Bonneville Salt Beds | On the Salt

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

Another high spot came when the motor was started up and for a minute given a few revs. There are some who say that plaster fell off the walls a block away. “B-z-z-z-z-z-t” said the motor and that became the password between members of the group.

It was also the signal for a trip to Muroc.

A new group of problems arose in connection with the trials. Thus far all preparationhad been in secret. Two factors were in favor of keeping the tests secret. First, as in all straightaway tests, safety of rider and equipment calls for very few visitors or observers. Secondly, a move was afoot to bar competition from Muroc Dry Lake, and no one wanted to stimulate that action.

So, the shell was placed in a trailer. It was in two sections-the nose piece and the tail piece. The motor rested alongside the shell pieces. All was covered in canvas. The result was indeed weird. As something that was supposed to be secret it looked unusual enough to attract anybody’s attention. This had to be hauled 400 miles from Oakland to Muroc and 400 miles back.

On that first trip, not long before dawn, the northern crew met the southern. “B-z-z-z-z-z-t,” they greeted each other in the dark. For thirty minutes they visited there on the lake, before snatching a few winks of sleep. It was cold and the wind blowing a gale. Right then a locomotive would have lifted, let alone a light shell. But nobody seemed to mind. They were motorcyclists fixing for speed. So they turned in for the 40 winks. Two of the boys slept in a small trailer, one slept in the back of a car, and the last crouched in the front seat. His left leg encircled the steering column while his right lay in a box of parts. Sleeping under those conditions produces more rheumatism than it does rest.

All were up before it was light enough to see across the lake. The wind was still blowing and it was cold. Wearing leathers, working by the light of a gasoline lantern, and cooking over a much shielded gasoline stove, the cook made his first raid upon the store of food that was to last four men two days. He carefully counted the eggs but gambled an extra handful of coffee in the brew.

Breakfast chased away the rheumatism demons and the motor was lifted from the trailer. Despite occasional clouds of dust out on the lake it was decided that Ludlow should give the motor a test to see if everything held. Also everyone wanted an idea of how fast the job would go without a shell. If the motor was okay, markings would have to be put on the lake and then maybe the wind would go down.

Freddie was towed off. He went “B-z-z-z-z-z-t” alright, and disappeared somewhere out in the dust. “B-z-z-z-z-z-t” and he came diving back out of the dust a few moments later. They changed plugs. He took off again. And, he didn’t come back.

Visibility was poor so the boys jumped into a car equipped with a compass. A course was set that headed for where Freddie had disappeared. About four miles over he came into sight, standing beside the machine. One look at his face and everyone knew the job was done. Towing it back to the pit a quick check showed that a rod had broken. The pressure had been great and the rod couldn’t take it. So it was loaded back beside the shell and covered.

The rods were strengthened and in a short while all met again at Muroc. The same routine of details was gone through and before more than about three rides a wrist pin had been cracked

Another winter, and finally another spring. During that winter it was decided that while speed trials were to be held it would be easy to include two class C machines, a 45 and 74 Indian. It was also decided to use the parts, when they were available, for 1939 machines.

By Chet Billings
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