled the wheels and filled the bins. Routed brake and thr cables attached wheels, fenders ect and test rode each one on a track in back of the shop. A ton of fun. It was my first job. From there when we stoped production I went to work for Taco Mini Bike welding frames in El Monte Ca. I still ride. I Own and ride a 2015 BMW F800 GSA and a 2009 Triumph Bonniville. When I built these bikes in 1969 I rode a Honda super 90 to work from Highland Park and raced Hodaka Ace 100 bikes flat track and endro
I worked at Americn Aluminum and Steel for about a year, 1968 - 1969 all engines while I was there were B&S. My 2nd week on the job one of the owners came in to the assembly area and asked "who here speeks english?" They paid min wage $1.35 an hour most everyone in the place spoke only spanash, I don't but growing up in the area I knew enough to get by. When I said I do the owner said good your our new lead-man. I got a rase to $1.65 an hour. Our contract was with JC penny it was the only place I knew of that sold the bikes. I married one of the girls that assembled the wheels, we had 2 kids together before we broke apart with me taking custody of my 2 girls who both love to ride motorcyces even tooay in their 40s. Looking back it was the best job I ever had (and I have had a lot) building and test riding mini bikes all day. Money was tight but things cost a lot less those days, my rent for a furnished apt for me and my wife was $70 a month. One of the owners or busness partners was the race car driver Mario Andretti I am not sure of the connection, when he won Indy 500 in 1969 we had a giant party, we all got a $50 bonus. The owners were all race car and motorcycle guys, some weekends we would pile a bunch of the bikes in the back of a truck and spend the weekend at Willow Springs racetrack riding in the dirt all day and sneeking the bikes onto the track after dark, Reckless and real fun.
I was one of the last to be there when we shut down, It was a real pain most everyone was let go. Me and one other guy were kept on to take inventory, we counted every nut and bolt. I think AA&S lost the JC Penny contract and all the inventory and work in progress was sent to the new builders. I never knew who they were, The mood around the shop was grim and none of the owners taked much about it. They got me my next job for Taco Mini, There was a connection between the two AA&S and Taco but I don't know the details. The bikes sure look the same! Taco was the premium brand and I learnd on the job welding frames. It was one of the worst jobs I had. No riding it was just a frame shop I started just setting up the bent tubes in the jigs and the welder would come along and make the welds then I would remove the welded frame from the jig and set it up with new tubbing. It was some time before they let me weld. I wore a full set of welding lethers and mask but I still came home each day with arc flashed eyes (feels like sand in your eyes) and burns on my body where hot steel got under the lether. You asked for more stories.


Well-Known Member


Lomart Engine Products
980 Alabama Ave
Brooklyn, NY


Martin Hoffinger, a tireless crusader for the pool manufacturing industry and longtime head of aboveground pool-maker Doughboy, died on Jan. 23, 2010. He was 88. As CEO of Hoffinger Industries, Marty, as he was best-known, was revered as much for his willingness to speak out against frivolous lawsuits and defects in the American legal system as he was for his revolutionary pools and filtration systems.

“He was a classic entrepreneur ever since he was a small child,” said Doug Hollowell, president of Hoffinger Industries in Olive Branch, Miss. “He was definitely an innovator. And he would often say, ‘You can always sell quality and value, in any economy.’”

Hoffinger and his wife Lorraine founded Lomart Industries, a small tool and die company in Brooklyn, N.Y. The pair toiled for several years until one day, in 1954, Hoffinger decided to buy an aboveground pool, a status symbol at the time.

Hoffinger would go on to acquire the Clinton Engine Co. in 1966, followed by Doughboy Recreational in 1974.

Martin Hoffinger (r) at aquisition of Clinton Engine Co. 1966
******************Pictured above a brochure showing Clinton Powered Cheeftahs



(Photo by OldMiniBikes member mc73cromags)

Current tenant or usage : Action Rack Manufacturing/ Display Fixtures for Garment Industry

Just thought I would add to this info, This literature just showed up on ebay. Note the Perspex corporation name, Dated as 1968. Dunno if Hoffinger already owned it or bought them too (I didn't find anything with that name, but I really didn't look too deep cause I really dont care :laugh:) Looks like this was the beginning for the Cheeftah though :thumbsup: