Gum Shoe Trek

10,000 Miles of Investigation and Study

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

From the November 1937 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

Two years ago when the editor set out to get first-hand information about riders and activities, he carried moving pictures, sent advance notice of his schedule, and openly mixed with as many riders, dealers and fans as possible.

This year, on the 25th of August, he set out from Los Angeles, armed with a camera, loaded with information with which to tell possible advertisers about our motorcycle fraternity, and imbued with an idea of seeing without being seen. Yep, it was well nigh plain old sleuthing.

A car was driven in stead of a motorcycle because a lot of paraphernalia had to be carried. The run from Los Angeles to the vicinity of Chicago was made in three days and three nights. On the entire route, only 7 miles of bad road were encountered. It should have been an easy run and with a motorcycle it would have been. However, a failing transmission dictated conservative speed and as a result that part of the trip was a grind.

All through the trip notes were carefully taken of all motorcycle riders and groups, of traffic conditions, and of general conditions as they pertained to crops, employment, etc.

Although no introductions were made. it was impossible to pass a group of riders without that “Hi, folks” wave out of the window. So, if any riders were puzzled by a salute from the window of an automobile, the above may explain.

The first circle off the main route was a trip to Lansing, Alma, Saginaw, Flint, Detroit and back to Lansing, Michigan. We arrived in Lansing the day before the start of the Jack Pine Run and already were beginning to shape ideas as to how much fun a traveling motorcyclist could have if he were blessed with a fair amount of time and a little money. (Incidentally a very material comparison was made between the cost of motorcycles and other means of travel. Just before leaving the office we had a letter telling how one Lawrence Alzina of Oakland had traveled clear to Springfield at a net cost of $27.00. In comparison with that we spent $75.00 in Detroit on our ‘36 Dodge, then with a mileage of 23,000, installing a new transmission, our third clutch and a brake reline. And our gasoline cost from L.A. to Chicago alone had been $25.00. So, weep, you fellows, when you spend a little on a motor. You don’t know half what grief can be.)

Coming back to the Jack Pine, our report has already been printed telling of the thrill and experience gained in a two-day ride with old Jack Piner Lenz. On that trip 87 photos were taken of the course, riders and general activities of such a run. If you go through Lansing on a trip you will soon see a big pictorial display which tells the story of the Jack Pine by photo. And, films are filed with Oscar Lenz should any of the participants wish a record of the run for themselves.

We cannot but reiterate our earlier statement that it is a fine run, well organized, and it offers more than a passing cross-section of who our riders are, how they act and what they can do. Every motorcycle rider should at one time or another take in this run, whether he rides in competition or not.

Having completed the details of sending in our coverage, we set our sails and moved on to Toledo, Cleveland, Akron and finally Syracuse. Here too, a story already has appeared giving the details of that national championship. At the Onondaga hotel, long the gathering place for all who attend the event, we met many who are connected with our sport. We saw a hotly contested race, and as we left that town we could not help but feel that probably we had seen the last national championship in the 21-inch field. With all the problems that are to be solved from year to year in connection with stock machines, and with the nationwide increase in interest in class “C” competition, it is not out of reason that our factories should lag in their development of 21’’ equipment. This means that the hotter equipment is coming from abroad, at a cost and under many circumstances which limit the number of possible contestants to a very few riders. We heard much discussion of the situation from rider and fan and it is this writer’s guess that following our next competition committee meeting we’ll find new regulations in displacement which will move such championships as are held at Syracuse into an entirely new type of equipment. Popular demand is a powerful factor and a classic like Syracuse should not suffer from a 21” limitation if new regulations will provide for greater and keener competition.

Out of Syracuse we traveled to such towns as Binghamton, Elmira and Rochester, New York. Then we dashed back to Cleveland to attend a meeting of the Motorcycle & Allied Trades Association where many plans were discussed about motorcycling in general and where a review of The Motorcyclist was given. Much inspired by the attitude of our major manufacturers we then turned back eastward and visited such cities as Erie, Penna., Buffalo and Albany, New York, Westfield Mass., and finally ended in Springfield, Mass. Of course while there we again went through the Indian factory and as you will see elsewhere saw all there was in connection with the 1938 Indian line.

Another circle took us to the northern part of Massachusetts, around Connecticut, and then to New York City and Newark, N.J.A whole week was spent between the latter two cities and during that time we saw the eliminations prior to and the national championship night speedway event itself.

Having said goodbye to our eastern friends and the many fine seafood dinners We enjoyed in that territory we hurried on to Philadelphia, thence across to Pittsburgh (encountering our first snowstorm on that leg) and back to Akron and Cleveland.

Cleveland treated us to another snowstorm so we headed a bit to the South and covered Dayton and Cincinnati, and turned over to Indianapolis.

From Indianapolis it was necessary to work back toward Detroit to recontact certain advertisers. On the way we hit South Bend, Indiana, and met the snowstorm which was the next day to fall upon the Notre Dame vs. Navy game. Our blood, thinned by 15 years absence from chose regions, turned to ice as we plowed through four inches of snow and battled with sticking windshield wipers.

Detroit was covered and we revisited Oscar Lenz. We found him buried a mile deep in photographic prints. Apparently many wanted to know more about that event. Leaving him to his grief we pushed on to the lake and wonder of wonders enjoyed a very quiet crossing. Riders who have visited the national climb via the lake route, when that body was tossing and the wind blowing will wonder what it must be like to cross with only the smallest of ripples.

Of course we landed in Milwaukee, and there visited the Harley-Davidson factory. We went through the plant with a German who was head engineer of the Zundap factory and together with him learned about the ‘38 Harley-Davidson line as well as methods of manufacture.

From Milwaukee we went to Chicago, thence to Kansas City and from there returned to the coast via the southern route which took us to such cities as Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls, Midland and El Paso, Texas. In Phoenix we met our secretary, E.C. Smith, for the fourth time on our trip and mushed on into L.A., arriving at midnight the 8th or one day short of 11 weeks after our departure. Our mileage was 9,550 and that did not include one circle of nearly 800 miles.

It is impossible due to the lateness of this issue to completely report upon the findings of the trip. Such a wealth of ideas can be secured upon such a trip that it would take a series of articles to tell all.

We cover the trip in this issue, as it may lay a foundation for a series of short articles which will appear in various numbers of the book throughout the Winter.

We do wish to give a brief cross-section of the whole reaction and that is that motorcycling is going along on a more substantial basis than ever in its history and by that we include the days when there were many makes and high registrations. In those days it was partly a necessity and partly a fad. The automobile had not yet been developed. Today motorcycling lives as a sport, as a police necessity and as a boon in certain commercial fields. Today you can see the effects of national organization with motorcyclists everywhere working toward the same ends.

Our biggest problem as the editor sees it is the final, rapid and definite elimination of certain undesirables who blotch the name of motorcycling with actions which do not represent the attitude of the majority. As one meets riders over that many miles, his impressions nine-tenths of the time are favorable. But when he sees the one wise guy-dirty, noisy, inconsiderate and just plain dumb, he cannot help but think of a suggestion which appeared in a recent article written by a west coast police captain. We refer to the article by Lynn Harrison in the July issue of The Motorcyclist. He told of how one club had cured a rider of undesirable tactics by shunning him. He said, “What that club has done should be done by every club in the country. Give the undesirable the cold shoulder. Force him to change his style before he is permitted to enjoy the friendship and share the fun of your fraternity.”

That one short paragraph holds the keynote to a great part of the future of motorcycling in America if we were smart enough to know it. Everybody knows how motorcyclists stick together, how they share things with one another and always stop to help. It is a fine sentiment and one that exists in no stronger proportions in any other fraternity. At the same time it is a stronger weapon against the undesirable than all the efforts of the A.M.A., the factories and their dealers, and the magazine combined. Give the undesirable a cold shoulder, deny him your comradeship and your help. He’ll soon change.

Conditions nationally are good. Some of our best years, though fraught with certain business problems, are undoubtedly still ahead. Anyone who travels such a circuit can not help but finish enthused, and enthused about the future of motorcycling.

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By Chet Billings
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