A Sketch from the Pioneer Days of Road Racing

China…Chains and Chance

By Roy Artley, Photography by Unknown

The next morning when it was time to start off I had all the job of priming the oil pump. I was worried that Bedell would start even up with me, and if he did he would have a total lead of 4 ½ minutes on me. Priming an oil pump in a cold motor at Flagstaff in November is quite a job. Also, when I stopped the day before I had a hot motor. That morning the motor was so cold that, combined with the altitude the machine would pop a few pops and stop. I had to change to a richer mixture. When I did get going I fairly flew. To make matters worse, I saw my so-called teammate, Baker, stopped by the road just a couple of blocks out of Flagstaff. Then I knew I was on my own against the old forest ranger Bedell, a real menace to my ambitions. I was so winded from all my exertions starting the motor in the high altitude I couldn’t even call to Baker to see what the trouble was.

Because the city of Prescott had contributed toward the purse we were required to turn off the main road which led on through Black Canyon, go about 2 ½ miles into town, sign up, and then come back out to the main road and go on. Just before I got to Prescott I hit a bridge too hard and it turned the bars down on the Indian I was riding. After signing up I stopped long enough to pull these up and tighten them. All the while I had my ear cocked for some of the others to be coming in on that 2 ½ miles. As it turned out, I got clear out to the road again and still couldn’t hear anyone. That encouraged me, so I proceeded to crank it on again.

At Canyonville they did not have gas pumps. Instead they kept gas in big drums. I had left word to have my gas all poured out in buckets. When I pulled in I told the fellow to gas her up while I put in the oil. He poured in a bucket and, seeing that it did not fill the tank, I told him to pour in another. So he emptied another bucket.

Just out of town I had to cross a stream with about eight inches of water in it. I rode carefully so as not to get water on any vital part of my critical mount and thought I did a good job of it. Nevertheless, about 10 feet from the far bank there was a cough, a sputter and dead silence. That is, it was a dead silence providing a lot of profanity on my part wasn’t considered as noise.

I checked the mag, and then saw some water on the carburetor around the air valve. I couldn’t believe that I had splashed it there-and, I hadn’t. Taking the carburetor apart, I found it full of water. I emptied and dried it. When I put it on it filled again with water. Then I figured out what had happened. The fellow had poured in two buckets all right, but the second one had been a bucket of drinking water he had there for the fellows.

By this time my verbal outburst had echoed back in the form of two fellows from up at the station. While one helped me turn the motor over and drain out the tank, the other went back for another bucket of gas. One gallon we used to wash out the tank. Then we filled her. When turning the motor over all my tools, spare chain links and what have you fell out of the tool box. I grabbed up a handful of these and away I went.

Not much farther along I dove into a canyon and broke a chain. For a moment I was in a quandary. Upon looking into the tool box I found that one of the things I had not picked up out of the dust had been a spare link. Then I happened to remember. The night before, just as a preparation for some such contingency, I had taken two spare links apart and stowed all the pieces in a pocket. This bit of forethought, and all for no particular reason other than as a possible means of saving time in case of chain trouble, saved the race for me. I had lost 45 minutes while getting the water out of my tank. I couldn’t have made it back to where the chain links were left. As it was, I quickly made repairs and once again started racing.

About twenty miles out of Phoenix came my last bit of worry. The gas line broke where it fastened on the carburetor. I rode along with one hand and held the line against the carburetor with the other hand. When it took both hands on the bars I had to bank on the few drops which would drip into the carburetor, then hurry up and grab the line again before the motor died. Despite all these adverse experiences, I made it to Phoenix ahead of any of the competitors.

All the other riders were going through troubles similar to my own and no doubt some of those who failed to finish were not so lucky as to have the trouble develop at a point near outside help. Nobody thought much about all the problems we faced at that time because we were not used to anything different.

“I was prone to put half of a 150 dollar set of china in that part of the sack which hung on my chest…”

By Roy Artley
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