Coast to Coast on Century-Old Cycles | Cannonball Run

By : Michael Lichter

Naturally, the 100-year-old motorcycles needed attention each night. On rare occasions, it may have just been maintenance, but typically they needed more “love” than that. This mostly took place in hotel parking lots, some, like Shinya Kimura in New Mexico, pulling their engine out of the frame for more serious work.

One evening’s destination was Dale Walksler’s Wheels Through Time Museum. After a fabulous reception, Dale threw open his workshop doors and everyone got to work, either on their own bike or helping others. Three of the bikes even had their cases split. Tools and parts flew all over the shop as different “cures” were tested and motors cranked over. Never before had such a bevy of knowledge about these old bikes been contained under one roof. While many competitors never saw a bed that night, by 7 a.m. all the bikes were buttoned-up and everyone was ready to set out into the crisp morning air of the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

Another standout evening occurred at Coker Tires’ headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After a lavish banquet served up in the Coker Museum, the company also opened its shop doors to the riders and offered to take care of all their tire needs. Coker’s mechanics helped out with whatever needed to be done, which was fairly major on Mongo’s Shovelhead sidecar, which had an end-over crash after losing its brakes.

Mongo wasn’t the only one who encountered difficulties. After riding the 164 miles of Stage 1, John Hollansworth had some trouble with his bike and passed the reins to his co-rider, Ron Blissit. Then, during Stage 5 in Alabama, Matt Olsen hit a pothole that sent the handlebars of his pristine Sears into an uncontrollable tank-slapper and flipped him off the bike. He was lucky to escape with two broken bones, but the Cannonball was over for him and he headed back home to Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Long days and sleep deprivation had taken their toll by the time we reached California, and everyone was exhausted. But family members were waiting to greet their loves ones on the Santa Monica Pier, so a celebration was in order!

Ten motorcycles made it the whole way, and 17 made it more than 3000 miles. The 1915 Harley-Davidson (Class 3) proved to be the most popular and dependable bike. Alan Travis found that his training paid off: He rode every single mile on his Excelsior board-tracker (Class 2), but lost a tie with Brad Wilmarth, whose 1913 Excelsior was one year older. Katrin Boehner rode more than 3000 miles on her 1907 JAP and was awarded a one-off Jeff Decker Sculpture. She captured the hearts of every Cannonballer each of the countless times she was seen running alongside her bike to push-start it!

This journey of unprecedented magnitude with a group of amazingly talented riders will likely never be replicated. It took photographing the event for me to be part of it, and I’m glad I was. It is something I will never forget.

By : Michael Lichter
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