Transcription Note: Paragraph breaks are at the point of the original Road Rider transcript as are punctuation and spelling of words.
With the Windy City at my back, I felt as if I would "blow in" to New York in a
week or so. The worst roads I knew must surely be behind me, and, with better
highways, I calculated that I would have no more trouble with my motor bicycle.
I reckoned without thought of the cumulative effects of the continuous battering that the machine was receiving.
It has proven itself a wonderfully staunch steed, but no vehicle could stand
what I imposed upon the 90-pound vehicle, nor should any be expected to do so.
Before I got through with my trip I had, as will he seen, a vivid personal experience that put me into thorough
sympathy with the Deacon and his one-horse shay.
As I have said, I did not want to remain in Chicago one minute longer than was
necessary. and accordingly I left there at 5:30 p.m., on June23, and made my way
to Kensington, 23 miles east. In the morning I ordered and paid for some
gasoline. What I got was a vile mixture of gasoline and something that was much
like linseed oil. I believe it was that, but I did not discover the imposition
until after I had started. and I did not go back. A man who will sell such stuff
has no conscience. Only a club will appeal to him, and I had no time to waste in
fighting. I simply went on and made the best of it till I could get fresh
gasoline elsewhere. The roads were heavy from recent rains when left Kensington
at 6:45 a.m., and here in the smooth and "built up" east I had to resort to the
trick I learned in the deserts of Nevada and Utah. I took to the railroad track,
and rode 20 miles along the ties to the lake. I saved a considerable distance by
following the railroad, and as I was seasoned to such riding, the bouncing did
not hurt so much as the thought that I was having the same sort of traveling
east of Chicago that I had west of Omaha. Well, it as a big country to build up
and supply with good roads. Anyone who has made such a trip as I made can
appreciate this in a fullness that others cannot. When this country is
eventually built up with good roads it will be truly great and wonderful.
I left the railroad at Porter, Indiana, and got onto a road with a good rock
bed, which lasted for several miles. The rains, which had so severely damaged
the roads, had not hurt the crops much, so far as I could see. It was all a
"ranching country," as we say in the West - farming they call it in the East - through which I was passing at this stage, and
it looked flourishing. I reached La Porte at noon, and lunched there, having
made 55 miles in the forenoon. I had been keeping company with a smell like that
of burning paint all the morning. It came from the mixture that I was exploding
in the motor. I got fresh gasoline at La Porte, and at least had an honest smell
for my money after that. I passed through Goshen at 5 p.m., and reached
Ligonier, where I stopped for the night, at 6:30 p.m. The roads began to get
better after I left La Porte, and the last 19 miles of this day's run were made
in an hour and 10 minutes.
I thought that when I got east of Chicago folks would know what a motor bicycle
is, but it was not so. In every place through which I passed, I left behind a
gaping lot of natives, who ran out into the street to stare after me. When I
reached Ligonier I rode through the main
street, and by mistake went past the hotel where wanted to stop. When I turned
and rode back the streets looked as though there was a circus in town. All the
shopkeepers were out on the sidewalks to see the motor bicycle, and small boys
were as thick as flies in a country restaurant. When I dismounted in front of
the hotel the crowd became so big and the curiosity so great that I deemed it
best to take the bicycle inside. The boys manifested a desire to pull it apart
to see how it was made. There was really more curiosity about my motor bicycle
in the eastern towns than in the wilds of the Sierras. The mountaineers are
surprised at nothing, and seemed to have caught from the Indians the
self-containment that disdains to manifest the slightest curiosity. Although
when spoken to about it, the Westerners would frankly admit they never saw such
a machine before, yet they turned toward me on my first appearance stolid
countenances with which they gazed at the sky and the surrounding landscape.
This day, when I reached Ligonier, June 24, I had made 130 miles.
At 8.a.m. On
June 25 I left Ligonier and struck out over a sand road, through a rolling and
fertile farming country, to Wawaka, where I came to a stone road, and had good
riding to Kendallville. East of that place, to Butler, the going was a good
second to what I had in Iowa, which was the worst of anywhere that there were
roads. Between Butler and Edgerton, after having ridden 48 miles from Ligonier,
I crossed the state line into Ohio. The road improved some then, but it was very
bad in places all the way to Swanton. at which place I resorted to the railroad
for more comfort and fewer dismounts. I rode nine miles to Holland along the
tracks, but the railroad bed was a poor one and about as rough riding as the
road, so I returned to the highway and found a six-mile stretch of good road
south to Miami(sic Maumee). By taking this road I made a shortcut that saved me 15 miles,
and did not therefore, see Toledo. I arrived at Perrysburg, Ohio, at 7 p.m. with
126 miles to my credit for the day. The price of gasoline continued to decrease
as I got East. In the morning of that day at Ligonier I had paid 10 cents for
half a gallon; at Butler I got the same quantity for 8 cents, and at Swanton the
price was 7 cents. The table board did not improve, however. For me, with my
vigorous Western appetite. the bounteous supply of plain food served by the
little hotels in the Rocky Mountain country was much more satisfactory than
anything I got East. The meals out in Nevada and Wyoming were much better than
anything I got in Illinois, Indiana or Ohio, at the same price. Everywhere I
stopped during this part of my trip a crowd gathered about me and my motorcycle,
although neither the machine nor my self had any sign on telling our mission.
Whenever I told someone in a crowd I had come from San Francisco there was at
first open incredulity. The word was passed along, and they winked to one
another, while staring impudently at me. At this stage of my journey I had with
me, however, a copy of the June issue of The Motorcycle Magazine. with the story
of my start from the coast and a picture. This convinced the doubters, and
immediately my bicycle became the subject of unbounded curiosity, while I was
the target of Gatling-gun fire of questions that it was impossible to answer
satisfactorily. The consequence was I became more particular when and where I
took the trouble to convince people of my feat.
About this time I began to feel the effects of my five days' rest in Chicago.
That length of time led to my growing tender. and I was more saddle-sore at
Perrysburg that night than at anytime before. I felt then as if I would have to
finish with a hot water bag on the saddle.
From Perrysburg I got a 7 o'clock start, but soon discovered that I did not have
any more lubricating oil than enough to last for 30 miles. By economizing I
managed to reach Tremont(sic Fremont) where I got some oil at a machine shop. It was so thick
that I had to heat it before it would run, but it was better than nothing. After
leaving Fremont the roads began to grow very poor. There had been several days
of rain on them Just before I came along and as they were simply dirty roads for
repeated stretches of 10 miles or more the mud was deep and wide.
Near Amherst about 30 miles west of Cleveland I got my first reminder of the
one-horse story and a foretaste of what was in store for me. The truss on the
front forks of my bicycle broke. When I stopped to remove the remains of it, I
found that it had crystallized so that it was like a piece of old rusty iron. It
broke in several places like a stick of rotten wood. That was the effect of the
terrible pounding the machine had received over the railroad ties. It occurred to
me at the time that the whole machine must have suffered similarly, but it did
not show signs of disintegrating at the time, and I concluded it would carry me
to New York. After leaving Elyria, 25 miles from Cleveland, I struck a good
sidepath that continued for 20 miles. It was only six inches wide in places,
but those few inches spelled salvation for me, because the road was so heavy
with sand that if I had not had the path to ride I would have had to have walked
for long stretches. Just out of Elyria I met an automobile, and it was having a
hard time of it. It was all the engine could do to keep it moving. The last five
miles into Cleveland I went over the best roads I ever had ridden on anywhere in
It was 7 p.m. when I reached Cleveland. and my first move was to hunt up an
automobile station in order to get some oil. At the Oldsmobile branch I found
what I wanted, and they gave me enough to last for 300 miles, all I cared to
carry, in fact. They took a lively interest in me and my bicycle and examined my
motor carefully. Like everyone else, though, they had to be shown the
photographs of my start from San Francisco before fully accepting my statement
that I had come from California. My distance for this day, to Cleveland, was 121
miles, and I used five quarts of gasoline.
It was on the day I left Cleveland, June 27, that my troubles began to come
thick and fast. I started from Cleveland at 10 a.m. and had gone only a mile
when the lacing holes in my driving belt gave way and I had to stop and relace.
For the first five miles the road was fine, and then I came to a stretch where
the road was being rebuilt and I had to walk for a mile and a half. After that,
I had a plank road for six miles, and then it was sandy for 30 miles, all the
way to Geneva. From there to Couneaut, 22 miles, the road was good in places,
with occasional stretches of clay and sand, through which it was hard going. It
was a dreary day of travel through a pretty farming country, where the ranchers
seemed to be as heavywitted as the cattle. The belt broke five times during the
afternoon, and the last time I fixed it I laced It with two inches of space
between the ends in order to make it reach. I passed through town after town,
where I wondered what the people did for recreation. There was nothing for them
to do after their day's work but to walk around the block and then go to bed.
One thing I noticed is that it is a poor country for shoemakers for nearly
everyone I saw, men, women and children, were barefooted. It was plain that
much of the country I saw was settled by immigrant farmers from Germany and
other parts of Europe. I made only 75 miles this day. When I arrived in
Conneaut, I got a piece of belting at a bicycle store and spliced my troublesome
piece of driving leather. Then I discovered that the screws in the crankcase of
the motor were all loose, so I put in some white lead and tightened them. It was
so late by this time that I concluded to remain at Conneaut that night.
My hoodoo was with me all the next day. I left Conneaut at 7:30 a.m., and before
I had gone quite 10 miles the oil began to leak out of the crankcase, although I
had done my best to make it tight and seal it with white lead the night before.
The belt again gave out and I had my own profane troubles with these two defects
all day. First it was the oil, and then the belt, and I became so disgusted
before noon that I felt like shooting the whole machine full of holes and
deserting it. This was my first visit to Pennsylvania - for I been riding in the
little 50-mile strip of the Keystone Stare that borders on Lake Erie ever since
leaving Conneaut - and I can say that all my Pennsylvania experiences were hard
ones. The roads were fairly good and for most of the way I rode on footpaths at
the side of the road. The view from the road with the luxuriant verdure clad
bluffs on one side and the horizon bounded expanse of the great lake on the
other side was as magnificent as I had seen. It reminded me of the good old
By afternoon I had crossed the Pennsylvania strip and at last was in New York
state. It seemed as if I was nearing home then, but it is a big state, and I
came to realize the truth of the song that "its a blanked long walk to the gay
Rialto in New York." I didn't have to walk, but walking would have been easier
than the way I traveled from the western boundary of the Empire State to the
metropolis. It was on the afternoon of June 28 that I entered the state, and it
was eight days later before I got to the confines of the great city.
I had hoped to reach Buffalo on the day I left Conneaut but was still 25 miles
from the Queen City when my troubles climaxed by the breaking of a fork side.
The crystallization resulting from the continuous pounding was telling again. I
walked two miles to Angola, and there sought a telegraph office, and wired
Chicago for a pair of new forks. I learned that I would not be able to get a
pair there for two days, because they would have to go first to Buffalo and then
be reshipped to Angola. I therefore determined to get the forks repaired there
if possible, and make them do till I got to Buffalo. It is a fortunate thing
that I was not riding fast or going downhill when the fork side broke. I was
told that automobiles and motor bicycles frequently traveled the road that I
took from Chicago to New York, but the behavior of the natives belied it. People
all came running out of the houses when I passed, and they stared as if they
never had seen a motor bicycle before.
I spent two hours in a repair shop in Angola the next morning, June 29, and at
the end of that time the repairer pronounced the forks mended sufficiently to
carry me through to New York. I did not feel as confident about this as the
repairman did. I got to Buffalo by 11 o'clock, and after a visit to the post
office, I rode out to the E. R. Thomas automobile and motor bicycle factory.
There I met Mr. F. R. Thomas for the first time, and I must pay a tribute to his
generous hospitality, which I shall always remember. His kindness was all the
more magnanimous when it is remembered that I was riding the product of a rival
maker. The first thing Mr. Thomas did was to send my bicycle inside and have it
seen to that it was supplied with oil and gasoline. Then he learned that my
forks were in bad shape, and he ordered men to get to work and make a new pair
for it and finish them at night. The men worked in the factory until 9 o'clock
that night on my forks, and had them ready for me to make an early start in the
morning. For all this Mr. Thomas. would not accept payment. In the meantime he
showed me through his factory, and then lent me an Auto-Bi, on which I took a
trip about the city.
I left Buffalo at 5:20 a.m., determined, if possible, to get to New York by July
2. and join in the endurance run to Worcester that started on the third. After I
had gone 10 miles the lacing holes in the belt broke away again. I then put on
the old original belt with which I had started from San Francisco and which I
had removed at Chicago. but still carried with me. Everything went finely for
the next few miles, and then the connecting rod of the motor broke. Everything
seemed to me to be going to pieces. There was nothing for it then but to pedal,
and I churned away for five miles into Batavia. It was only 9 a.m. when I got
there, and it took until 3:30 p.m. to get the repairs made so that I could start
again. It went all right until I was 12 miles from Rochester, and
valves got to working so poorly that I could not make more than five miles an
hour with it. I managed to reach a cycle store in Rochester, and there I went to
work, intending to get it fixed and ride half the night to make up for lost
time. It was of no use. I worked until 11 p.m., and then gave it up until
morning. I realized then that the motor and bicycle were suffering from
crystallization. There were no flaws or defects of any sort in the parts that
were breaking. They were just giving out all at once, like the Deacon's famous
shay that lasted him so well and so long and was not weaker in any one part than
in another. In spite of all my troubles, I had made 80 miles that day, and I
still had hopes of being in New York in time for the fireworks. It took until
11:30 o'clock the next day, July 1, to get the motor working, and then I started
from Rochester with C.O. Green, superintendent of the Regas Company, and W.L.
Stoneburn, the bookkeeper, riding with me as an escort. They accompanied me 20
miles to Fairport. over roads so muddy as to be nearly impassible. Not far from
Fairport, when I was alone again the hoodoo asserted itself. First the
connecting rod worked loose, and soon after the belt ends gave way. I lost as
little time as possible, however, and at night I reached Cayuga, with the
satisfaction of having covered 70 miles during the short day.
I left Cayuga at 8 a.m. and took my troubles with me, The batteries were growing
weak; first the cyclets(sic) of the belt broke and then the lacing; next the crank
axle got out of true, and every time it struck, the belt broke. I had these
troubles all day. Toward night the belt broke five times in one mile. I got some
new batteries at Syracuse, but after going two miles on them they would not
yield a spark, so I went back and returned them, and after a search I managed to
get some good batteries. The fates seemed in a conspiracy to prevent my getting
to New York before July 4. The motor was getting in such shape that I realized I
would be lucky if I could finish with it at all. To add to my troubles these two
days from Rochester, July 1 and 2, were terribly hot and I was nearly prostrated
by the heat. I managed to make 65 miles and get to Canastota by 9:30 p.m. on the
second, and as that was the day I had hoped to be in the metropolis, I did not
go to bed in any cheerful humor.
At 7 a.m. on July 3, I started from Canastota; determined to get to Albany, at
least, that day. I had trouble from the start. I relaced the belt seven times
during the forenoon, and then I spliced it with a new piece at Little Falls. I
was still 40 miles from Albany when my handlebars broke off on one side. I had been there a couple of times before
during the trip, and it did not take me long to lash a stick across the steering
stem. Soon after, the piston began to squeak, and I discovered that the rings on
it were worn out. Oil was of no avail, and I rode on with the squeak for
company. Six miles from Albany, while I was on the towpath, the rear tire blew
out. There was a hole in it that would admit a hand. I walked into Albany. Some
of the remarks I made to myself as I walked were not fit for quoting to a Sunday
school class. My distance that day was 135 miles. This was to be my last day of
big mileage though.
All the way through New York state I used the cycle path without a license. It
was not until after my trip ended that I knew I had been violating the law.
On the Fourth of July my first move in the morning was to a bicycle store, where
I got a new tire and put in 14 new spokes, and then took the motor apart. The
piston rings were worn pretty thin but looked as if they would still give
service, so at 2:30 p.m. I started from Albany. Four miles out, I gave it up.
The motor would not explode as it should. I went back to the bicycle store in
Albany and worked on the problem there until night. Then I went to see the
fireworks and forget about it.
As I could not make the motor work, I concluded on the morning of July 5 to make
myself work. I started to pedal in to New York. That last 150 miles down the
Hudson from Albany is a part of my trip of which I will always have a vivid
recollection. I had seen some hills before, but the motor climbed them for me.
In the hills along the Hudson, I had to climb and push the motor along. They
seemed steeper than the Rocky Mountains. This I will say, though - from the time
I left the Pacific coast I saw no grander scenery than that along the Hudson
River. While other sights were not up to expectation, the scenery of the Hudson
was far beyond it.
So enthusiastic was I that I pedaled along all night on July 5. It was a long,
dreary and strenuous ride, but I was well seasoned by this time and fit to do a
mule's work. After riding two days and a night under leg power or rather over
it, I reached New York in the middle of the afternoon on July 6. I made frequent
stops to rest and I attracted more than a little attention but I was too tired
to care. I can smile now as I recall the sight I was with my overalls on, my
face and hands black as a mulatto's, my coat torn and dirty, a big piece of wood
tied on with rope where my handlebars should be, and the belt hanging loose from
the crankshaft. I was told that I was "picturesque" by a country reporter named
"Josh," who captured me for an interview a little way up the Hudson, and who
kept me talking while the photographer worked his camera, but to my ideal, I was
too dirty to be picturesque. At any rate, I was too tired then to care. All I
wanted was a hot bath and a bed. But before I got these I had to telephone to
The Motorcycle Magazine to learn where to go and wait to have more cameras
pointed at me before being escorted to my hostelry. Of all the sleep I had
during my trip, none was more profound, or sweeter than the one I had that night
of July 6 at the Herald Square Hotel, just 50 days after I left San Francisco
for my ride across the continent on my motor bicycle.
While I slept at the Herald Square Hotel, my ride really ended at the New York
Motor Cycle Club's rooms, No. 1904 Broadway. It was there I left the faithful
little machine that had carried me some 3,800 miles. What was the exact distance
I never will be able to tell, because, as previously related, after breaking
four cyclometers, I ceased to bother with the mileage.
Compared with the first cycling journey across the continent, that of Thomas
Stevens in 1882, the first effort of the motor bicycle does not suffer. Mr.
Stevens required 103 1/2 days to ride from San Francisco to Boston; my journey
was completed in 50 days. While the idea of establishing a record was no part of
my purpose, it is worthy of remark that none of the three powerful automobiles
that have since crossed the continent have come near to equalling my time. With
the experience gained and with a more powerful machine - the one I used was of
but 1¼ horsepower - I feel confident that the journey from ocean to ocean can be
made in 30 days without particularly strenuous effort. With a railway
attachment, such as is in common use by bicyclists in the West, and which would
permit the use of rails across the deserts of Nevada, it will be possible to
more than realize the 30 days' estimate.
While it is true that my forks broke and the motor crank axle also gave way,
these are unusual accidents; nearly all of my other troubles were minor ones,
the belt being a most prolific source. But, as a whole, the motor behaved
splendidly and performed its work well under many trying conditions. Its failure
at Albany was really the only occasion when it gave me serious concern.
Subsequent examination proved that the inlet valve had in some way become jammed
so as to be immovable, at least with the means at my command. Between fear of
breaking something and anxiety to reach New York, I possibly did not take the
chances at making a strenuous repair that under other circumstances I would have
taken. Save the forks, the bicycle also stood up well. The wonder is that it
stood up at all, so terrific and so frequent was the pounding it received in the
many miles of cross-tie travel. The saddle, too, deserves praise. Despite its
many drenchings and mud and the heat of the desert and the banging of the
railroad ties, it did not stretch or sag the fractional part of an inch, and
reached New York in as good condition as when it left San Francisco.
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