Bonneville Salt Beds | On the Salt

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

From the November 1938 Issue of Motorcyclist Magazine.

Five and a half miles West of Bonneville Salt Beds in Utah is the small town of Wendover. It is equipped with a transcontinental highway, a transcontinental railway, has camp cabins, restaurants and gas stations. Except for the fact that it cuddles up to a vast area of salt there is little to distinguish it from many other small western towns, so far as the casual traveler is concerned.

Yet in all the world there probably is no other town just like Wendover. Under its calm exterior and in the minds of its modestly sized population is a most unusual knowledge of and liking for speed.

In one breath Wendover feeds the weary tourist or cares for the needs of his equipment. In the next breath it cater to tastes from scattered countries of the world and supplies some of the necessary service for a couple of the greatest Juggernauts of land speed ever built. The town never sleeps and some of its most important duties are in the wee hours of morning.

From station master to waitress the town talks and thinks speed, and adjusts itself to the requirements of speed.

On September 21st, Wendover learned that Captain Eyston was finished with his trials. Its townspeople rejoiced with the Captain and settled to the task of helping his crew prepare the Thunderbolt for its return to England.

On September 22nd, Wendover, without surprise or change of stride, welcomed a new crew, and as quickly settled to the task of helping in the matter of motorcycle speed trials.

What followed consumed three days. What had preceded had required two years.

From the public’s point of view most speed trials are a sort of “a flash in the pan.” The actual runs are fast. Most of the time is consumed in details of preparation. And more times than not the real story deals more with failure than with success.

As was told last month, Freddie Ludlow established two new world’s class C records. He rode a 45 cu. in. Indian through both ways of the mile for an average of 115.126 m.p.h. and he rode a 74 cu. in. Indian through for an average of 120.747 m.p.h.

Then he took his first fast ride in a completely enclosed and streamlined shell, powered with a special 61 cu. in. o. h.v. Indian. At a point near the American record mark he had to shut off. A quick check pointed to faulty design in part of the shell and the attempt to set a new high speed record was unsuccessful.

Preparation for the rides which won new records was comparatively simple. Work on the shell had involved two years, and the expenditure of a lot of money. It proved that pioneering is hard, that speed comes high, and that existing records are good.

To the public that was the sum total of the trials. To those who worked on them it was but one more out of many chapters of some very interesting motorcycle history, and perhaps the beginning of other chapters to come.

Now with our story ended before it is started, we must go back in history to start it. The trouble is that nobody knows for sure just when and how the whole affair did start.

Somehow the idea germinated a couple of years ago when four men on the west coast read with moderate interest of records that were being established abroad. Of course those records were established with supercharging, and they involved varying degrees of streamlining.

Since most needs in this country are served without supercharging no one was interested in that phase. But gradually interest did rise in the matter of relieving wind resistance. First these men wondered what could be done, unsupercharged and with a shell. Then they began to figure. Soon they were reading a bout different phases of areo dynamics and that led to discussions with professors and other experts. It was found that most authorities had worked to keep something up in the air; they were not so sure how to keep it down on the ground. They all said that in actual trials would be the final proof.

By Chet Billings
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