How Our Army Trains Its Motorcycle Specialists

This comprehensive and detailed description of the U.S. Army motorcycle training program is so interesting that it is printed in its entirety. The story, pictures and captions were furnished by the Bureau of Public Relations, Washington, D.C., and transmit

By Major Gorton V. Carruth, Photography by Holabird Ordnance Base

From the January 1943 Issue of Motorcyclist magazine

Thrills of the open road and a slipstream of air with the enchanting aroma of wine have always appealed to the motorcycle rider-

But, the United States Army-now operating thousands of motorcycles in the field for combat, reconnaissance and messenger service-knows that a motorcycle calls for a lot more than miles of concrete and an exhilarating wind.

That is why the motorcycle school of the Ordnance Automotive School at the Holabird Ordnance Base, Baltimore, Maryland, is so determined to do one thing in its program of training… “Develop a motorcycle mechanic, competent in the operation, maintenance, and repair of motorcycles.”

That objective, on the face of things, does not seem so formidable, but let’s get down to cases and have a look into the Motorcycle School at Holabird.

One year to the day after the Germans started their march on September 1, 1939, to take Poland, the first and probably the largest school of its kind in the United States Army first saw the light of day in a small room in the main shop at Holabird.

From that humble beginning in the fall of 1940, it struggled along to its present large size and state of efficiency, and it is now known the country over for the expert motorcycle mechanics who have graduated and won a large share of praise for their knowledge of motorcycles in the United States and overseas in the fields of action.

Success of the School is due largely to the fact that it was and still is staffed by two former motorcyclists, well versed in motorcycle technique and problems. They are the Commanding Officer of the Holabird Ordnance Base, Colonel H.J. Lawes, who by virtue of his office is Commandant of the Ordnance AutomotivemSchool, and the Assistant Commandant of the School, Lt. Col. Charles E. Kelley. Colonel Lawes’ experience with motorcycles dates back to 1916 on the Texas border during which it was proven that the motorcycle had a definite place in the Army. It was demonstrated at that time that the motorcycle was adapted to the most varied character of army service, and it was also found that in the many instances where motorcycles did not give satisfaction, the trouble lay in inexperienced riders who had no knowledge of proper care and attention and abusive practices. With inexperienced riders using motorcycles, the machines were rendered practically useless within the first 1,000 miles of service.

Records show that the motorcycle requires a driver who has had experience and training in handling it in order to get results, and that it may be safely stated (and this statement is borne out by the experience of officers in charge of provisional motorcycle companies on the Border) that the relative division of efficiency is as follows:

90 per cent operator; 10 per cent equipment.

Colonel Kelley’s experience with motorcycles has been extensive. He was one of the first pupils of the Indian Motorcycle School. Colonel Kelley for a time was in charge of the Motorcycle School at Holabird, later advancing to the position of Assistant Commandant of the Ordnance Automotive School which offers many other courses in automotive subjects to soldiers. It has an elaborate curricula of courses for officers and soldiers. The course in motorcycles is one of 12 specialist courses in advanced automotive science for soldiers. There are courses for officers that include such personnel as general and field officers, officers of new divisions, newly commissioned officers, officers of company grades, W.A.A.C. officers, and civilian automotive advisers.

A graduate of the Motorcycle School at Holabird accumulates a wealth of knowledge during the three months he is in School. He can, after completion of the course, make all the necessary repairs to the motorcycle. He can completely overhaul and rebuild both machines, including rebuilding of the chassis units such as clutch, transmission and driving mechanism. He can diagnose and correct any and all troubles which may develop in the fuel system, electrical system, or valve timing.

By Major Gorton V. Carruth
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