Bonneville Salt Beds | On the Salt

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

The big job was worked over again. and when they tried it no longer went “B-z-z-z-z-z-t.” Red had hopped it up until he just twisted the throttle and the machine went “Whack.”

The first test that spring came shortly after Roland Free had gone to Daytona. This gave the two crews something to talk about. Rolly had moved the record up a round 111 for the 45 and around 109 for the 74.

The northern contingent arrived at Muroc one day before the southern crew. Selecting a course shaped like a broad “U” they put in some 200 rods with markers on top. When the southern crew arrived it was just close to dark. Ludlow crawled into his leathers, and the cook with a fishy glance at the group started peeling spuds and onions. He wasn’t far off. About three rides with the motor going “whack” and they had whacked a crank pin.

The last test at Muroc was different. Even the cook had a hunch and stocked enough for three clays. By then the cold winds were gone and the desert dry lake was dishing out some of those nice warm days at around 112 degrees. So a piece of canvas and some poles went along.

They “whacked” up and down the lake trying to estimate speed with the use of hand watches and some markers. The job performed well. After all the runs it was just as solid as when they took the first ride. Wires went out and more crew left Oakland. Weather was good and the next day they would finally try the shell.

Early next day the shell was tried. The work of two years, and something beautiful to see, it still was questionable as to shape. Nobody seemed to want to put the final bolts in place. Freddie saved the day by jumping on them and saying, “Come on you birds, let’s go.” But just before the tow-off, Hap was seen to pick up a small sledge, a big pair of tin snips and about four pyrenes. These he placed in his Ford, all set to follow the shell as best he could and ready to get the rider out if anything went amiss.

The tow was okay. The motor caught and eased around the car. It was to have curved onto the course. Instead it went straight across the lake toward the sage brush shore. A thousand guesses were made in the pits. Could’nt he see? How fast was he going? Wouldn’t it steer? Was something wrong inside? Through the glasses it was possible to see the car pull alongside and shortly they were pulling the tail off.

The car raced back to the pits. The inside of the shell had filled with dust and Ludlow couldn ‘t see or breathe. Constructing a mask of a wet towel and horse blanket pins, they fixed Freddie up so he could give her one good “whack” and see if the body wanted to lift.

Watching through the glasses again, the shell could be seen to tow off along the course. The moment the tow lines snapped the job flashed by the car. In almost the bat of an eye it jumped to around 90 m.p.h., then slowed. The racing Ford soon caught up and again they took Freddie out.

The tests were over. It had handled well, but of course the speed was not high enough to constitute much of a test. Changes would have to be made to correct the internal turbulence. At the same time parts for ‘39 models showed up ready for installation in the class C jobs.

These changes were made and the job put in order for the final trial. When all was ready, it was late enough in the year that Cobb and Eyston were on the Bonneville Salt beds.

Application was made for entry upon the course and finally came the long waited word to go. 750 miles one way for the northern crew and 1,250 for the southern crew.

By Chet Billings
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