Bonneville Salt Beds | On the Salt

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

Everyone met at Wendover on September 22nd. It was toward evening but a trip was made to look at the salt. And there it was, the finest speed course in the world. Thirteen miles long, smooth as a floor , and well marked. Naturally excitement was high.

The 23rd was consumed by unloading the class C jobs which had been shipped, and with one member of the party in Salt Lake City making all the final arrangements. Releases were signed and all was set for a 3:00 A.M. call on Saturday, September 24th.

The referee, Jack Williams, from Salt Lake City, arrived at the course while it was still dark. A pit was set up by flashlight. They rolled out the 45 and Ludlow appeared in his tight leathers.

The timer had been set the day before. It was electric, with the added facilities of a telephone at each end of the course. The referee and a couple of others tested the timer. The first gray showed in the east. The salt being so white, early light is quickly picked up. The sun was still below the horizon of dark mountains when they wheeled Ludlow and the 45 out for his first run. The machine was just as it had been adjusted in the shop in Oakland. The plan was to make a warm-up run, then change plugs and check carburetion. Fred went to the south of the course and squared off. Then those in the pit were treated to their first thrill of speed on the salt.

The staccato of exhaust seemed to shriek out into the stillness of the salt beds, then bounce back. The machine could be heard before it could be seen. Straining through night glasses, one could finally determine a dark speck against a grayish background of haze. Almost immediately he looked like he was upon the pits. That was the illusion of the glasses. Putting them down, with the naked eye the outfit could be seen about a mile down the course. There was barely time to listen again to the motor, note that Freddie was clear down out of sight, getting his vision through a small opening in the fork head. He was riding about six inches to the right of the left-hand marker. He rushed by. The timer clicked and the l00th-second watch began to buzz. There had also been the click of a camera and the buzz of a motion picture machine. Already Freddie was tearing off toward another haze and a dim, dark mountain to the northward.

Click again and the watch stopped. Always a tense moment, this one was the more unusual. It was the first time on the salt, the first time in these trials. The watch read 30.31 seconds. Everyone in the pit read the watch, for the time was faster than anticipated. Then a pencil flew through the figures and out came the answer, 118.78 m.p.h. Freddie had turned around and toured back to the pit.

“How did she feel?”

“She felt pretty good,” answered Freddie.

“How fast do you think you were going?”

“Oh, about a hundred and five,” he guessed.

“Yeah? Well you turned a hundred eighteen point seven eight.”

Not bad at an altitude of 4,240 feet.

That set the tempo for the morning.

Hap Alzina, who was in command of the pits, thought it would be wise to make a south run right away. They quickly changed plugs and towed the outfit to the start of the run.

When the exhaust was first picked up, of course the boys in the pits tried to guess whether it was faster or slower. There were varied opinions, but to all purposes the motor sounded about the same.

“Watch it,” said the fellow with the glasses. Almost instantly the timer clicked and the machine was in the course. Then he was through. The watch showed 32.23 seconds.

By Chet Billings
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