Little Indian History
In the early days, there were three brothers involved in building and racing hot rods, and interested in racing of all types. When Go-Karts first started, and people started to race them, it was only natural that the brothers got involved. Racing of any type is expensive, and to help finance their racing, the brothers started to build parts and accessories for go-karts.
The Michrina Brothers
Larry age 20 * Ray age 24 * Regis age 16
They bought their first go kart from a store owned by Troy Ruttman, winner of the 1952 Indianapolis 500, and Troy wanted to sell the parts and accessories that the brothers were making. One day after Troy had just gotten back from California, he showed the brothers a small motor scooter frame that he brought back with him. The brothers thought that it would be great to run around the pits, at the races, with a scooter rather than to walk, so they bought the frame from Troy.
The brothers got an engine and made what other parts they needed to get the scooter running. The brothers were disappointed though, because the scooter handled so badly, it proved to be quite dangerous. The brothers still liked the idea of having something little to ride around the pits, so with the experience they had, they designed and built a frame. When it came to wheels, they used a 4’ aluminum wheel that was built for the front of Go-Karts, by Hanes in California. The engine they chose was a Clinton A400, like they were using on their go kart. For brakes, they used a small internal band brake on the rear wheel, operated by a bicycle brake lever and cable. At the time, Go-Karts were driven with a direct drive chain and sprockets, to start the go kart you had to push it until it started, when you stopped, it quit running. The brothers knew that this would never do for their scooter, so they found an industrial clutch that would allow the engine to idle until you revved it up enough to engage the clutch, this also let them use a recoil starter to start the engine. To operate the throttle, they used the same lever and cable as they used for the brake. They made a small flat seat, and they were ready to go. The brothers rolled the scooter into the middle of the street, and started it up, the little scooter worked extremely well, it ran straight down the street, and proved to handle very well. You would have thought that the brothers just built the first airplane. The brothers were so pleased with what they built; they wanted to show someone, so they went over to Troy’s to let him see their little scooter. Troy liked it so much that he bought it, and ordered three more. The time was fall, the year was 1959, unbeknownst to anyone at the time was a historic day, that day changed the lives of Raymond (24), Larry (20) and Regis (16), the Michrina brothers. That day was also the start of a new industry, later to become known as the Mini-Bike Industry.
****Troy Ruttman Winner of the Indy 500 * 1952****
The brothers had many decisions to make, Troy wanted to know what to call these little scooters, and they had to become a legitimate business, and come up with a name for it. The name for the company came first. When the brothers would go into Troy’s store, he would say, “Well! It’s the Michrina Brothers“, so the name of the company became Michrina Brothers Enterprises. What kind of product it was was more difficult. Up to that time everyone called the product a little scooter, but that didn’t fit the product very well, it wasn’t a bicycle, motorcycle, or motor scooter. The brothers wanted something to denote small, but not the word little. The brothers thought of miniature, but miniature what? Motorcycle riders called their motorcycles, bikes, they put the two together and came up with miniature bike, this didn't flow really well, so they shortened miniature to mini and coined the word MINI-BIKE to denote what the product was. The name of their Mini-Bike actually came from something their mother and dad would tell them when the brothers were small, and went out in public; they would tell the kids not to act like little Indians. The brothers shortened little to "LiL" and called their Mini- Bike "LiL" Indian.
Note of interest: To show you what youth and inexperience will cause, the brothers were smart enough to register the name of "LiL" Indian, but not smart enough to register Mini- Bike.
By the time the brothers got the three mini-bikes built and taken to Troy’s, he had them already sold, and ordered three more. Troy bought and sold ten mini-bikes from the Michrina Bros. that year of 1959, and that was just the beginning.
By the time 1960 rolled in, the brothers had a standing order from Troy for everything they could build. The total “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes built in 1960 was 100 units, ten times that of 1959.
All three brothers worked as many hours as they could, Raymond and Larry after work, and Regis after school. They all did whatever had to be done, but because Raymond was the oldest he controlled the money, and paid the bills. Larry did most of the painting, and Regis did most of the design work and built most of the fixtures that were needed to build the product. Back then there was only one model to build, but it was still a lot of work for three kids that didn’t have any manufacturing background.
1961 found the brothers still trying to keep up with Troy’s orders. In the summer of 1961, Regis took a summer job at Foy Manufacturing where he learned a lot about how to build production fixtures, and production methods that really helped the brothers turn out more bikes in less time. There was a total of 200 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes built in 1961. A lot happened in 1962, because of the production improvements, and the fact that the brothers got more efficient at producing bikes. Troy was not able to use all of the bikes they could build. For the first time the brothers were able to advertise their “LiL” Indian Mini- Bikes for sale to other people. They also came out with a build-it-yourself kit, a first for the industry. It sold for $99.95 and came complete with all the parts needed including a Clinton A400 engine and a can of paint. It was a big hit! The first ad was placed in the "Karting World Magazine"; it was like turning on a faucet that couldn’t be closed. Trying to keep up with the new demand, the brothers were forced to expand into Raymond’s basement where they assembled and boxed the Mini-Bikes. Because all of the brothers were either working or in school during the day, they would take the boxed bikes to their mother and dad's house, where their mother would call the truck lines to come and pick them up. Sometimes there were trucks lined up and down the street waiting to load up. Most of the truckers were really nice, and even helped the other guy load up, if they had a lot of boxes.
For the first time since the brothers started building mini-bikes, storm clouds were looming. Late in 1961 Troy signed with Mercury Car Div. to build and race a new Mercury stock car for them in the 1962 season. Troy asked Regis to help his brother Jim build the car, Regis agreed. Regis spent less and less time on the bikes and more and more time on the race car; this meant that Raymond and Larry had to carry more and more of the load. After the car was finished and the first race was over, Regis was going to have more time, but it was not to be, because after the first race of the season, Troy’s brother said that he wasn’t going to work on the car any more, leaving only Troy and Regis. The only good thing that happened was that Regis graduated from high school, which gave him more time to work on the race car and the mini-bikes. It was a very hard year for everybody, especially Raymond and Larry, but they still managed to build 400 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes in 1962. .
1963 started out with more orders than the brothers knew what to do with. By this time there were ads in several magazines, they used their parent's address, and their mother would open the mail and take out the money, and send out the literature. Janet, Ray’s wife, started doing the books, and helped send out the literature, this let the guys concentrate on building mini-bikes. To try to increase production, the brothers either built, or had built, more dies to make the parts they needed faster. Raymond’s garage and basement was completely out of room, so the brothers did the only thing they could, they took over their dad's two-car garage, and set up a welding department. They also bought an arc welder which really increased production. Up to this time all the bikes were welded with a gas torch.
To make things worse for Raymond and Larry, Troy signed another racing contract, this time with Plymouth, to build and race a car for them in the 1963 season. Regis built the car and helped Troy race it the whole season. To add even more pressure to the pot, Troy had Regis rebuild his Indy race car after the 1963 Indy race, and help him run it at several more races during the 1963 season. Regis was young and single, and could take the 16-to-18 hour days, but Raymond worked his electrical job, came home, ate and worked on the bikes, it was hard on his married life. Larry had a girlfriend and found it hard to spend time with her, between working at his electrical job, and the mini-bikes. Late in 1963 the dark cloud really got black. Larry said that he was going to get married in April, of 1964 and wanted to get out of Michrina Brothers Enterprises. Talk about problems! At this time the brothers were still building mini-bikes on a part-time basis, although they were all putting in more than 40 hours a week, they all still had other jobs. The reason that they could double the production year after year was because nobody was taking any money out, they didn’t owe anything to anyone, and everything they had was paid for. Even at that, there wasn’t any cash; it was all tied up in inventory. If Raymond and Regis were going to buy Larry out, they would have to figure out how to pay him, and how they were going to build bikes without him? A few things were obvious; they couldn’t give Larry a lump of cash and still buy the materials they needed. They couldn’t stay where they were, they were out of room, and they had to get another building. And there was no way that Raymond could do his job and Larry’s, and have Regis racing around the country. Things were really looking dark for the brothers, but they still managed to build 700 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes in 1963.
1964 came in with the brothers moving to their first rented building, in Taylor Michigan. 1964 was even more hectic than 1963, if that was possible. Orders were coming in so fast, that it didn’t seem that there was any way to produce what was demanded. The brothers did what had to be done, Regis talked his good friend Bernie Kirk into bending the frames for them, he could use their hand tubing bender, but he would have to talk his dad into letting him use his one-and-a-half-car garage. The brothers didn’t know how he did it, but he did, and all at the fantastic price of $.03 a bend. There may have been some apprehension in Bernie’s mind, or his dad's, when a 40 ft. flat-bed semi pulled down the alley, and wanted to unload a truck-load of tubing. It was OK though; Regis was there to help unload. The driver wanted to know where the HI-LO was, when they told him they didn’t have one, and they were going to unload by hand, he thought they were nuts. The driver said that he couldn’t stay all day, so the guys slid the 40,000 lbs. of tubing off the side of the truck, and spent the rest of the day and night putting it in Mr. Kirk’s garage. As far as we know, no one ever did find out if Mr. Kirk was really mad or not. Troy had signed with Plymouth again, for the 1964 racing season, and Regis was still building and working on race cars, as well as working in a tool and die shop, and learning the tool and die trade for the past two years. The knowledge came in handy for increasing mini-bike production, and saving time, but the amount of time Regis had to spend on mini-bikes grew less and less. Things were made easier when Regis talked to Troy about the problem and Troy told Regis that he was going to retire after a few more races, so Regis said that he would retire from racing at the same time, and quit the tool and die shop at that time. Regis would go into building mini-bikes full time with little or no pay to start with. Raymond and Larry worked out a plan to buy out Larry with a new pickup truck that the company would make the payments on, that way they didn’t have to use up their working capital. .
Now that the brothers Raymond and Regis rented their first building, things should have gotten better, with orders coming in hand over fist, what could go wrong? The problem became obvious when the brothers found out that the building that they had just rented wouldn’t hold everything they had. In fact it turned out to be more cramped then their old quarters. What to do? They had to find a larger building, and fast, so three months after they moved into Taylor, they moved out, this time to a 2500 sq. ft building, in Southfield, Michigan. After just a few months, Regis was able to start working 16 to 18 hours a day on mini-bikes, instead of everything else. Raymond was working as much as possible, but now had a 20 Mile trip from his house to the new shop, this made for very long days after working at his electrical job. It became obvious that Regis needed some full time help. The brothers wanted Bernie to quit his job and come to work for them full time, they promised him that they would buy a brand new Pines hydraulic bender, and that he wouldn’t have to bend frames on the hand-bender ever again, he agreed. The brothers then hired Bernie’s wife Barb to come in part time to do the paperwork. For a year that was full of turmoil, the brothers managed to build 1000 “LiL” Indian Mini-bikes in 1964.
Some notes of interest for 1964. From the time “LiL” Indian started production in 1959, the primary engine used was the Clinton A400, with some special units built with West Bend and Power Products engines, all being 2-cycle engines. In October of 1964, “LiL” Indian started using a Briggs & Stratton 4 cycle engine. The brothers also went to a motorcycle-type twist grip throttle. “LiL” Indian also saw its first steel fenders, which the brothers formed on their second Pines bender.
1965 looked like it could be a banner year, with Bernie bending frames on the new bender, and all the new dies and fixtures that Regis was building, things were really getting done quickly. Even as good as things were going, it was still obvious that the brothers needed more full-time help, but couldn’t really afford it. At this time Raymond was an electrical foreman making really good money, and he also had a one-year-old daughter. Raymond quit his job and went into the mini-bike business full time making 1/3 the pay of his electrical job. Even with everyone working they still needed more help, this time the brothers convinced Raymond’s good friend, Ken O’Nan to quit his job at the post office, and come to work for them.
Now that the brothers had some help, Raymond was able to work in the office and order materials and schedule bikes that had to be built to fill the orders. Regis had more time to work on some new innovations that he felt would really improve the product, one of which was a front suspension spring on the fork neck to dampen some of the shock for the rider. Regis also developed new “LiL” Indian models that used a new steel 4” Industrial wheel, as well as a first for “LiL” Indian, a 6” steel wheel. Another first for mini-bikes was the use of a spot disc brake unit on the rear wheel. This was an exclusive for “LiL” Indian for a good many years. “LiL” Indian was also the first to come out with a kick up seat, which would later become synonymous with the “LiL” Indian mini-bikes. Regis was also working on some other things, such as a 2-speed automatic transmission for the mini-bikes, a full front and rear suspension model that would be the largest model yet built by the brothers, Regis was also working on a one-man hover platform and a thing called a snowmobile.
With all that took place during this year, the brothers, with a little help from their friends, turned out 2000 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes in 1965-1966, It was obvious to the brothers that when they had to move stuff out the big doors every morning, before anyone could start work, they needed more room. This time it was going to be big. This time it was a building on Levan Rd. in Livonia, Michigan. The brothers were to move into the new 7000 sq. ft building in early 1966, because this was a new building, not yet completed, it was fall before they were completely moved in..
1966 proved to be a very productive year for “LiL” Indian, it grow from one basic model in 1959 to two 4” wheel models, two 6” wheel models, one 6” wheel model with the new Mini-Matic 2-speed automatic transmission and three kits in the small frame models. These models all used the same basic small frame that “LiL” Indian started with in 1959. They also had the new full suspension model in their lineup for 1966. They had one 6” wheel 12” tire model with the centrifugal clutch, one 6” wheel 14” tire model with the new Mini-Matic 2-speed automatic transmission, one 6” wheel 14” tire model with the new Mini-Matic 2-speed automatic transmission, front spot disc brake, and full lighting that made it road legal in many states, and two kits in the suspension models. Things were really going well, Raymond took care of the sales and all of the office activities, and Regis took care of everything in the plant. Things were going well, too well. Regis really liked to build new things, and was not really concerned about money. Raymond, on the other hand had to worry about the money, and sometimes, the lack of it. Now that the brothers had employees, there was payroll to be met every week, and bills to be paid. Regis was in his own little world, taking care of the day to day production problems, and developing new products. The mini-bike related products were no problem, but it was the non mini-bike products that started the conflict between the brothers. Regis had put a lot of development time into building snowmobile that he thought would be the next big recreational product. Raymond didn’t think that the snowmobile would ever come to anything good, and didn’t want the company to have anything to do with it. Things came to a boiling point the day that Raymond found out that Regis ordered tooling to start building 10 prototypes to work out the production and sales with. That day in late 1966 led to the eventual breakup of the Michrina Bros...It was decided that Raymond would buy out Regis. For all of the good things that happen to the brothers in 1966 and the one bad thing that lead to their breakup, the brothers had their best year to date, they built 3000 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes in 1966, and managed to build a facility and organization that was capable of even larger numbers in the future.
NOTE: even with the large building they could not keep up with the welding of the frames so they farmed the welding to Jim Ruttman who had a welding shop. This helped increase production until they could get in new wire for welding and set up a new welding shop. After a while they brought the welding back in-house. With the experience Jim gained from welding the “LiL” Indian frames he designed his own mini-bike and called it the Ruttman mini-bike. It used many parts used in the “LiL” Indian and it looked very similar.
1967 came in with a continued growth in orders, and Raymond hired new people to replace Regis and Bernie, who went with Regis. Ken O’Nan ran the shop, and Raymond hired his good friend, and long time accountant for the company, Ernie Haney to help him run the office. Raymond also hired a sales manager and purchasing agent. Things were going so good that they ran out of space. Raymond got together with his new management team, and decided to have a warehouse built behind the current building. The warehouse was done and moved into in December of 1967. For all that happened during the year, Raymond and his new team managed to build 5000 mini-bikes in 1967. 1968 started out just like every other year since 1960, with more orders than could be built. By time the welding department took over half of the main building, and the assembly took over the other half. Not having enough room to do everything in the main building, the warehouse was pressed into service for not only storage of raw materials and completed inventory waiting to be shipped, but also as well as packaging of kits. Kits were always a good seller for “LiL” Indian, but they were becoming more so now. Other manufacturers didn’t build kits, so sales on “LiL” Indian kits soared. By midyear it was obvious that more room was needed. The adjoining building to the manufacturing area became available and was immediately taken over. After knocking a hole in the wall, the assembly was moved next door, and a paint system with an overhead conveyor was installed in place of the old assembly area in the main building. Things were hectic, to say the least. To make things worse, the sales department convinced Raymond that there was a big market in the camping trailer business, and Michrina Enterprises should be in it. They bought a prototype crank up camp trailer, and leased an 11,200 sq. ft. building to build them in. By this time Michrina Enterprises Inc. had a total of 35,700 sq. ft of floor space. The main building was 7000 sq ft. the warehouse was 9,000 sq. ft. the additional building to the main building was 8,500 sq ft., and the trailer building was 11,200 sq. ft.. All of this added up to a total of 8,000 mini-bikes built in 1968.
1969 started out looking like it could be the biggest year ever, with literally thousands of orders for mini-bikes, and a few orders for a new fun kart on the books already. Unfortunately there was nothing but problems in the shop, due to the fact that Ken O’Nan, the plant superintendent, was so busy trying to set up the trailer manufacturing building so they could start building camping trailers. To make matters worse, Briggs & Stratton made a decision, not to sell engines to be used on mini-bikes anymore. In January and February the balance of the Briggs & Stratton engines were used up on the frames that were made to fit them. January ended with 660 mini-bikes built and February was only 402 mini-bikes built. Because the old frame that used the Briggs & Stratton engine would not work with the new Tecumseh engine, something had to be done to switch everything over to accommodate the new engine. Ken and Regis were good friends and kept in touch, when Ken found out that Regis was selling out his share of the snowmobile business, he wanted Regis to come and help get the mini-bikes switched over and production back on track. Raymond and Regis talked, but Regis would only come in to help if he would have full control of the shop, this did not set well with the current shop management people. Regis said that he would guarantee to get production up to 3000 units per month by the end of July, for an hourly rate plus a bonus when he met the goal, but Regis insisted on total control. Raymond, realizing that Regis could do the job, made the decision to agree, and things were on their way. The first month was the hardest, Regis worked up to 20 hours a day, changing fixtures, and building new welding systems that made it easier and faster to weld. Little by little Regis improved every aspect of the production. March production was up to 1304 units, April was up to 2005 units, May was up to 2130 units, June was up to 2780 units, and July production hit 3077 mini-bikes built. Raymond was happy, Regis got his bonus, was happy, and left to start a new business, and the workers were turning out more units, but not working as hard, so they were happy. “LiL” Indian successfully made the switch from Briggs & Stratton to Tecumseh, and made some improvements on the bikes as well. In 1969 “LiL” Indian had 16 models of mini-bikes, 4 models of Go-Karts. Total production for 1969 was 16,677 mini-bikes, 792 fun karts & 6 camping trailers. 1969 turned out to be the biggest production year that “LiL” Indian would ever have. A total of 17,475 units were built. It was a very good year.
1970 was the first year that preseason orders for mini-bikes were less than the previous year. With several hundred manufacturers now building mini-bikes, and some of them very big ones, Michrina Enterprises started feeling the pressure of competition. Ray and his management team felt that they had to diversify into other fields. There was a product getting some attention on the European ski slopes, called a ski-bob. The ski-bob was a single frame unit that had a steering ski, a rear ski attached to the frame and a seat. You would strap skis to your feet and go down the ski slope. Raymond and his team felt that this product was going to be the next big fad, and they should get into it. The sales department assured Raymond that they could sell thousands of them, so they planned on building thousands of them. In order to get the trailer operations moving, gets everything going on the new Ski-Bobs, and to try to keep their share of the mini-bike market would take advertising, and money. Raymond arranged for bank financing that would cover everything until the sales of the new products could get rolling. The sales department tried everything they could to get sales of their camping trailer going, but delays, and high overhead, made the unit very expensive and hard to sell. Added to this, the camping trailer industry was headed into the first downturn in their history, The Ski-Bobs were ready in July, but because most of the ski lodges wouldn’t allow them on the ski slopes, the sales were very poor. The Mini-Bikes were still losing sales to foreign competition. By the end of the year the sales department felt that they needed new mini-bike literature that would make them more competitive with the big manufacturers that were taking their sales. The sales department came up with a new 8-page full color “LiL” Indian brochure, using Playboy models that would highlight their 1971 lineup of Mini-Bikes; this was a very expensive item.
By the end of 1970, Michrina Enterprises sold 9261 Mini-Bikes, 458 Fun karts, 42 Camping trailers, and 263 Ski-Bobs, for a total of 10,024 Items. This was the first year that sales had ever declined.
1971 found Michrina Enterprises in a position that they had never been in before. Foreign competition was taking more and more of the mini-bike market. Several of the large domestic companies were planning to build 50,000 to 100,000 units each this year, and a Japanese company figured that they could lose money on their Mini-Bikes, to get the kids to buy their motorcycles later when they grow up. Added to this was the first signs showing that the Mini-Bike market itself was shrinking, along with very poor sales on the camping trailer and the Ski-Bob, and with a large loan at the bank that would be coming due this year, didn’t make for a very happy new year.
Years later it was proven by the federal government, that the Japanese were dumping mini-bikes below cost on the U.S. market. At its peak in 1970 there were 100-150 mini-bike manufacturers in the U.S., by 1974 there were less than 10 left.
In the early part of 1971 a shining star appeared in the form of a Professor of Finance from the Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo; His name was Kermit Zieg Jr. Mr. Zieg, who along with a group of investors, wanted to buy Michrina Enterprises Faced with a hard decision, Raymond and his partners decided to sell the company. Mr. Zieg Jr. and his associates took over the inventory and assumed the liabilities of Michrina Enterprises in April of 1971. The shining star started to dim, when the new owners decided, in May 1971, with more than 5000 Mini-bikes on order, to move the entire operation from Livonia to Kalamazoo. This was a cost-cutting operation that was going to save a lot of money & to save even more money; it was decided not to take any of the Livonia employees to Kalamazoo. The new owners felt that once in Kalamazoo they could hire college students, part time, to assemble the Mini-Bikes.
NOTE: After Michrina Enterprises moved to Kalamazoo by the new owners, Jim Ruttman moved into one of the buildings vacated by Michrina Enterprises. He built the Ruttman mini-bike there for a number of years.
The Kalamazoo operation never quite got going the way the new owners figured. A large number of the Mini-bikes being built and shipped from Kalamazoo were returned for assembly defects and poor quality. By July the new owners were asking the bank for more money to be able to build Mini- Bikes to fill backorders. Instead of more money, on August 1st 1971, the Bank called in the loan, and took over the assets of the entire Kalamazoo manufacturing operation.
When Regis left Michrina Enterprises in August of 1969, he moved to Lansing Mi. and started Allied Leisure with Leon Atayan, the idea was to build bicycles and sell them to mass merchandisers. While waiting for foreign money, that was going to finance the operation, Regis built a prototype of a trail bike. Leon showed some of his buyers the prototype, and they wanted them, they said that they also wanted Mini- Bikes. By late September Regis was building his latest creations, called Trail Mate and Mini-Mate. Because of the fact that these bikes were being sold to mass merchandisers, the units were going out by the truckload. Allied Leisure occupied the top floor of an old five-story building that was used to build auto bodies in the old days. Things were really going great for Regis and Leon until February 28, 1971. That was the day that a fire that started in the basement of the building & completely destroyed the building as well as several buildings around it. Regis almost lost his life in the fire & did lose all of his personal belongings. In April of 1971 Regis and Leon bought a 20,000 sq ft. building in Potterville, a suburb of Lansing, hoping to get back into production as soon as possible; they hoped that they wouldn’t lose all of their orders. Because they lost everything in the fire, Regis worked 18 to 20 hours a day to get machinery together to build the jigs and fixtures it would take to build Mini-Bikes by June they were starting to send out Mini-Bikes again. Because of a lack of materials the quantities were low, and the models limited. Leon was on the board of directors of the American Bank of Charlotte, and he heard that Michigan Bank had foreclosed on an outfit in Kalamazoo that built Mini-Bikes. Leon found out that it was “LiL” Indian. Regis and Leon bought the assets of Michrina Enterprises from the bank, and moved 22, 40’ semi loads, stacked to the ceiling with material from Kalamazoo to Potterville.
After moving the “LiL” Indian parts to Potterville, Regis found that most of the big baskets of parts were ones that were loaded in Livonia and never unloaded in Kalamazoo. The other thing that Regis found was that all of the baskets were filled to the top, but not with all of the same parts. Some baskets had as many as 6 different items in it. There were even engines in the bottom of some of the baskets, which the people in Kalamazoo didn’t know they had. In September, Regis managed to build 221 Mini-Bikes out of the material that was there.
NOTE: because Mini-Mate used the Clinton 4 cycle engine, a lot of the early “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes built by Allied Leisure used Clinton engines until they could get Tecumseh engines in. It’s interesting to note that since 1959, there hasn’t been a year goes by that a Michrina hasn’t owned “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes. It’s also interesting to note that in January, February, March, and April of 1971 Ray Michrina built 3051 Mini-Bikes in Livonia. In May, June and July of 1971 the new owners built 1301 Mini-Bikes in Kalamazoo, of which about 50% were sent back. For the first time in the “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes history there was a month that there were no “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes built, that was in August of 1971. From September thru December of 1971 Allied Leisure (Regis Michrina) built 1776 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes (0 returns). For a year that was remarkable to say the least there was a total of 6128 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes built in 1971. NOTE: After Ray sold out, he decided to start another business, he started a parts distributorship for Mini-Bike parts, and snowmobile parts of all things. Ray called his new business, Recreational Leisure Corp.
1972 was a unique year for the Mini-Bike industry. In 1970 there was a report done on the Mini-Bike market that showed that there was a market for 500,000 units, and the industry was only producing 400,000 units. Large companies jumped into the market big time, and in 1971 there was something in excess of 600,000 units being built. At the same time the Mini-Bike market was continuing its decline. The first thing that happened was the small marginal manufacturers went out of business. This put units on the market at a price that made it difficult for the rest of the manufacturers to make any money. A lot of the mass merchandisers that Allied Leisure sold to switched over to the large manufacturers to take advantage of special billing terms, and really liberal return policies. The smaller dealers that “LiL” Indian had, either taken on other lines when they couldn’t get product from Kalamazoo, went out of business. By the middle of the year, the large manufacturers started to dump product, just to get rid of them. By the end of the year even the big manufacturers that had just started a year earlier, were having auctions and getting out of the Mini-Bike business. This action literally dumped thousands of Mini-Bikes on the market, at prices well below cost.
For a year that was a disaster, there were only 3220 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes built by Allied Leisure in 1972. Note: In 1973 Allied Leisure built a separate building to install the paint line that they got from Michrina Enterprises. A major change that Regis made, was switching from liquid paint to powder paint. Regis was always ahead of his time, and this was the first powder coating system in Michigan at the time. Another first for “LiL” Indian was the fact that it was the first Mini-Bike with a powder coated frame. 1973 found Allied Leisure going to auctions and buying parts at distressed prices to be used to manufacturer their Mini-Bikes. Regis and Leon hoped that this would help Allied Leisure stay afloat until the surplus was cleared out of the pipe line. After another disastrous year, there were only 2107 “LiL” Indian’s sold in 1973.
Note: One bright thing that happened to Regis in 1973 was that he hired a girl, Jan that could do just about anything in the office or the shop, and became an important part of Regis’s life.
1974 became more of the same thing as 1973, more auctions, more Mini-Bikes dumped on the market, and more decline in the market. Allied Leisure managed to sell 1580 units in 1974. If it wasn’t for outside paintwork that Allied Leisure was taking in, they would not have been able to make it.
1975 found a lot of the large old time Mini-Bike manufacturers closing their doors. Regis went to the Rupp auction and bought seven truck loads of stuff. This helped Allied Leisure survive another year, by using what they could in their production and selling the rest. Doing everything they could, Allied Leisure only managed to sell 1375 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes in 1975.
NOTE: The best thing that happened to Regis in 1975 was that he married Jan. In a typical move for Regis, he made arrangements to take an extended lunch and married Jan at lunch, and then they both went back to work.
1976 wasn’t any better than last year. More manufacturers went out of business and dumped even more Mini-Bikes on the market, and the market itself was going away even faster than before. The best Allied Leisure could do in 1976, was to sell 1150 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes.
1977 went from bad to worse. Regis and Jan weren’t able to make enough money at the shop, so they bought a building on U.S. 27, in Potterville and started selling Mini-Bike parts, some snowmobile parts, and CB radios that Regis picked up surplus. Regis would work at the shop during the day, and Jan ran the store. They called the store Wheel ‘n’ Track. “LiL” Indian sales dropped to 750 units in 1977. 1978 started out by having Leon wanting to get out of the Mini-Bike business. Regis and Jan bought all of the parts and tooling for the “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes, and started JAN Industries to continue building the “LiL” Indian. Now they have a retail store and a smaller operation building the Mini-Bikes. They found it hard to make any money, doing everything themselves, but Regis didn’t want to let go of the “LiL” Indian, so they struggled on. For 1978 Regis and Jan managed to sell 618 “LiL” Indians.
1979 saw the retail store growing and the Mini-Bike market still going down the drain. Regis and Jan were only able to sell 521 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes.
1980, the retail store continued to grow, and took more of Regis’s time. The Mini-Bikes sales continued to drop to only 480 units sold in 1980.
1981 was more of the same, Wheel ‘n’ Track was growing and the “LiL” Indian sales dropped to 410 sales. 1982 found Wheel ‘n’ Track taking so much time, there was no effort put to selling “LiL” Indians and their sales went down to 385 units sold in 1982. 1983 was more of the same, and “LiL” Indian sales went to 330 sales. 1984, Regis and Jan bought a second retail location in Williamston, Michigan, an old car dealership building, and decided that they could no longer put any time into manufacturing and assembling “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes. Regis ran the last 1000 frames, to use up the materials. At this time the manufacturing equipment was to be sold, and the tooling for the “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes was put into wire baskets. Some of the parts sold to Ray at Recreational Leisure, and the balance of the parts were put into three semi trailers and stored behind the Potterville store. They wanted to continue to sell parts for all of the “LiL” Indians that were still out there, either from one of Regis and Jan stores, or from Ray’s distributorship in Farmington Hills, Michigan. They managed to sell 240 “LiL” Indians in 1984.
In 1985 all of the machinery had been sold and moved out of the Potterville Plant. Regis and Jan moved the tooling and fixtures to their store in Williamston, to be stored. Regis could never bring himself to throw out anything, figuring that maybe, someday he may need it again. There were no “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes sold in 1985, but there were a lot of parts sold.
1986, no “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes were built. In 1987 Regis and Jan sold Wheel, Track & Marine to one of the people that put up floor plan money for them. Regis agreed to stay for one year, to help in the transition. There were no “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes sold in 1987, just a lot of parts.
In October of 1988 Regis and Jan moved back to the Detroit area. Regis went to work for a friend of his, to help him get his business ready to sell. There were no “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes sold in 1988, but Recreational Leisure, Ray’s business, was selling a lot of parts.
1989 Regis rented a building in Plymouth, Michigan and moved all of the tools and fixtures for the “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes from Williamston into the building. Jim Ruttman was the friend that Regis was helping to sell his business. Jim bought most of the machines from Regis that were used to build the Mini-Bikes. Regis bought the machinery back from Jim and moved it into his building in Plymouth. There were no “LiL” Indians sold in 1989, but Ray was selling more parts all the time.
In 1990, after helping Jim sell his business, Regis went to work for a place that built prototype parts for the auto industry. At night Regis would go over to his shop and he started to build “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike parts for Ray to sell at Recreational Leisure. These were parts that they had run out of. No “LiL” Indians were sold in 1990, but Ray was selling more parts now that he could get the parts that he didn’t have.
NOTE: Regis officially started Mak-it Mfg., in January 1990. 1991 was the same as 1990 except that Ray wanted more “LiL” Indian parts than the year before.
In 1992 Regis went to work for a place to make tools, dies, and fixtures for Harley Davidson motorcycle parts. Regis was working at his shop at night and weekends doing as much as he could. Regis ran out of frames a few years earlier, and was now getting a lot of pressure to start building the “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames again. The shop that Regis had in Plymouth was only 2500 sq. ft. and was crammed to the walls. Regis knew there was no way to start building frames in that building. Regis wasn’t really happy working for someone else, and he was giving a lot of thought on what to do.
In 1993 Regis found a 4000 sq. ft. building in Livonia, Michigan, just 2 miles from the old “LiL” Indian plant in Livonia and quit his day job to start building all of the parts, including the small “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames. Regis updated the frame by adding folding foot pegs and a new style side mount kickstand. Now Regis was building all of the parts that were needed to build a complete “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike, but Regis doesn’t assemble anything, all he does is sell the parts. Ray, at Recreational Leisure, became the exclusive worldwide distributor for the entire “LiL” Indian product line. 27 years after Ray and Regis parted company; they are now back together again, taking up where they left off. Regis runs the shop and Ray runs the sales, isn’t it amazing how things go in a full circle! In 1993 Regis built and sold 60 small “LiL” Indian Mini- Bike frames, these frames eventfully became “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes, the first ones since 1983.
In 1994 Regis started building the large “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames; these started selling better than the small frame. The small Mini-Bikes were the biggest seller in the old days, because they were used by kids. Ray found out that the people that were buying the mini-bikes now are buying them mainly for themselves, because they had a “LiL” Indian when they were kids, and want a new one now that they can buy the one they always wanted. The people that are buying the small frame are either dads, or grandpas that had one when they were kids, and want their kids, or grand kids to have one. Mak-it Mfg. built and sold 95 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames in 1994. In 1995 Regis started building the “LiL” Indian go-kart frames along with everything needed to build a complete kart. Things were just crawling along, but it was ok with Regis because he was doing everything by himself, and didn’t really want to work too hard. Mak-it Mfg. sold 127 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames and 8 go-kart frames in 1995. 1996 found Regis making all kinds of replacement Mini- Bike and snowmobile parts, and he found himself needing some help, so he started having a friend come in on the weekends to help him weld. Mak-it Mfg. managed to sell, in addition to all of the parts, 158 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames and 11 go kart frames in 1996.
In 1997 Regis started building the “LiL” Indian Chopper Mini-Bike; this is a novelty item and sells almost completely to adults. Mak-it Mfg. sold 184 “LiL” Indian Mini- Bike frames, and 13 go-kart frames. 1998 found Regis having more work then he could handle by himself, so he convinced Jan to come in to help him get caught up. Jan was a big help and was soon running all of the machines it took to make all of the stuff that was needed. Regis and Jan built and sold 217 “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike frames, 14 go-Kart frames, and many thousands of Mini-Bike and snowmobile parts.
1999 is the 40 anniversary of the “LiL” Indian Mini-Bike. Regis is working on bringing out an all new full suspension “LiL” Indian for the year 2000. As much as Regis wants to keep things small and personnel, Jan has become full-time help, and Jimmy, the welder, is coming in just about every weekend.
“LIL” INDIAN MINI-BIKES
Ray keeps trying to get Regis to do more, but Regis wants to make sure that what he builds is only the best, and sometimes you can’t push quality. Regis says that he does have some grand kids coming up and he’s already teaching them how to build “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes. There were 354 “LiL” Indian mini-bikes sold in 1999. 2000 started out looking very good, with Ray selling “LiL” Indian’s on the WEB and around the world. Ray is pushing Regis to build more of every type of mini-bike. “LiL” Indian Mini-Bikes are the only Mini-Bikes still being built by the originator of the Mini-Bike and is still being built on most of the same tooling that Regis built more than 30 years ago. A Michrina brother has owned “LiL” Indian every year since 1959. The Michrina Brothers originated the Mini-Bike, and are still building them after 40 years.
Update 2006: Regis still builds the “LiL” Indian mini-bike along with parts and tools for the snowmobile industry and has a company painting parts for the auto industry. His company, Mak-it Mfg. is housed in Northville, Michigan. The building was designed by Henry Ford, and the head engineer was Thomas Edison. Great History.
The American mini-bike and go-kart industry is again being attacked by foreign manufacturers selling mini-bike and Go-Karts at low prices. The Chinese this time.
Ray’s company, Recreational Leisure Corp., sells “LiL” Indian mini-bikes, mini-bike and go-kart parts, snowmobile and motorcycle parts and accessories and lawn mobile parts. It is housed in a 48,000 square foot building in Farmington, Michigan. Ray’s daughter Renee, who was one year old when he went into the mini-bike business full time, is manager of the catalog, web and EBAY department for Recreational Leisure. Ray’s son Glenn, who was born when Michrina Enterprises moved into the building in Livonia, is the President of Recreational Leisure. Ray’s wife Janet, who has supported Ray on every venture he ever wanted to try including quitting a good-paying job as an electrician to start a business building something called a mini-bike, is a Vice President at Recreational Leisure and works the same long hours as Ray. With grand children coming up the plans are for “LiL” Indian mini-bikes to go on for many more years.
Ray Michrina Ken O’Nan and Art Cornwell
A Reunion of friends on a Saturday Afternoon...
Janet Michrina 2010
Larry Michrina 2004
Troy Ruttman 1997
Ernie Haney 1984