Sunday, October 24, 2021

Along for the Ride with ‘Fast Eddie’

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FOX TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A short film about a Sullivan County man’s love for racing motorcycles was recently released on YouTube.

“Fast Eddie” tells the story of what motorcycle racing life was like in the 1950s.

Ed Fisher, also known as Fast Eddie, began racing motorcycles when he was 16 years old. Now at 94, the former racing legend still enjoys riding, just at a slower pace.

Fisher was born in Lancaster County in 1925, and he loves to ride motorcycles. If you give Fisher two wheels, handlebars, and an open road, he will fly right on by. Fisher brought his first motorcycle, an Indian Scout Pony, in 1941 and hasn’t looked back.

After just celebrating his 94th birthday, the man from Shunk still loves to ride his bike in Sullivan County and beyond.

“You are out in the open. You see your surroundings much better, and normally it is nice fresh air,” said Fisher.

“Fast Eddie” is a documentary on YouTube that focuses on Fisher’s racing days in the 1950s. One of biggest wins of Fisher’s career was the 1953 Laconia 100-mile National Championship in New Hampshire.

“And you went off blacktop onto the sand, then sand onto the blacktop onto a 90-degree turn which got pretty slippery. If you learned to maneuver that good, that is how you make good time.”

Fisher eventually stopped racing professionally in 1957 and was voted into the American Motorcyclist Assocation Hall of Fame in 2002.

“You can’t say I think I have done something better than everybody else, but just being recognized as being one of the top competitors in your day. (It means a lot?) Yeah, yeah.”

Fisher says he will continue to ride his motorcycles until he can’t.

2 Kids & Their Indian Motorcycle

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Bud (Louis) and Temple, who aged 14 and 10, bought an Indian Motorcycle with money they earned from riding on horseback adventures across the USA.

The brothers’ first horseback adventure was from Oklahoma to New Mexico aged 9 and 5. Their father, a US marshall and friend of Roosevelt, came up with the idea saying they needed to “toughen up”.

On July 10, 1909, (eight years after Indian Motorcycle was founded) the brothers Bud and Temple saddled up their horses (called Geronimo and Sam) and set off for Roswell in New Mexico – alone.

 A year later in 1910, the two young Abernathy kids set out from Oklahoma again, but this time headed for New York where they would meet Roosevelt who was returning from a hunting trip in Africa.

This adventure had huge media attention with the entire nation country following the brothers in newspaper reports.

When the brothers arrived in New York City on June 11 1910 they were greeted by a crowd of several thousand people (and their father Jack Abernathy).

For the return trip back home to Oklahoma, the boys bought a Brush Motor Car and drove home, once again on their own.

A further year later, in 1911, they accepted a challenge to ride horses from New York City to San Francisco in under 60 days. The rules stated they couldn’t sleep or eat indoors during the entire journey and there was a $10,000 prize if they succeeded. Sadly, they were two days late.

Despite missing out on the $10,000 prize money, the pair had earned a fair sum from their notoriety and they bought an Indian motorcycle.

In 1913, they rode it together from Oklahoma to New York (Bud was 14 and Temple 10). Their stepbrother Anton went along with them too.

Their ride to New York on the Indian was their last documented adventure. Louis grew up to become a lawyer and practice law in Wichita Falls, Texas. He died in 1979. Temple worked in the oil industry and passed away in 1986.

‘She was a pistol’: Winnipeg teen Sadie Grimm raced into motorcycle history in 1914 Social Sharing Grimm rode her motorcycle through harsh Manitoba terrain where men failed — then did it again Darren Bernhardt · CBC News · Posted: Jun 22, 2019 6:00 AM CT | Last Updated: June 22

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She faced long odds, from swampy and rutted terrain to skepticism in a male-dominated era, but Sadie Grimm had something that trumped it all: grit.

In 1914, she did something on a motorcycle that men attempted but failed — she became the first to complete an endurance race from Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach, across roadless marshlands.

Then the 19-year-old did it again. On the same day.

“She was a pistol, is what her grandchildren called her,” said Ross Metcalfe, a Manitoban who is president of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and co-founder of the Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba.

“I call her plucky. This was something that a very phenomenal woman did 105 years ago, and she showed no fear in being able to do it.”

Sadie Grimm standing with her Indian motorcycle in June 1914. (Manitoba Free Press)

It was the first documented award in Canadian motorcycling by a woman in a competition also open to men, said Metcalfe.

“Think about the year she did it — it’s 1914, the year Nellie McClung is staging the mock parliament and pushing the government for the women’s vote. So it’s a pivotal time for women and here’s Sadie doing something no man could do,” he said.

“By our record, she’s probably the first woman in North America to win a medal or a trophy or an accomplishment on a motorcycle — and was actually able to keep it.”

An undated postcard featuring Clara Wagner and her motorcycle. (A. Loeffler)

A few years earlier, American Clara Wagner won a race between Indianapolis and Chicago but was denied the trophy because of her gender, Metcalfe said.

Race to resort town

The Winnipeg-to-Winnipeg Beach contest, open to anyone, was announced by the Manitoba Motorcycle Club in the winter of 1913-14.

A gold medal was offered up to the first person to complete the 90-kilometre one-way trek from the city to the Empress Hotel on the shore of the popular beach town.

“Winnipeg Beach was Manitoba’s Riviera, it was  was Manitoba’s Fort Lauderdale,” said Metcalfe. “It had a huge CPR four-storey hotel with balconies and it was a destination.”

Upwards of 13 trains a day would take people to Winnipeg Beach when there were no roads. (Archives of Manitoba)

But there were no roads to it. Winnipeg Beach was founded as a resort town in 1900 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had the only way to get there.

“The CPR once said that was the most profitable 60 miles of track in all of Canada. Upwards of 13 trains a day would take travellers to the beach and its boardwalk and the fancy hotel,” said Metcalfe.

There were cottages, a dance pavilion, a large pier, water chutes (precursors to modern water slides), and weekend boat regattas that drew as many as 10,000, according to Heritage Manitoba.

The Empress was a grand hotel along the shoreline of Winnipeg Beach. It burned down in 1935. (Archives of Manitoba)

“So motorists by 1911-12, they kind of started pointing fingers about the railroad having a monopoly to a place that we want to get to,” Metcalfe said.

So the endurance race was born and motorcycles were a natural choice. Manitoba was a hotbed for motorcycle riding and racing at the time, said Metcalfe.

“There were very many famous racers — men racers — here in Manitoba that were … setting world records,” he said, noting Joe Baribeau, who set a world record at the Kirkfield Park track in 1911 as the fastest man, averaging 60 miles per hour (nearly 100 km/h) over a distance of 100 miles (just over 160 kilometres).

“The first person on Earth to do that and it was done here in Winnipeg. Because of these people being so famous and the Manitoba Motorcycle Club being so dominant,  the Canadian Motorcycle Association … moved the Canadian championships to Manitoba in 1914.”

An undated postcard showing Winnipeg Beach and the Empress Hotel. (hippostcard.com)

The Manitoba Motorcycle Club, founded in 1911, is the oldest motorcycle club in Canada and fourth-oldest in the world, Metcalfe said. 

‘She got back on that bike’

Despite that popularity, there are no records of Grimm competing in any races prior to the endurance test. She seemed to come out of nowhere.

But Metcalfe has his theories.

It just so happened that Grimm’s boyfriend, Jim Cruikshank, was an accomplished amateur motorcycle racer and had opened a repair shop for Indian motorcycles in 1913, across from the new Yale and Northern hotels on Main Street.

Winnipeg Beach offered wooden water chutes, precursors to modern water slides, among its many attractions. (Archives of Manitoba)

Metcalfe thinks Grimm was likely taught how to ride by Cruikshank, who then provided a new, 1914 seven-horsepower Big Twin Indian motorcycle.

“A lot of those early motorcycles were very primitive, so endurance races were a way of motorcycle companies proving their worth,” he said.

Some eager riders who tried their hands at the Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach run while the ground was still frozen turned back. Others tried in early spring but were trapped by the wetlands.

The only place where there was some semblance of a road — really more of a rutted wagon trail — was through Teulon, Metcalfe said. But it stopped about 35 kilometres short of Winnipeg Beach.

Boat regattas drew thousands of people to the shores of Winnipeg Beach. (Archives of Manitoba)

Grimm set out on the morning of June 14, 1914.

“For 25 miles she had to break gravel eight inches deep while going 30 miles an hour. She took several graceful slides but picked herself up unhurt,” the Manitoba Free Press reported at the time.

The slides were most likely less than graceful, said Metcalfe, describing them as “two or three face plants.”

“So we want to talk about plucky, I mean, she wasn’t dismayed. She got back on that bike,” he said.

Grimm went up though Selkirk to Petersfield, where the road soon became bog and potholes. After tracing things like deer trails she rode up onto the railroad track.

The pier was a popular place for strolls back in the early days in Winnipeg Beach. (Archives of Manitoba)

It was extremely bumpy “but she pounded her way up the track,” Metcalfe said.

After four hours, a slightly dirty, scratched and exhausted Grimm walked into the Empress Hotel and claimed her prize.

There were a couple of people who scoffed at the victory because she used the railroad tracks, so after she rested for a few hours, Grimm decided to make a statement.

She climbed back on the bike and drove back to Winnipeg via the Teulon route that nobody else could traverse.

“So she actually did it twice in the same day,” Metcalfe said. “It was quite a feat.”

The Free Press, under a June 20 headline that said “Lady Wins Gold Medal,” called it “one of the most strenuous rides ever attempted by a Manitoba motorcyclist.”

The route Sadie Grimm rode from Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach, a distance of roughly 90 kilometres. (Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame)

At least one other motorcyclist also made an attempt that same day but ran out of gas west of the beach and arrived several hours too late to claim the prize.

“What Sadie Grimm did was pretty spectacular, really, when you look at it from a female perspective in Canadian and North American history,” said Metcalfe.

Arrested for impersonating men

Even two years later, in 1916, sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren rode their motorcycles 9,000 kilometres in 60 days across the continental United States. They wanted to prove women could ride as well as men and would be able to serve as military dispatch riders.

Augusta, 24, and Adeline, 22, dressed in military-style leggings and leather riding breeches and were stopped several times during the journey by police who took offence to the fact they wore men’s clothes, according to Anne Ruderman and Jo Giovanni’s book Adeline and Augusta Van Buren: Pioneers in Women in Motorcycling.

“They were arrested a number of times for impersonating a man, if you can believe it,” said Metcalfe.

Despite their success, the Van Buren sisters’ applications to be military dispatch riders were rejected. Reports in a motorcycling magazine of the day praised the bike but not the sisters. It also described the rigorous journey as a vacation.

Augusta, left, and Adeline Van Buren rode their motorcycles 9,000 kilometres in 60 days across the continental United States in 1916. (Van Buren Family Collection)

Following her success, Grimm became a spokesperson for the participation of women in motorcycling. In the July 1914 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, Grimm lauded the activity as beneficial to health and the independence of women.

“The motorcycle is a great teacher.… It teaches [one] to be more independent on herself, to know that with a twist of the wrist she can control the powerful little machine that will carry her swiftly and safely wherever she wants to go,” Grimm said.

“I don’t think anyone could recommend a better doctor than nature — plenty of fresh air and exercise are the greatest health givers.”

Grimm died in February 1970 at the age of 74. In 2017, she was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

‘Empowers women to ride’

That same year, the first Sadie Grimm historic motorcycle ride to Winnipeg Beach was held. Follow-up rides have been held every June since then, doubling as a fundraiser toward a planned commemoration for Grimm.

The Women Riders Council (WRC), a member of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups, wants to build a picnic shelter, named in Grimm’s honour, at the spot where the Empress Hotel once stood.

A 1913 Indian motorcycle owned by Ross Metcalfe and similar to the one ridden by Sadie Grimm was on temporary display at the Winnipeg Police Museum. (Ross Metcalfe)

The Manitoba government has agreed to the proposed steel-and-concrete design with a motorcycle motif being built on the property, now owned by the province.

“It will have a motorcycle theme for the sides of it and the circles in the top, holding the roof up, will look like motorcycle wheels. So it will be a real commemoration of Sadie’s ride,” said Mary Johnson, a member of the WRC and chair of the Sadie Grimm Celebration Committee.

Sadie Grimm as seen in a photo included in the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame induction for the class of 2017. (Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame)

She first heard about Grimm’s story in 2014 while at the Manitoba Motorcycle Club’s induction ceremony into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame. When Metcalfe was accepting the award, he mentioned Grimm.

“I remember thinking at the time ‘I need a piece of that [story],'” Johnson said.

She got Metcalfe to tell her everything he knew about Grimm and shortly after, she shared the story at a WRC meeting.

That’s when another member, Carolyn Peters, offered to do more research and eventually got in contact with grandchildren and a grandniece of Grimm’s in California.

They had some photos to offer up but for the most part, Grimm’s exploits were unknown to them. They always thought she was kind of cool because she was “just a little out there,” with her long fingernails painted in bright red polish that matched a similarly brilliant lipstick, said Peters.

But for the most part, Grimm was just known to them as Nana, she said. 

“It is just such an interesting story, that this woman who was very anonymous until now … had been this vivacious, independent, outspoken woman for women’s issues and women’s rights at such an early point in Manitoba history,” Peters said.

“It was really a terribly courageous thing that she did. I just think of her at this point as a really fantastic role model to young women back then in 1914 and still very relevant today.”

The dusting off of Grimm’s story immediately led to a renewed interest and ultimately, her induction into the hall of fame.

In the summer of 2015, the Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba (which amalgamated with the MMC in 2010) organized a Sadie Grimm run from Winnipeg to a roadhouse about halfway to Winnipeg beach.

Johnson was told the club would buy a meal for all women riders who participated. She rounded up a large group, which then finished the run to the beach in honour of Grimm.

The Sadie Grimm picnic shelter project is raising funds to create a public commemoration on the former site of the Empress Hotel in Winnipeg Beach. (Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups)

That sparked the idea for the picnic shelter, which is expected to cost $45,000.

So far, the fundraising rides and other donations have raised about $28,500.

Johnson and Peters hope the shelter will keep Grimm’s story in the public eye because of the inspiration it provides.

“When we talk to people about it they get really excited,” she said, noting one woman joins the ride every year, spurred by Grimm’s story, and “just went and bought an Indian Chief motorcycle this week.”

“It really empowers women to ride.”

Indian Motorcycle was LPD’s first vehicle buy

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LACONIA — Laconia Motorcycle Week dates back to a gathering held in 1916, which is why the rally bills itself as the oldest in the world. The Laconia Police Department’s motorcycling tradition is nearly as long, it turns out.

In fact, the Harley-Davidson that was purchased in 1920 – for $632, from Laconia Tire Company – was the first vehicle purchased by the department. Prior to that, Robin Moyer said, patrols were done using private vehicles, or with cars rented or leased from local dealerships.

Moyer manages the information systems and accreditations for the Laconia Police Department. She also serves as the department’s historian. She can’t point to a record explaining why Chief Charles Harvell, who served the city until 1933, saw fit to use city money to buy a motorcycle. However, other departments around the country had started rolling motorcycle patrols, the first being Detroit in 1908, and Harvell likely saw the same advantages in 1920 that Matt Canfield, the current chief, sees today.

The Laconia Police Department has a long tradition of maintaining at least one, usually two, motorcycles in its fleet. It currently has a pair of Harleys, Canfield said, and there are two officers who have gone through special training to use them on patrol.

“They’re very maneuverable,” Canfield said, which is useful when an officer has to respond to a call in the middle of a crowded situation, such as Weirs Beach during Laconia Motorcycle Week, for example.

But the motorcycles are useful during the rest of the year, too, Canfield said.

“We do use them all spring, summer and fall,” he said. Officers doing traffic enforcement find that motorcycles have a “sleek profile,” Canfield said, and motorists don’t spot the officer as quickly as they would a larger police vehicle.

And, because the rider is more exposed on a motorcycle, Canfield said they allow officers an opportunity to connect with members of the public.

“You drive these down to a city park, kids love them,” he said. “The motorcycle, it’s a completely different vibe. It’s important that the kids realize that the police are their friends.”

Maneuverability

Motorcycles can weave through traffic and they can also navigate a variety of surfaces. In 1920s many of Laconia’s roads were dirt and were likely of varying condition.

“Maneuverability is still one of the selling points of a motorcycle,” Moyer said. One of the city’s early motorcycle officers was Charles “Mickey” Dunleavey, who started as a part-time officer in 1925 and eventually retired as chief in 1962. He was a veteran of World War I, as were many police officers in the ‘20s. They likely saw motorcycles during their service, as the machines were used to transport wounded soldiers, deliver messages and even as a platform for machine guns.

If motorcycles could be used to navigate a battlefield, they should be just fine on a potholed dirt road.

Another early devotee of motorcycles was Lawrence Carpenter, who was a part-time officer in Laconia who later became part of the State Police.

While the city’s first motorcycle was a Harley-Davidson, its next two, purchased in 1924 and 1927, were both built by the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company, of Springfield, Massachusetts.

In Carpenter’s mind, the Indians were the superior machine, his son, also named Lawrence, wrote in a piece for the now-closed Police Motorcyle Museum.

Carpenter, his son wrote, purchased many Indian motorcycles for his own personal use, often picking them up directly from the factory.

“He was not happy when personally informed by John Griffin that the State would be purchasing Harley Davidsons, as they were preferred by the majority of the officers. Carpenter swore that he never lost a vehicle he was pursuing until forced to ride a Harley. He was known to have stated that a Harley would make a good anchor for a boat. Carpenter continued to purchase his own Indians and use them on his job whenever he could. He bought a new bike every year, sometimes more than one.”

The Indian name is now used on motorcycles manufactured by Polaris, and since Carpenter retired, there are several more options for modern police motorcycles, including from BMW and Kawasaki.

Canfield doesn’t ride, so he said he didn’t consider switching to another brand for his department.

“The Harley is what the officers prefer,” Canfield said.