Fred Ham Sets New World 24-Hour Mark

A.M.A. certifies a total of 44 records established by Ham, riding Harley-Davidson 61 o.h.v. at Muroc

By Fred Ham, Photography by Unknown

From the May 1937 Issue of Motorcyclist Magazine.

One day Muroc was a desolate, wind-swept dry lake, and the next it was the scene of tents, trailers, roaring motors and scurrying men. In a brief period of twenty-four hours a new record of endurance was established by a man and motorcycle. Then desolation reigned again.

To the uninitiated it would seem that the record was accomplished quickly and with the suddenness of a night flowering blossom. But records do not come so easily.

In that short twenty-four hours there culminated the efforts and plans of several months, long weeks of physical training and hours of organization. The cup of victory was tasted only after expert brewing.

The prelude to the event at Muroc on April 8th was really written in May, 1922. when old timer Wells Bennett roared around a speedway in Tacoma to prove to motorcycledom that a man on a machinecould grind through twenty-four hours at sustained high speed. His mileage in that time was 1,562.54 and his average speed approximately 65.12 m.p.h. In the process of that grind he set up intermediate records, one for the fifty mile mark and one for each successive hundred within the total.

Most of those marks have stood through the years. A few have fallen. In May, 1935, Bo Lisman raised the mark for 100, 200, 300 and 400 miles. This was during the Indian speed test at Muroc when a new mark was also set for fifteen hours.

The result of the foregoing was that anyone who tried for the twenty-four hour record, if he wished to make a clean sweep, as did Bennett in 1922, would have to ride very fast during the first 500 miles. In one sense that is desirable in a twenty-four hour trial because it is during the first hours that a rider is fresh. In another sense it is not so desirable because the motor is given terrific punishment at the outset and must then be kept running through the long hours and miles that remain.

As has been told before, Muroc gives off a fine, almost invisible, dust, which has been washed into that location from a wide area of the Mojave desert. It is almost like an emery dust and so fine it penetrates even the pores of metal. Machines that are run for long periods on the lake are found to have crankcases and other parts completely impregnated. Riding at high speed naturally draws the maximum of this dust into a motor and much wear and damage is wrought during the first stages of a long trial.

But Fred Ham decided that if modern motors could hold up, he could do his part and ride one of them. Already a splendid example of youth and stamina, Ham trained ardently through the medium of his favorite pastime-swimming.

And while Ham was swimming, Bill Graves, who was to be the mechanical adviser, went stolidly along with his job of checking. The motor was given 100 miles on the lake at 90 m.p.h. Then it was completely torn down. Again it was given 100 miles at 90 m.p.h. And once again it was taken down. Every clearance, every oil tolerance was carefully measured.

Fred Ludlow, the rider’s coach, was as carefully going ahead with his work. Relating experience after experience, he hammered at Ham’s mind to implant therein the points about a motor that a rider must watch-those things which occupy the rider’s mind after miles around the endless circle when mental stagnation may cause complete physical letdown, and lastly he coached on riding technique. Ham is a big fellow and it took hours to teach him how to properly relax in a position where for miles his bulk would be folded up out of the wind.

Checking sheets, 15 in all, were mimeographed and then the figures calculated and typed in for: lap, mileage, record time, scheduled time, elapsed time, lap time and other spaces provided for data covering pit stops with refueling, repairs, etc. These sheets were in triplicate.

Arrangements were made for refueling, and a pit setup figured whereby tools were handy despite wind, dirt or temperature.

By Fred Ham
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