Bonneville Salt Beds | On the Salt

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

Although these chats and investigations tended to bring the investigator back to where he started, it also whetted the interest to get something on paper.

And when that crew reached the point where they had something definite on paper , a speed trial at some future date was just naturally under way.

Hap Alzina was sponsor; Freddie Ludlow was rider; Bill Myers, both flyer and motorcyclist, was designer; Pete Andreson, pattern maker deluxe and all around technician, was builder; and “Red” Fenwick was mechanic.

Nights were spent first with the designs, then with aluminum tubing, airplane Spruce and Balsa wood. A carcass took shape and the rider was called for a “fitting.” No cabin with plush seats for him. Space was at a premium and weight a sin. The frame suggested that of some odd fish. When Ludlow crawled inside and flattened on the tank he looked like Jonah may have looked in the whale. Everyone agreed, “It’s a whale of an idea, whether it runs or not.” While the boys were constructing the frame Fenwick had been working on his 61. He brought out an engine that was like a mirror inside. With the plugs out, the tension of one valve spring turned the motor, transmission and rear wheel.

This 61 was 13 years old. Hap had secured it in pieces. Many parts were missing and had to be made by hand, or replaced by parts that were adapted. This was to lead to failures later on in the several tests. But the redesign of the 61 was for the primary purpose of building up horsepower, a purely experimental venture.

Winter months were giving way to the spring months. This was the year 1937. And with the advent of spring came something else; a new American record was set by Joe Petrali at Daytona. Aside from the fact that he had put the figure up to 136.183 m.p.h., he had also tried some streamlining. The west coast crew read the accounts which told how Joe’s job had tried a little flying at 124 m.p.h. and there was some more checking on design.

When it was decided that all the curves were right, the linen was stretched and doped and the paint applied. That called for another trip to Oakland on the part of Ludlow. Gone was all the fish skeleton appearance. Instead the boys trundled the “Indian Arrow” from the miniature “hangar” which had been built for it in the Alzina shop.

No speed trial is complete without these meetings of all who are concerned, careful inspection of the workmanship, and finally the ride across the shop where the rider is in place and somebody gives him about a 10 m.p.h. shove. There are almost as many thrills in that first trial as in the real run.

The writer was also given the privilege of an interior inspection. Although bigger than Ludlow he managed to get into a semblance of riding position. The tail was bolted on. The “landing wheels” were pushed down by putting feet on the pedals. Outside they said, “She’s yours. Hold her.” And right there the sensations started.

The first tendency was to tire out the legs by pushing so hard with one that the other was worn out pushing back. Over control might be a term for it.

A couple minutes of that; out of the corner of the eye looks were taken at all the surrounding struts; and, realization came that the window gave very limited vision. Another reaction; the moment eyes left the window the sense of balance was destroyed.

Then a ride. Control was surprisingly easy despite the slow speed. There again the vision through the window was necessary to balance.

A summary of impressions left one feeling that it would not be too difficult to guide the machine on a strip such as is used on the Bonneville Salt Beds, but the tow off and the stop would be something to watch. Further, there was a feeling of wonder as to just what was going to happen with so much nose, tail and fins around the rider. It was certainly something entirely new in the feel of a motorcycle.

By Chet Billings
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