Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Orlando's Star Lite Riders - Episode 30



By: David L. Morrill

Updated: September 12, 12014

I've said before, that many of my stories begin with a single photograph. That's the case with this story. I was scrolling through Facebook one morning, and came across a post by Dennis Adams, in an Orlando, Florida look back group. It was a photo of the old Puckett Harley-Davidson dealership on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. The photo showed some kind of awards ceremony. I contacted Dennis to get permission to use the photo in my story on Orlando racer Dexter Campbell.

Not only did Dennis Adams give me permission to use his photo, he also shared the story of his parents, Charlie and Aladra Adams, who were members of the Star Lite Motorcycle Club in the 40s, and 50s. Dennis also arranged for me to contact his father, who along with Jesse O'Brien, provided the details for this story. Without their held, it would have not  been possible.


Aladra Adam's Star Lite Riders Shirt
Charlie and Aladra Adams Collection


The story if the Star Lite Riders Motorcycle Club, begins with groups civilian motorcycle riders formed into Motorcycle Troops in the early 1940s. It was anticipated that if the United States became involved in the second World War, these troops would be an invaluable asset in patrolling Florida's long coastline. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) supported, and encouraged, the formation of the Motorcycle Troops, as a way to bring a positive image of motorcycling.

In Orlando, Florida Sidney Crenshaw formed the Orlando Troop. With the entry of the United States into the World War at the end of 1941, many of the male troop members were drafted into the service. Many used their riding skills as dispatch riders for the various armed services. Some of the female troop members continued the troop activities, until they were drawn into jobs producing war materials, and the civilian motorcycle troops folded.

Sidney Crenshaw - Orlando, Florida
Guy Ann Sheffield Collection


After World War II, Sidney Crenshaw, who was now a member of the Orlando Police Department Motorcycle Unit, was involved in the formation of the Orlando Motorcycle Club, along with Orlando Harley-Davidson dealer Lewis Puckett. The club was run out of Puckett's shop on South Orange Avenue in Orlando. Charlie Adams became one of the original members of the Orlando Motorcycle Club.

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
Charlie Adams began racing in AMA sanctioned flat track, and TT motorcycle races on a Harley-Davidson WR carrying his competition A.M.A. # 211C. The WR was prepared in Lewis Puckett's shop. He competed in races at St Petersburg, Sarasota, Ft Meyers, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and Daytona Beach, Florida. While Charlie did not win any races, he often finished second, or third.

1948 Harley-Davidson WR Flat Track Racer
www.internetauctions.com 

By early 1948, the membership of the Orlando Motorcycle Club had dropped significantly. A new club was formed named the Star Lite Riders, and several of the Orlando Motorcycle Club Members, including Charlie and Aladra Adams joined the new club.

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
The new club received and AMA sanction, and was run out of Lewis Puckett's Harley-Davidson shop, which had moved to 2801 South orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.



Puckett Motors - Orlando, Florida
Eric Smith Collection
The AMA sanctioned these riding clubs, which often adopted club uniforms, which the wore during rides, and club social events. These were not 1% motorcycle gangs, which drew negative publicity to the sport, with their antisocial behavior. They were groups of average riders, often referred to as the 99% of motorcycle enthusiasts , who didn't cause problems. These riding clubs participated in reliability runs, field games, social events, Promoted safe riding, and sponsored A.M.A. competition events.


Star Lite Riders relax after their weekly Reliability Run
Star Light Riders Motorcycle Field Games
Star Lite Riders Field Games
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection
  
The Star Lite Riders sponsored the local flat track and TT motorcycle races. These races where first held at the Casselberry, Florida harness track, and later at Orlando's Ben White Raceway. Charlie Adams competed in,  and often won, these local races.

Charlie Adams shows off a trophy to Aladra Adams and a friend.
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

In the early 50s, Charlie Adams was elected as president of the Star Lite Riders. This was a little unusual, as the club was run out of a Harley-Davidson shop, and Charlie had switched to riding a 1953 Indian, along with a 250cc Zundap he rode in enduro racing. Club members were not required to ride Harley-Davidsons, and Charlie like the new hydraulic forks, and non pogo post seat. This was the final model of the Indian Motorcycle, as they closed the factory doors in 1953.

Charlie, Randy, and Sandra Adams - 1953 Indian Motorcycle
Charlie & Aladra Adams
The July 1955 edition of American Motorcycling Magazine featured an article on 17 year old club member Clyde Denzer.

American Motorcycling Magazine - July 1955
Dave Dobner Collection
In June 1956, the Star Lite Riders were awarded an A.M.A. National Safety Award banner, for the year 1955. The award was presented to club members by Orlando Chief of Police, Vernon Rodgers.

Orlando Sentinel - June 1956
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

And now for the story of the photograph that inspired this story:


Puckett Harley-Davidson Orlando, Florida ca. 1955
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection




This photo shows and awards ceremony at Pickett Harley-Davidson for the Thanksgiving Turkey Run Enduro Race, which was sponsored by the Star Lite Riders.  These cross country races, were meant to test the endurance of man and machine, by riding a difficult closed course laid out through the woods outside Daytona Beach, Florida.

Jesse O'Brien stated he is the person receiving his first place trophy from Lewis Puckett's son Buddy. Lewis Puckett is crouched in the center of the photo, and Charlie, and Aladra Adams are in the back left of the photo.

Unidentified Enduro Rider
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection


But, there's more to this story! It seems the prize for the race was a live turkey,. Jesse received the turkey for his win, and took it to his brother Dick's house for the family Thanksgiving dinner. Dick's wife took the turkey outside to prepare it for cooking. The turkey took one look at the knife, and escaped the scene. The turkey was last seen running down Orange Blossom Trail, and Dick had to drive down to Winn Dixie to get another turkey.

The annual Daytona Beach Motorcycle Races were known as the Handlebar Derby.  The premier event was the 200 mile road race. It was run down a section of Ormond Beach, at low tide, and then back up Highway A1A.

1958 Daytona Motorcycle Race Program Cover
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection








The week long event featured both amateur, and professional Road Racing, Flat Track, Scrambles, Hill Climb, Drag Racing, Time Trials, and Endurance Run competitions. There was also an International Motorcycle Show at the Daytona Beach Armory.

1957 Daytona 200 Motorcycle Race
Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection


By 1958, the Star Lite Riders were sponsoring Formula A motorcycle scrambles races. Dick O'Brien, the shop Racing Manger, had developed hop up parts for the Harley-Davidson 165, which had become popular with lightweight class scrambles racers. Puckett had two riders, Jesse O'Brien, and Dexter Campbell racing the shops 165s, and they dominated races throughout Florida. Tommy Seagraves raced for Puckett in the Heavy Weight Scrambles Class.

Lewis Puckett Motors Hop Up Instructions
www.harleyhummer.com
The October 1958 edition of the A.M.A.s American Motorcyclist Magazine reported a crowd of 3000 watched the August Formula A Scrambles race held in Orlando, by the Star Lite Riders. Dexter Campbell won the Lightweight Class, and Tommy Seagraves, won the Heavy Weight Class.

In November 1958, Charlie Adams competed in the Turkey Run Enduro, finishing second in the Class B Lightweight on his 250cc Zundap.


1958 Turkey Run Enduro Results
Charlie & Aladra Adams
Club members also competed in unsanctioned Outlaw motorcycle races run by Bill France during the Nascar races held on the same Ormond Beach Course used for the motorcycle races. These races were held on the beach side of the course, to entertain the crowd between the Nascar races.

About this time, the Star Lite Riders became involved in another interesting piece of Florida racing history. Puckett Harley-Davidson, and the Star Lite Riders, sponsored motorcycle drag races on an old auxiliary airfield south of Orlando. Lewis Puckett was asked by an up and coming Ocala, Florida auto drag racer Don Garlits.  He was making a name for himself drag racing a modified T Bucket Ford, and asked Lewis Puckett to build a Harley-Davidson to race against his T Bucket Ford.

Don Garlits 1927 Ford T Bucket Racer
Don Garlits Collection

The crew at Puckett's race shop built a 74 ci. twin carburetor Harley-Davidson Panhead, which was named Big Bertha.

Custom Bike & Choppers Magazine - March 1982
The bike was ridden in several match races with Garlits, by Charlie Winslow, and later Dexter Campbell. The Puckett riders, and Garlits, each won several of the match races.

It appears the membership of the Star Lite Riders faded in the early 60s. Many of the members now had families, and careers, which left less time for riding. The final blow, may have come, when Lewis Puckett lost the Harley-Davidson franchise for Orlando, and the Star Lite riders lost their clubhouse.

The A.M.A. sanctioned riding clubs across the country began to suffer the same fate. As these clubs faded into memories, the more notorious motorcycle gangs were left to take their place, casting a negative light on the sport through the 60s and 70s.

Epilogue:

Charlie and Aladra Adams eventually divorced. Charlie Adams later remarried, and left Orlando in 1967. He had a long career in the music business, is retired, and living in Tennessee. Aladra Adams passed away in Orlando in 2011.

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

Dexter Campbell continued his racing career, but was killed in a racing accident at the A.M.A. National Dirt Track Race at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway on May 15, 1966.

#16 Dexter Campbell
Robbie Knight Collection
 
Clyde Denzer was hired by Harley-Davidson Racing Team Manager, Dick O'Brien in 1959. For the next 24 years, Denzer served as the the number two man in the Racing Department . When O'Brien retired, Clyde Denzer took over as the Harley-Davidson Racing Team Manager.

Clyde Denzer (left) and Ralph White - Daytona 1963
www.DadsVintageAds.com 
Dick O'Brien left Puckett Harley-Davidson in 1957 to become the Harley-Davidson Factory Racing Team Manager. Under O'Brien's management, the Harley Racing Team became one of the most successful racing teams in the country, vitally dominating American dirt track racing. He Retired in 1983, and was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of Fame in 2001.

Dick O'Brien
A.M.A. Hall of Fame

Jesse O'Brien  retired from racing in 1957. In the early 80s he returned, and one of the driving forces behind the A.M.A. Battle of the Twins road racing class.

Jesse O'Brien (right)
www.krxlrtt.com
Patrolman Sidney "Big Sid" Crenshaw had a distinguished career with the Orlando Police department Motorcycle Unit. He was struck by a car, and seriously injured, while working a traffic accident on West Colonial Drive in Orlando on July 7, 1965. Patrolman Creshaw died of his injuries on November 22, 1966.

Patrolman Sidney "Big Sid" Crenshaw
Guy Ann Sheffield Collection

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits went on to become a multi time National, and World Championship drag racer. He won a total of 144 National events in his series of "Swamp Rat" Top Fuel racers. He currently operates the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.




"Big Daddy" Don Garlits - Ocala, Florida
www.dragracecentral.com
Tommy Seagraves continued his racing career, but was killed in a racing accident at the A.M.A. National Road Race in Watkin's Glen, New York on August 14, 1960.

Tommy Seagraves - Orlando, Florida
Eddie Boomhower Collection

Sources:

American Motorcyclist Association

Charlie Adams

Charlie & Aladra Adams Collection

Custom Bike & Choppers Magazine - March 1982

Dave Dobner Collection

Dennis Adams

Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing

Eddie Boomhower Collection

Guy Ann Sheffield Collection

Jesse O'Brien


Officer Down Memorial Page - Patrolman Sidney Crenshaw

Robbie Knight Collection

Tampa Bay History 21/01 - Civilians Protecting Civilians - 2007

www.DadsVintageAds.com

www.harleyhummer.com

www.krxlrtt.com

www.wekipedia.com

Friday, August 1, 2014

Indy's First Race - Episode 29

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: August 17, 2014

I've had a fascination with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since my childhood. I remember taking a Sunday family ride in 1964, and listening to descriptions of the horrendous crash in the 500 Mile Race on our car radio. I have never made it to the Speedway in person, but rarely miss the 500 Mile Classic on television. Indy race fans know the Speedway opened in 1909, but few know the first event held there was a motorcycle race. Time to share this little known piece of early motorcycling history.

Indian Motorycle Club France Collection

In early 1909, construction began on a racetrack in Indianapolis, Indiana. The 2 mile oval track was surfaced with gravel and tar.

Chicago, IL. Tribune - January 24, 1909

By mid 1909, arrangements had been completed between the Federation of American Motorcyclists  (F.A.M.), and the management of the newly completed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a National Championship Motorcycle race to be held on August 13 & 14, 1909. Wire service articles about the planned races began to appear in newspapers across the country. The motorcycle races would be followed one week later by Championship Automobile Races at the Speedway. President William Howard Taft was scheduled to  take part in the opening ceremonies for the Speedway's automobile races.

Bakersfield, CA. Californian - August 14, 1909
Harrisburg, PA. Courier - July 25, 1909

Indianapolis, IN. News - July 30, 1909

Indianapolis, IN. News _ August 9, 1909
The races would coincide with the F.A.M.'s annual convention, which was also to held in Indianapolis. An August 10th article in the Indianapolis News, announced that entries for the race were closed, and that "Leading Riders of the World Will Compete." The article also went on to state that "riders had tested the track" and that "records will be smashed."

Indianapolis News - August 10, 1909
On August 11th, an unflattering cartoon, which appeared to mock the races, appeared on the front page of the Indianapolis News.

Indianapolis News - August 11, 1909

That same day, a more positive wire service article about the races appeared in papers across the country. It gave details of the races being run during the two day event, along with information on the convention, and details about the Speedway.

Warren, PA. Times Mirror - August 11, 1909

On the morning of the 13th, rain fell, and the races were postponed to the following day.

Indianapolis News - August 13, 1909
There were already concerns that the rush to complete the track's surface, prior to the scheduled races, had resulted in a racing surface that had not been properly laid. Many of the 32 race competitors entered began to complain the track surface had not been properly rolled for smoothness, was both rough and dangerous for the riders.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway - August 1909
Ramin Faz Collection
The events of the August 14 motorcycle races held at the Speedway are documented in a two page article that appeared in the August 14, 1909 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review. The article appeared under a lengthy headline, that began with:

 "Strike" precedes F.A. M. Race Meet and Program is Cut Short. Motor Speedway Proves Big Disappointment.


The entire text of that article is too lengthy to be presented, but can be read at the link below:

                          Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review August 14, 1909

Controversy started after an amateur rider J. S. Tomey crashed, at the beginning of the 10 Mile Amateur National Championship race. Tomey was not seriously injured, but was forced to drop out the the race.

Things came to a head, when professional rider, Jake DeRosier, crashed heavily. DeRosier's crash, was said to have been caused when the rough track surface ripped his front tire off the rim. DeRosier was traveling at over a mile a minute, and his injuries were appeared very serious. Word spread through the competitors, that DeRosier's injuries might be fatal. This was the final blow, which forced the rider's into action.

Wichita, KS. Daily Eagle August 15, 1909
The riders gathered and began to talk of a strike, to shut down the races. All but two of the thirty riders in the event voted to strike. However, the strike failed to materialize. The F.A.M. Official in charge of the meet stated any rider, who did not compete would be suspended from competition for sixty days.

The threat of suspension, along with word from the Speedway Hospital, that DeRozier's injuries were not serious, put an end to the threatened strike. Many of the top riders entered in the days races, did not appear to have their hearts in the competition. Spectators, and the press,  thought they were just riding around at less than full speed.

The Ten Mile National Amateur Championship Race had been postponed after J.S. Tomey's crash. When the race resumed, without Tomey, Indianapolis rider Erwin Baker took an easy win on his Indian. Baker's win in the 10 Mile national Amateur Championship Race got nationwide coverage, eclipsing the winners of both the professional race, and the other amateur classes.

Indianapolis News - July 13, 1909
The race results went out in a wire service article to newspapers around the country. That night, F.A.M. Officials met, and cancelled the remaining races scheduled for August 15th.

Washington, DC. Post - August 15, 1909


Erwin Baker, became a top competitor in professional motorcycle competitions across the country. In 1914, he set an endurance record crossing the country in eleven days on his Indian Motorcycle. That record earned him a new nickname, and he would be known "Cannonball" Baker for the remainder of his life.

Erwin George "Cannon Ball" Baker - Indianapolis, Indiana
Wikipedia.com
Jake DeRosier recovered from his injuries, and went on to be hired as a factory rider for Indian Motorcycles. In 1911, he set a new World Speed Record at Brooklands in England. He died in 1913, as the result of racing injuries.

Jacob "Jake" DeRosier 1880-1913
Daniel Statnekov Collection

The following weekend, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway held it's first automobile races. The poor track surface is said to have contributed to two fatal crashes during that event.

In 1910, the track was repaved with bricks, giving it a length of 2.5 miles. The first Indianapolis 500 Mile race was held in May 1911. In 1922, one of the entrants in the 500 mile race was one "Cannon Ball" Baker, who finished 11th.

In September 2008, ninety nine years after the 1909 F.A.M. Championship Races, top motorcycle riders from around the world once again gathered at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to compete in the Moto GP World Championship Races.


Sources:

Bakersfield Californian - Bakersfield, CA.

Harrisburg Courier - Harrisburg, PA.

Indian Motocycle Club France Collection - Indian Motocycles Club of France on Facebook

Indianapolis News - Indianapolis, IN.

Newspapers.com

Smithsonian Library - Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - August 14, 1909

Daniel Statnekov - Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing

Warren Times Mirror - Warren, PA.

Washington Post - Washington, DC.

Wikipedia.com

Wichita Daily Eagle - Wichita, KS.




Sunday, July 6, 2014

O.V. Hunt - Birmingham's Photographer - Episode 28

By: David L. Morrill

Updated - July 25, 2014

If you've ever picked up a book on the history of Birmingham Alabama, you have very likely seen an O.V. Hunt. photograph. Beginning in the early teens, Mr. Hunt photographed Birmingham's rapidly rising skyline, and recorded the events of daily life in the Magic City. Mr. Hunt was also a motorcycle enthusiast and recorded many significant motorcycle events held in Birmingham in the teens and twenties.

My own involvement with Mr. Hunt's photographs began, when Johnny Whitsett sent me a DVD containing scans of several of Hunt's Birmingham motorcycle event photographs he received from one of Mr. Hunt's relatives. Over the next several years, I attempted to identify, both the events depicted, and the subjects in those photographs.

                                                                                                                                                       
O. V. Hunt (rear) and Robert Stubbs (front) - Birmingham, AL. ca. 1913
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection




Oscar Virgil Hunt was born in Bowden, Georgia in 1881. By 1900, Hunt's family had relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, and the eighteen year old Hunt was working as a day laborer. In the next few years, his passion for photography, developed into a career, and he opened a photography studio on 4th Avenue North in Birmingham.  He also worked as a photographer for the Birmingham Ledger Newspaper.



O.V. Hunt Photographic Studio - Birmingham, AL.
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Mr. Hunt developed a reputation of taking great risks to get his photographs. In 1912, climbed on to an early Biplane in the infield of the Alabama State Fairgrounds racetrack, and he took to the air above Birmingham to take aerial photos of the city. Mr. Hunt, who had mastered self promotion, often appears in photographs taken by his firm.

Edmond Heth (left) O.V. Hunt (right) - Alabama State Fairgrounds ca. 1912
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

In July 1913, Hunt, and his camera, were suspended from a steel beam suspended from the top of the Tutwiler Hotel, which was under construction in downtown Birmingham.

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives
O.V. Hunt Collection - 1913
The Alabama State Fairgrounds in Birmingham had a one mile dirt oval racetrack, which held it's first motorcycle race in 1906. Mr. Hunt was a friend of Robert Stubbs, the Birmingham dealer for the Hendee Manufacturing Company, which produced Indian Motorcycles. Stubbs, was a motorcycle racing enthusiast, having been a member of the Indian Factory racing Team.

Amateur Motorcycle Race Alabama State Fairgrounds - ca. 1912
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Stubbs had retired from track racing, but sponsored local riders Gail Joyce, Richard Gayle, and Eugene Walker. Joyce and Gayle were experienced riders having competed in races around the state for several years. Gene Walker worked for the Post Office delivering mail on his motorcycle,  and was making a name for himself competing in races at the Fairgrounds racetrack. Stubbs riders were photographed by Mr. Hunt in front Stubbs Dealership in 1913.

Richard Gayle (left), Gail Joyce (center), Gene Walker (right)
Furman Family Collection - O.V. Hunt ca. 1913

In early 1914, Hunt was hired by the new Birmingham Harley-Davidson Motorcycle dealer, William F. Specht Jr. to record the opening of his dealership at 1714 3rd Avenue North. Mr. Hunt captured the first load of ten Harley-Davidson motorcycles arriving by horse drawn wagon at Specht's dealership.

William F. Specht Jr. (far right) Specht Harley-Davidson - Birmingham, AL.
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt - 1914



Hunt took a photograph of Harley-Davidson Racing Team members Johnny Aiken (Atlanta), Bill Specht Jr. (Birmingham), and Gray Sloop (Mooresville, NC.) in front of Specht's dealership. Sadly, Gray Sloop was killed, along with Savannah, GA. rider Zeddie Kelly, while competing in the 1914 Savannah 300 Mile Road Race.
Johnny Aikens (right), Bill Specht Jr. (center), Gray Sloop (right)
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt - 1914




Interior of Specht Harley-Davidson Birmingham, AL.
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection 1914

Mr. Hunt was the official photographer for the July 14, 1914 Birmingham Ledger Motorcycle Endurance Run. This grueling event took place over several days on the public roads between Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia.  This a pre-race photograph of some of the thirty one of race competitors in from of the Birmingham Ledger Offices in downtown Birmingham.

1914 Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run Competitors
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt - 1914
The race, which was run over the next two days on the public roadways between Birmingham, and Atlanta, Georgia began at 3:00 am on the morning of July 4th. The start/finish line was in front of the Birmingham Ledger office at 1st Avenue North and 21st Street.

Start/Finish Line - Birmingham, AL. - July 1914
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

There was great controversy with the results of the1914 race, and a protest was filed by the Harley-Davidson Team. When the referee ruled against them, the Harley-Davidson team withdrew from the race leading to an Indian sweep for Robert Stubbs' Birmingham Indian race team. Team rider Gail Joyce was declared the winner.

Gail Joyce - Birmingham, AL.  - July 1914
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt

1914 Indian Motorcycle Promotional Poster
Scott Bashaw Collection

In October 1914, a race took place at the Alabama State Fairgrounds track that became an important part of Harley-Davidson's early racing history, and O.V. Hunt was there. Two of the photographs Hunt took that day have survived, and they are the only photographs of the event known to exist. The one hour Federation of American Motorcyclists race became the Harley- Davidson Racing Teams first National Championship race win. It also launched the professional racing career of a young man from Birmingham, who became one of the greats of early American motorcycle racing.

Alabama State Fairgrounds F.A.M. One Hour Championship Race
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt 1914
This starting line photograph of the Alabama State Fairgrounds race track shows the riders preparing to take to the track. The young man with the focused look seated on his Indian racer on the right of the photo is John Eugene Walker. This was the Birmingham natives first professional motorcycle race.

As a side not, you can see this photograph also captures the iconic Vulcan statue, buy Giuseppe Moretti, to the right of the grandstand. The Vulcan statute remained at the Fairgrounds until the 1930's, when it was moved to it's current location on the top of Red Mountain, and became the symbol for the City of Birmingham.


Alabama State Fairgrounds F.A.M. One Hour Championship Race
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt 1914
 
At the end of the one hour race, Harley-Davidson's Red Parkhurst was declared the winner, with Joe Wolters finishing second, and Gene Walker third.  Two protests were filed, but the race results were upheld. The race went down as the newly formed Harley-Davidson Racing Team's first Championship Race win, and became a key part of their advertising campaign for their 1915 model.


1915 Harley-Davidson Ad

It was also a big day for Gene Walker.  Walker briefly lead the race, and set a new track lap record. This attracted the attention of the Indian Racing Team, and Walker joined their team for the 1915 racing season. Walker went on to become one of the great riders of the late teens, and early twenties.

In early 1915, Mr. Hunt's firm took a publicity photo for Robert Stubbs' Indian dealership. The photograph touted the release of the 1915 Indian motorcycle, and appears to have been staged as a satire of Specht's Harley-Davidson 1914 horse drawn wagon photo.

Robert Stubbs Indian Publicity Photo - Birmingham, AL.
Johnny Whitsett Collection - O.V. Hunt 1915
In this photo, Stubbs pulls a wagon full of dapper young men on a new 1915 Indian motorcycle. The message is clearly, that while Harley-Davidsons arrive in a horse drawn wagon, the new Indian can pull the wagon. O.V Hunt stands behind Robert Stubbs, who is seated on the motorcycle.

In April 1915, the second annual Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run was staged, and once again the Mr. Hunt photographed the contestants for the the Birmingham Ledger.

Birmingham Ledger - April 3, 1915
O.V.  Hunt
The 1915 event, also had it's share of controversy. At the end of the second days run from Atlanta to Birmingham, Harley-Davidson rider Willard DeGroat, and Indian rider Robert Horton were tied for the top horns. A third days run was scheduled as a tie breaker, but was rained out. Horton failed to show for the agreed on tie breaker, and DeGroat was award the over all win.

Willard DeGroat - Birmingham, AL.
Jessica DeGroat Hayes Collection - O.V. Hunt 1915
During this period, Mr. Hunt also took several photographs of sidecar equipped motorcycles. These bikes were used by local businesses to deliver goods, and provide roadside assistance to stranded motorists. The riders of the bikes, were often African American.

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection ca. 1916

With the approach of America's involvement in World War 1, motorcycle shops across the country faced hard times. The Military purchased most of the production of new motorcycles, spare parts, and tires. These were going overseas, and motorcycle dealers across the country really felt the pinch. Many dealers found it difficult to keep their doors open. In 1917, many of the young men, who had been customers of the shops were drafted.  This was the final blow, and countless shops closed their doors.

While the Birmingham Harley-Davidson and Indian dealers remained in business through the war, big changes to the motorcycle business in Birmingham came in 1919. Robert Stubbs closed his Indian dealership, and took a job managing a motorcycle shop in Montgomery, Alabama. William F. Specht Jr. returned to Atlantic City.

Gail Joyce opened the Gail Joyce Motor Company at 1709 3rd Avenue North. Although the records are sketchy, the Joyce Motor Company appears to have handled both Indian, and or Harley-Davidson sales in Birmingham during this period. Mr. Hunt continued photographing Joyce's dealership, and several motorcycle events for Joyce. After the war, motorcycles began the shift from basic transportation, to recreational use. The novelty of motorcycle events faded in Birmingham.


Gail Joyce Motor Company (center) - Birmingham, AL. ca. 1931
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection
On June 24, 1924, the Birmingham News reported the death of Gene Walker form injuries received while practicing for a race in East Stroudsburg, PA. During his career, Walker won 19 Championship motorcycle races, and set track records across the country. During the winters, he returned to Birmingham, where he worked as a Motorcycle Police Officer for the city. 1920, Walker set the first official motorcycle land speed record at Ormond Beach Florida.

Under the headline "Motorcycle Riding Has Lost It's Greatest Star in Death of Walker" Birmingham News sports reporter Zipp Newman detailed Walker's career, and the circumstances of his death. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Walker taken by O.V. Hunt in 1913.

Birmingham News - June 24, 1924
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt ca. 1913 
The Birmingham Police Department Motorcycle Unit, and a large contingency of local motorcyclists, escorted Walker's funeral procession to Birmingham's Elmwood Cemetery. It was a fitting remembrance of the young man, who put Birmingham, Alabama on the map for sports fans across the country.



Indian Motorcycle Company's Memorial Ad - 1924

In 1934, Gail Joyce died in Birmingham. His family continued to operate the Gail Joyce Motor Company and were still the Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer in the 1950s.

Oscar V. Hunt continued to photograph Birmingham's event's big, and small, for several more decades, retiring in 1953.  He passed away at age eighty one  in Birmingham, Alabama in 1962. His legacy to the Magic City are his photographs.

Birmingham The Magic City Sign - Birmingham, Al.
Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection ca. 1926
Through the time machine of his lens, O.V. Hunt instantly transports us back to the streets of Birmingham one hundred years ago, and we view can the early days of Birmingham motorcycle sport. What better legacy, could he have left us?

Sources:

Birmingham Ledger

Birmingham News

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives - O.V. Hunt Collection

Clay Nordan - A Minor Mystery Solved

Chris Price - www.Georgia Motorcycle History.com

Hunt Family Collection

Jessica DeGroat Hayes Collection

Johnny Whitsett Collection

Kelly Stewart - Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Scott Bashaw Collection