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.

He can remedy, either by repair, rebuild, or unit replacement, any ordinary defect that may develop in the machines. And he also understands the care and operation of the motorcycle and knows the kind and quality of lubricant to be used. He knows the fundamental teaching of the handbooks published by the manufacturers.

Throughout the entire program of the Ordnance Automotive School, considerable emphasis is made about preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance is defined as that system of service which reduces to a minimum the maintenance jobs necessary to keep Ordnance motor vehicles always on the move. It means a system whereby the student motorcyclist is imbued with the importance of caring for his machine every day, always checking and rechecking it.

Just like the match-play golfers, who have built a “precision-swing” into their muscles, the motorcyclist-upon graduation from the Motorcycle School-is one who is fully grounded in the principles of preventive maintenance, and preventive maintenance applies more significantly to motorcycles than it does to other vehicles. That is because motorcycles, by nature, are extremely sensitive to abuse and improper handling.

The fact that there have been in the past so few persons who understood motorcycles proves the point that the School’s objective-to develop a competent motorcycle mechanic-is more than sound, and when you multiply the maintenance problem by the thousands of military motorcycles now rolling, you have a picture of the prodigious task in training.

A man who has been through the Motorcycle School at Holabird has really acquired a concept of the importance of preventive maintenance more than other students of automotive subjects, and he returns to his organization or duty a trained man, a specialist, who can, in pinches, fulfill other automotive positions. His chances for advancement in the Army have been measurably increased by the diploma from the Ordnance Automotive School.

Moreover, the graduate can reflect considerable optimism in the fact that this valuable training has been given to him at no cost to himself but hard work and application of his mental processes, and that he has a wonderful chance to make his knowledge pay dividends in a position when he returns to civil life.

The School features the specialized service equipment demanded for the thorough and efficient maintenance and repair of the military motorcycle. The equipment, instruction and atmosphere of the School have been carefully planned to convey to the student the high standards of craftsmanship.

Training is balanced between shop practice, emergency field repairs, and laboratory work.

Summing this all up in to simple language, it can be said that the Motorcycle School teaches the soldier-student the “Three R’s of Motorcycles.” They are: “Ride, Repair, and Respect”…and “Respect” means respect for machine and driver safety rules.

The finished product of the School must be, first and foremost, a driver-mechanic, with emphasis on the mechanic, and just like the unswerving and flawless stroke of the tournament golfer, his training must be so that his knowledge of military motorcycles can be put to work instinctively.

The three-month course in Motorcycles at Holabird works out to a 462-hour study. Schedules are arranged so that a class graduates every two weeks.

Prerequisite for admission to the School is the qualification of an apprentice mechanic. A soldier-student who has completed the General Automotive Mechanics Course (basic) in the Ordnance Automotive School at Holabird is also eligible for admission.

Five days of each week of 90-calendar day semester are devoted to instruction. Normal school day is made up of two periods. One is from 7:45 A.M. to 11:30 A.M., and the other is from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00P.M.

Classes of 60 students are divided into three classes of 20 students each. Twenty men graduate every two weeks and 20 new students are enrolled. Classes are designated Freshman, Junior, and Senior. As each Freshman class starts, instructors are assigned on the basis of one for every ten students.

Officer in charge of the Motorcycle School is 1st Lt. K.T. Robins. 2nd Lt. D.B. McFadden is property officer. The staff is made up of Technical Sergeant L.L. Phillips, Bennett Springs, Mo., whose seven years of practical motorcycle experience enables him to conduct his various responsibilities as shop foreman; Staff Sergeant F.J. Tokarsky, Johnstown, Pa., assistant foreman; Staff Sergeant R.W. Lindenmoyer, Northhampton, Pa., riding instructor; Corporal Edward Palmer, assistant riding instructor; and Private Wilber Timlin, test rider. The staff of civilian instructors is made up of: Charles E. Valentine, Baltimore, Md., Head Instructor. Paul R. Hardy, Syracuse, N.Y.; Allen F. Smith, Fairmount, W. Va., Instructors for the Indian Motorcycle. Walton W. Westerfield, Baltimore, Md.; Benjamin F. Westerfield, Baltimore, Md.; Bert Q. Tilley, Raleigh, N.C., Instructors for the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle. John G. Gross, Baltimore, Md.; John O. Rahn, Columbia, Pa., Instructors in 4th and 5th Echelons of maintenance for both motorcycles. Marion E. “Pop” Walker, Holly Hill, Fla., Special tools instructor. John S. Bleichner, Baltimore, Md.; Eugene Walker, Holly Hill, Fla., Tool room.

Upon reaching Holabird, the future motorcyclist is registered at the Headquarters of the Ordnance Automotive School and is assigned to one of the student provisional companies of the 1st Provisional Ordnance Battalion, Ordnance Automotive School.

At 7:30 A.M. on his first day in school he reports at the Motorcycle School and draws his tools and is assigned a locker. He meets some of the civilian instructors who are to be his tutors for the next three months. The first day is used up, then, in getting settled, acquainted, and oriented.

The student is now a “Freshman.” He gets down to business the second day, beginning the course that will acquaint him with the Indian motorcycle engine. During the next 30 days he will devote all his attention to the Indian. He will have a written examination each week on the work covered and he will have one final examination at the end of the Indian course. His homework will amount to taking home a set of questions and returning the next day with the answers to be turned in to the instructor. Students who get behind are given special instruction to enable them to catch up with the class.

By the time the first 30 days are up, the student knows a few facts about a motorcycle, but only one kind of motorcycle. The Army uses two makes of vehicles, Indians and Harley-Davidsons. He is now ready to advance to the next 30-day class in which he will learn the fundamentals of the Harley-Davidson machine. The student gets the same course of instruction in this class as he did in the Indian class, the only difference being he is dealing with a different motorcycle.

The final 30 days, or Senior class, finds the student in the motorcycle shop, doing actual work on the production line. He is maintaining and repairing motorcycles, because the Motorcycle School-in connection with its training program-operates facilities for 4th and 5th echelon repair. The student does his work on the production line under the personal supervision of Instructors Gross and Rahn. He works on both kinds of motorcycles, machines that come into the shop directly from the field for repair. Such machines are termed “live material” and they require everything from a “top overhaul” to a rewiring job or carbon cleaning and valve grinding. Complete overhauls a e necessary in many cases when the machine has had about 10,000 or 12,000 miles of “punishment.” Each operation of the student is inspected and carefully checked by the instructors in chargeof the production line, and each student is then graded on his respective merits of the type and kind of a job he has put out or produced. His handling of tools, both issued and special, is checked.

During this final 30-day period, students learn to regrind or re-hone and finish cylinders which need “cleaning up” and possible honing to a true size for the installation of new oversize pistons. All other numerous special tools are employed and instruction on their use is given by “Pop” Walker, who sees to it that students get training in correct handling and reading of inside and outside micrometers, depth gauges, and the like.

Special electrical testing devices are also taught as to correctness for testing generators, armatures, field coils, and condensers. Correct nomenclature of parts is taken up by Instructors Bleichner and Walker, who have at all times a large stock of parts.

Students are given riding experience in the Senior Class. Sgt. Lindenmoyer, the riding instructor, gives them a thorough workout on the test course at Holabird. They learn to operate motorcycles on convoys, and the test course has enough obstacles to give the most expert rider something to think about.

Summing up the final 30-day period, the student receives instruction on major and minor repair of motorcycles, ordering parts, inspecting machines for repair, operating instructions, riding, trouble-shooting, and also a few pointers and short-cut methods in repair under field conditions. A final examination tops it off.

The Motorcycle School, through the courtesy of the manufacturers, has cutaway motors, transmissions, carburetors, generators, and wheel hubs which are a great help to students in solving motorcycle mechanical problems. Display boards are also used. Made by students of the school, they include special Indian tools, special Harley-Davidson tools, complete blackout wiring of Indian and Harley-Davidson machines. There are also boards to assist in teaching students proper nomenclature of parts.

Quite a program that is “to develop a motorcycle mechanic” and teach him the “Three R’s of Motorcycles.” The graduate of the Motorcycle School is really a doctor of motorcycles. Just as the family doctor knows the function of each human organ, so he knows the function of each device on the two military motorcycles.

When a motorcycle specialist is able to converse at will on such technical topics as motorcycle assembly, transmission, primary drive, ignition systems, proper timing, generators and batteries, carburetors, wheels, spoke lacing, wheel bearings, brakes, chains, gas and oil tanks, oil pump, frames, controls, forks and handle bars for the ‘74 and ‘45 machines, Indian and Harley-he can and does call himself a motorcycle specialist.

A motorcycle specialist then knows there is more to motorcycle study than he thought when he started out in the Freshman class at Holabird. He is convinced as never before that there is more to it than the “open road and stimulating slipstream.” He finds out many things he’d never dreamed of before. He finds out that the highly-maneuverable and speedy thing he merely called a motorcycle is a marvel of complicated ingenuity, and his capitulation to the science of preventive maintenance is another way of saying that he is a top-notch mechanic who knows his business. He knows instinctively that if one, two, three…or a thousand, motorcycles must keep rolling, every single one of them must be cared for-just like the cavalryman’s steed whose comforts took priority over those of the rider.

Several hundred motorcycle specialists have been graduated since the Motorcycle School started its first class at Holabird in the fall of 1940. It is not a large number, but it can be considered large from the standpoint of motorcycle technicians turned out, especially in times when good motorcycle men are hard to find. These Holabird graduates are now doing yeoman service for the army in the field. Some of them are instructors, giving other soldiers the technique they acquired at Holabird. They are helping in other duties, because the Army has a big job to train men how to use motorcycles on convoys, for messenger service, and for combat duties such as leading tanks in armored divisions, scouting, patrolling, reconnoitering, spotting mines and traps, reporting enemy movements, reporting on the conditions of roads to motor transport officers who have convoys of trucks to move.

Motorcycle men have been referred to as the fastest-moving land branch of the Army…and the riders in certain of the combat units are armed with Thompson sub-machine guns. The motorcycle is an important motor vehicle because it is maneuverable and fast. No other vehicle compares with it for its type of service. It has its own advantages.

Students in the Motorcycle School are given their Laboratory instruction in the main shop building at Holabird. There are also three well ventilated and lighted classrooms in another building near the shop building. The main shop contains the laboratories for the Harley-Davidson and the Indian motorcycles. Forty machines are used for rider training. Sixty laboratory engines are used for close-up instruction. Each student is supplied with a basic mechanic’s tool set, to which is added a copper hammer. In addition, special tools required for the motorcycle are available in the shop supply room. Not only that, but each student has a motorcyclist’s “library” consisting of the following textbooks and manuals:

(1) Parts books for Harley-Davidson, and Indian motorcycles.

(2) Indian and Harley-Davidson maintenance manuals.

(3) Text on Principles of Internal Combustion Engines.

(4) Text on Hand Power and Precision Tools.

(5) Text on Automotive Electricity.

(6) Army text on Motorcycles.

In addition to the knowledge to be gained from reading these texts, training films are used to show graphically the subjects of instruction. Five different films are used at present. This knowledge, once acquired by the student, makes him qualified to accomplish motorcyclists’ duties anywhere in the Army. In other words, the training is standardized.

Questions are sometimes asked how soldiers get started in the Motorcycle School at Holabird. The answer is that an organization commander in the field has an allotment for so many men he can send to the School. He selects men who are qualified mechanics and who possess the aptitude for becoming motorcycle mechanics. These men are enrolled in the school in the way already described. Most of them are young men, anxious to get ratings.

The way the Motorcycle School regards a motorcycle is first, that it is not a plaything. Second, it is a piece of machinery, weighing several hundred pounds, delicately balanced on two wheels and requiring expert care and attention. Third, it requires a rider to go with it who can operate it on the principles of skill and coordination, depth of perception, equilibrium, and knowledge of proper maintenance methods.

An army rider, not trained in the fundamentals and advanced knowledge of motorcycles, is likely to find himself in tight spots at times. Safety rules are stressed in the motorcycle course, but crack-ups are always likely to happen under the best of conditions. However, the probability of them happening is reduced to a minimum by careful training procedures. The School at Holabird strives to develop confidence, not over-confidence, in the students; to teach them to ride expertly and sensibly, not recklessly; and to be both a mechanic and a rider, not just a mechanic or just a rider.

That is the program at Holabird to “develop a motorcycle mechanic, competent in the operation, maintenance, and repair of motorcycles.” With this training the way is paved for him-the finished product-to go out in the field with the Army and fulfill assignments that will lead other men in the three R’s of motorcycles: Ride, Repair, and Respect …in order to keep ‘em rolling.

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By Major Gorton V. Carruth
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