799 Miles, New 24-Hour Lightweight Record By Indian

From the May 1918 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

Tacoma, Wash., May 23. - “The King is dead! Long live the King!” Referring, of course, to the new Lightweight King Elmer Bergstrom, who buzzed around the Tacoma speedway on an Indian lightweight for the past twenty-four hours to the tune of 799 miles.

To be exact, Bergstrom made 411 laps, but as the speedway is 297 feet short of two miles, this cut his mileage to 798 miles, 4643 feet, according to the arithmetical sharks present, which is near enough to call 799 miles. There was much groaning because they could not dig up another mile somewhere to make it an even 800-it looks just about 100 bigger than 799.

Ray E. Day, Tacoma Indian dealer, aided by his expert mechanic, Geo. Austin, who set the first lightweight record, on a Cleveland, got together recently and figured there was no reason in the world why an Indian light twin could not roll up 1000 miles on the Tacoma speedway in twenty-four hours, providing everything went all right. Incidentally they still think so, though the record falls 200 miles short of ten centuries.

At 5:01 p.m. L.A. Hoskins of the Tacoma News, in the presence of Sergeant Nelson of the Tacoma motorcycle force, started the record chasers on their long grind.

She began to hit a fifty-mile clip from the first and it looked like all was over but the shouting. Bergstrom reeled off lap after lap with painful regularity, stopping every hour or so-mostly “so” for oil and gas.

Around 9:00 p.m. it began to get dark. then the moon came out to help things along. And with the moon came the cold. We had a warm April, but a cold May, and this was one of the coldest nights of the month. Bergstrom shivered and shook, but stuck it out until time for oil and gas, when he borrowed a jersey from some kindly soul. His hands were in bearskin gloves.

From time to time rider s would come out from Tacoma, stand around awhile, then hurry home to bed. A few who wanted to make a night of it curled up about the fire and were soon letting down a “barrage” of snores. Even shouts of “change the record” failed to awaken them.

Others, including Max Steinhart, the mechanicalengineer, Geo. Austin, remained awake all night. So did Mrs. Bergstrom, who was as bright as a dollar after her twenty-four “watch.” W. H. Williams, from the Henderson-Excelsior-Cleveland agency at Tacoma, was the official checker and he stood by his guns, making the little mark every few minutes that indicated a lap, for the entire 24 hours. There’s a lot of credit due that sport.

Frequently some outsider would accompany him around the track on a big machine and it was on one of these trips, shortly before the moon went down, that they discovered the speedway covered with frost. After that no one could ride without falling.

Bergstrom tried riding wide open after the frost became heavy, but found it impossible. Even on the straightaways he skidded about considerably, while on the turns it was a case of nurse the machine along and pray.

Then the moon called it a night and lights became a necessity. Austin, profiting by his own experience, took no chances on small batteries this time. There was a husky battery on hand for lighting purposes and no trouble was experienced along that line. In the wee small hours of morning, a good old-fashioned Puget Sound fog made its appearance.

On previous runs both Austin and “Shrimp” Burns had their troubles with fog. and Bergstrom qualified along the same line. It was so thick he had to ride by the sense of feel. To slip off of the speedway on either side meant disaster, for in places there is a high bank, and on the inside a heavy guard rail capable of breaking up either man or machine.

After several hours of this, the sun took a hand, picked up the frost, chased away the fog and otherwise helped things along. The little motor felt vastly encouraged and purred along through the early forenoon at an average of forty to fifty miles per hour, exclusive of stops.

The average began to take an upward curve and there were hopes of beating the record once more, though they long since had abandoned the thou sand mile mark.

By 10 o’clock everybody was happy when Bergstrom came past making a series of peculiar motions. Everybody tried to register intelligence, opened their mouths, cocked their heads on one side, looked at each other inquiringly, then waited for him to come around again. Once more the peculiar motions. More questioning looks. They simply didn’t “get him.”

The next lap around he held his arms above his head like a pair of horns, and let out a terrific “Moooo!” as he shot by. “Oh,” said everybody at once, “there’s cows on the track.” And there were. Bergstrom nearly made a billiard numerous times, and when several bovines tried a “combination” without first calling their shot, it took a lot of clever dodging to keep our hero from being wrecked.

Cowpunching With Gasoline

Right here was where the motorcycle cowboy came into his own. The entire center of the speedway is a vast pasture, and save for bumps and a few ditches, is perfectly smooth. Time and again during the day the spectators could see a herd of cows or horses dashing across country pursued by a motorcyclist.

Some time during the day seven cows escaped from the speedway. Several riders were sent out to round them up.

“Did you get them back?” inquired Ray Day later.

“I don’t know whether we got the right ones in or not,” said one, “but seven cows got out, and we went out and hunted up seven cows and put them back in again.”

Early in the afternoon Bergstrom ran his mileage up to 625, thus breaking the previous record of 621.3 held by the Cleveland. They had the record at last and anything from now on was velvet. The motor was at its best now-seemed to be getting better every minute, and laps were reeled off at a speed that kept the big machines stepping right along to stay abreast.

Several laps were turned in 2.21, which figures out between 50 and 55 miles an hour.

Fighting the Flames

The big incident of the afternoon was when the exhaust pipe dropped off, and a watcher in the grandstand suddenly shouted that Bergstrom was having a lively time on the back stretch. It seems that the machine had caught fire, and Bergstrom was extinguishing it with a pillow he had strapped on top of the tank. A little tinkering on the part of Austin fixed things up and the man of the hour was off again.

A strong wind blew nearly all afternoon, which cut down speed in front of the grandstand, but it was during this time that Bergstrom made his best laps in spite of the wind.

Three watches had been set together when the trial was started. They varied a minute at the finish, two of them being together and the third being a minute shy. However, this means nothing as the former record was effectively passed. “There goes one tired lad,” commented the railbirds.

But when at 5:01 p.m. Bergstrom rolled in on the last lap with the lightweight scalp dangling from his belt, he did not look so very tired, in spite of his oil covered clothing, his dirty face and general “tough” appearance.

“I could go awhile longer if I had to, though I’m glad it is over,” he said, as everybody crowded about to offer congratulations, while the photographers yelled. “Get out from in front of him so I can get a picture.”

“When I made the first record I said it could be beaten easily,” said Austin, “and I say this one can be. If somebody beats it we’ll go after it again, and if not we may go after it any way. I am confident that an Indian light twin can make 1000 miles in twenty-four hours on this speedway.” The actual running time was 19 hours, 44 ½ minutes.

When Speed and Economy Were Pals

The machine was stock in every detail. While no exact record was kept of the gasoline used, it is estimated it averaged 80 miles to the gallon. Monogram extra heavy oil was used, and also’ Union gasoline. Splitdorf plugs walked away with the ignition honors; but one plug fouled during the entire twenty-four hours.

As for tires, honors go both to the Goodyear and Firestone. At the start there was a Firestone in front and a Goodyear in the rear. When the run was nearly over, a big sliver entered the Goodyear causing a puncture. Bergstrom finished with Firestones. None of the tires indicated signs of wear, though the speedway is “hard on tires.”

Other standard equipment included Duckworth chains and Indian carburetor.

1-Elmer Bergstrom, New 24-Hour Light-weight King. 2-Bergstrom Buzzing Out of One of the Turns. 3-A Modern Cowpuncher Chasing Horses Off the Track with a Motorcycle. 4-Bergstrom Passing the Pits.