Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Herbert McBride, Birmingham's Amateur Champion - Episode #31

By: David L. Morrill

Updated - February 20, 2015.

This early 1920s photo of a man at the beach on an Indian Motocycle keeps showing up on social media, but few people know the story behind it. It is the story of three men from Birmingham, Alabama, each of whom played a part in early motorcycle racing history. Time to tell their story.

Herbert McBride - Ormond Beach, FL. - April 1920
Bettman Image Collection
Herbert Foster McBride Sr., also known as Percy, was born in Jefferson County, Alabama in 1901. Like many young men of this time, he was drawn to the freedom, and excitement of early motorcycles. How Herbert McBride was introduced to motorcycles has been lost to time, but eventually the sixteen year old McBride, landed a job working in the machine shop of William F. Specht Jr's Harley-Davidson Motorcycles machine shop in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

Also working in the machine shop at the time, was an up and coming local racer named Gene Walker. With the help of the Birmingham Indian Motocycles dealer, Robert Stubbs, Walker built a winning reputation, in the races on the one mile dirt oval at the Alabama State Fairgrounds in Birmingham. In 1915, Walker was hired as a member of the Indian Motocycles Factory Racing Team, and relocated to their headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Gene Walker - Birmingham, AL.
O. V. Hunt - 1914 (cropped)

With the approach of America's involvement in World War 1 in 1917, professional motorcycle racing shut down, and Walker returned to Birmingham. Both Walker, and McBride were exempt from the 1917  military draft. Walker was the sole support for his widowed mother, and McBride was too young.  Walker, and McBride, worked together at Specht's machine shop for the next year or so. With then end of the war in 1918, Walker returned to the professional racing, while McBride remained working as a machinist in Birmingham, but switched to working for Bob Stubbs at the Birmingham Indian dealership.

At the end of a successful 1919 racing season, the Indian Motocycles Factory Racing Team, decided they would go after the existing motorcycle speed records at Ormond Beach, Florida in April 1920. Beginning in 1909, racers used the sands of Ormond Beach, Florida for motorcycle speed records. The course was laid out along the beach, at low tide. Gene Walker's former boss at the Birmingham Indian dealer, Robert Stubbs, was a member of the Indian Motocycles Factory Racing Team in the 1909 Ormond Beach event.

Robert Stubbs - Ormond Beach, FL. - March 1909
Chris Price @ Georgia Motorcycle History
Stubbs still had considerable influence with the Indian factory, and Gene Walker was chosen to go after the existing professional class speed records in 1920.

Gene Walker  Ormond Beach, FL. - April 1920
Don Emde Collection
For this attempt, Indian built racing bikes with four different engines. They were the eight valve V twin, the Power Plus side valve racing V twin racing, a stock 61ci Production side valve V twin, and a four valve racing single. A decision was made to go after both the National records measured in miles,  and the International records measured in kilometers in both the amateur, and professional classes.

1920 Indian Eight Valve Racer
R. I. Jones Collection
The decision to also go after the amateur records, opened a slot on the team for another team rider, who was not a professional racer. Gene Walker, recommended his friend from Birmingham, Herbert McBride, to be his amateur teammate. This was a great opportunity for McBride, who would ride some of the best racing bikes in the country, under the supervision of one of the countries' most successful professional racers. It did not take long for McBride to accept Walker's invitation.

Between April 12, and April 15, Walker, and McBride set twenty four new National, and International motorcycle speed records. Walker was credited with the first official F. I.  M. World Motorcycle Speed Record of 104.12 mph. on a stock 61ci side valve Indian Scout.  Walker also set a new National Motorcycle Speed Record of 115.79 mph. on an eight valve racer.  Walker's faith in his amateur teammate was well placed, as McBride's new amateur record speeds were higher than the previous professional class records. The new records received coverage in newspapers across the country.

Oregon Daily Journal - May 9, 1920

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - April 1920





The Washington Times (Washington, DC.) - May 8, 1920

The new records were touted in Indian Motorcycles advertising, and were covered in the May 1920 edition of Indian's newsletter, known as Wigwam News. As a result of the new records set by Walker, and McBride, the Indian Power Plus production bikes, would come to be known as "Daytonas".

Indian Motorcycle Ad - May 1920
Wigwam News - May 1920
Furman Family Collection
May 1920 Wigwam News
Carol Watson Collection
With the records set, and the hoopla over, Hebert McBride returned to his job a a machinist at the Indian dealership. In October of 1921, "Percy" McBride was mentioned as an entry for a contestant in a 500 mile motorcycle endurance race through Georgia, and Alabama.


Atlanta Constitution - October 16, 1921.


In November 1921, Herbert McBride married Amy Bell George, and retired from motorcycle competitions. McBride took a job as a Plymouth/DeSoto automobile salesman for Street Motors in Birmingham. They had a son, Herbert Foster McBride Jr.

With his retirement from motorcycling,  McBride could look back with pride to those four days in April 1920, when he set twelve new speed records, and was the Fastest Amateur Motorcyclist in the World. Not a small achievement for a young man from Birmingham.

Epilogue:

Three years after the Ormond Beach Record runs, Gene Walker died of injuries from a practice crash in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He was returned to Birmingham, and buried at historic Elmwood Cemetery.

Birmingham News - June 24, 1924
For more information on Gene Walker's career, please check out Episode #2 - Gene Walker Birmingham's Lost Racing Champion at:



Robert Stubbs died of cancer in 1922, and was buried at Eastlake Cemetery in Birmingham.

For more information on Robert Stubbs' career, please check out Episode # 6 Bob Stubbs Birmingham's First racing Champion at:


Herbert Foster McBride Sr. died in Birmingham, Alabama in 1946.  He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery, not far from his friend, and racing mentor Gene Walker.

Elmwood Cemetery Section #23
Birmingham, Alabama


Sources:

Ancestry.com

Atlanta Constitution

Bettman Image Collection

Birmingham News

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives

Carol Watson Collection

Chris Price @ Georgia Motorcycle History

Don Emde Collection

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated

Newspapers.com

R. I. Jones Collection

The Washington Times

Wigwam News

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jan/Fed 2015 Edition of The Antique Motorcycle - Press Release #5

Thank you, Joe "SloJo" Gardella, and the folks at the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, for a mention of Deadly Dave's Blog, in Joe's article on his Barber Vintage Festival Century Race win in the Jan/Feb edition of The Antique Motorcycle. 


If you are a fan of old motorcycles, and are not a member of the AMCA, please consider joining:




For more information please check out History Repeats Itself In Birmingham - Episode #28



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Harley-Davidson 11K Stripped Stock, Birth of a Racer - Episode #30

Updated: January 16, 2015

By: David L. Morrill

The story of Harley-Davidson's entry in racing in 1914, is one of the great success stories of early American Motorcycle Racing. Harley-Davidson was late in entering Championship Racing. They faced stiff competition from Indian, Excelsior, and others, who all had long histories of competition at the championship level. Harley's weapon of choice, would come to be known as the 11K Stripped Stock Racer. Although it started out as little more than a production bike stripped for racing, with hard work, and perseverance, it evolved into a race winner in less than a year.

1914 Harley-Davidson 11K Stripped Stock Racer

The story of Harley-Davidson's first true racer goes back to 1910. In their 1910 Model 6 production line they listed the Model 6E. It was described as a "Factory Stock Racer, 30ci F head single." There is little other information and no available photographs of this on this early production racer.


While Harley-Davidson steadfastly avoided entering the deadly serious business of early board, and dirt track, Championship racing, they did compete in endurance run events. Around this time, road race events became popular. These events were generally run over courses made up of public road ways, and therefore did not require the specialized racing machines used in track racing.

This form of racing appealed to the Harley-Davidson management, as it highlighted both the speed, and reliability of their production motorcycles. When their customers' had success, it found it's way into their Harley-Davidson's advertising.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 1912

Harley-Davidson Ad
The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana) 

October 2, 1912
William "Bill" Ottaway
Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
The first serious step towards developing a true racer came in 1913, when William Harley hired engineer William "Bill" Ottaway away from rival Thor Motorcycles, and had developed their highly successful  Factory racers. Ottaway became  Harley's assistant in the newly formed Harley-Davidson Racing Department, and was given the monumental task of developing a competitive racer from the 1914 Model 10 production bike. Through 1913, Ottaway slowly adapted the 61ci Pocket Valve IOE (intake over exhaust) production V twin engine for racing.

Daniel Statnekov, author of Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing, believes that the basis for the race engine was a production motor built with looser tolerances for use by police departments. This motor came to be referred to as an "A" motor. That certainly makes sense, as these early engines had cast iron top ends, and total loss oiling systems. Racing drastically increased the heat, and stress engines components were subjected to.

By July of 1914, the new racers were ready for their first test in a major race. The new racers were shipped off to Dodge City, Kansas for the biggest race of the year, the 300 Mile Coyote Classic held on July 4th.

Harley Davidson Racing Team - 1914 Dodge City 300
The bikes in the Team photo above, show the production roots of the Harley-Davidson Team's new racers. They feature frames, that are similar to the 1914 Harley production V Twin frame, and spring front fork. They retain the floor boards of the production bikes. The engines appear to have new gear case covers, with oil pumps cast into them.

The blistering July heat in Dodge City, was a test of both man, and machine. The new racers showed competitive speed, but lacked the reliability for such a long event. Only two of the six teams bikes, where running at the end of the race.

Despite the set back at Dodge City, continued develop the racing engines. By the end of the initial development, the race motors would feature larger intake ports, manifold, carburetor, along with stiffer valve springs, a special cam shaft, and steel flywheels, and the oil pump, which was cast into the gear case cover mentioned earlier. These motor would come to be referred to as "Fast" motors.

Track testing continued, and in September, a two page ad touting the 11K's recent race track victories appeared in the September 22, 1914 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.



A few days later, Leslie "Red" Parkhurst won the 10 Mile Stripped Stock race at Wisconsin, and his team mate Roy Artley finished second.


While the Wisconsin race was a only regional race, Parkhurst, and Artley, did beat Excelsior team rider Joe Wolters.  Parkhurst and Stratton had the similar results at Brainerd, Michigan State Fair's 3 Mile, and 10 Mile Stripped Stock Races.

The Brainerd Daily Dispatch (Brainerd, Michigan) - September 14, 1914

Atlanta Constitution - November 15, 1914
In the October 6, 1914 edition of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review, the first ad appears mentioning a 1915 Close Coupled Stripped Stock Model 11K for sale for $250.00. The ad claims the bike has 11 horsepower, the same as the 1915  V twin Production bikes. There is little doubt at this stage in development, Bill Ottaway was getting much more horse power, from his 11K racing engines.


The 11K racers were ready for another track test in Championship event by early October. "Red" Parkhurst traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for the One Hour FAM Championship Race. He was joined in Birmingham by Atlanta racer Johnny Aiken, and New Orleans racer Arthur Mitchell, who were provided racers through the new Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer William F. Specht Jr.

The bikes run on the one mile dirt oval in Birmingham were track bikes, featuring a short coupled racing frame, and the new girder style rigid front fork pictured below.

Arthur Mitchell at Specht's Harley-Davidson Birmingham, Alabama
O.V. Hunt - 1914
Despite stiff competition from Indian riders Gene Walker and Gail Joyce, along with Excelsior rider Joe Wolters, Parkhurst won the One Hour FAM Championship Race, along with several preliminary non championship races held at Birmingham. Parkhurst win in the Championship Race survived two post race protests, and Harley wasted little time in touting their first "Championship" win. Parkhurst's win showed the 11K racer could compete on equal footing with serious competition. This was a big step forward for the Harley-Davidson racing program.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - October 1914
In early November, Parkhurst won the 5 , 10, and 25 Mile Races at the San Angelo Track in Phoenix, Arizona. Team mate Roy Artley, finished second in the 10, and 25 Mile races. As a result of the positive press Harley-Davidson got from their wins in both Birmingham, and Phoenix, Harley-Davidson decided to send a full team of riders to the Savannah 300 Mile Road Race on November 25, 1914.


1914 Savannah 300 Harley-Davidson Team Riders 
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1914
At the end of the grueling event run over 11 miles of public roads, Harley-Davidson rider Irving Janke finished third. The bikes used by the team riders appear to be the same style production framed racers used in the earlier Dodge City 300. Sadly, Harley-Davidson rider Gray Sloop of Mooresville, NC., and Zeddie Kelly of Savannah, were killed in separates accidents during the event. Sloop and Kelly are in this team photo above.

Harley-Davidson made a major change to the 1915 production V twin engine, casting a new wider crankcase, with webbed reinforcement,  a wider/heavier crankshaft. Several race motors based on the new 1915 motors were built, but testing proved them to be slower, than the narrow case race motors. The narrow 1914 style case continued be used throughout the life of the pocket valve race motors. It was updated several times, with new castings to adapt to changes in cylinders, etc.

Having proved the 11K racer could be competitive, in the countries most demanding races, the bike was put into production for 1915. The new racers were provided to both factory riders, and through their dealer network to select racers. There were some eight versions of the new racer listed as "Specialty Models"for sale in 1915.

1915 Harley-Davidson 11KT

These two photos, show the two major versions of the new 11K racer. Factory rider "Red" Parkhurst is pictured with the 11TK Track Racer, and Joe Wolters with the 11KR Roadster Racer model.

Red Parkhurst - 11KT (left) Joe Wolters - 11KR (right)
Harley-Davidson Archives
Joe Wolters, who had provided stiff competition to Parkhurst at Birmingham, and denied a win in the Savannah 300, due to a last lap blown tire, had switched  from Excelsior, to the Harley-Davidson Team for the1915 racing season.

Joe Wolters - 11KR (left)  Joe Wolters - 11KT (right)
Harley-Davidson Archives

According to Tech's Harley-Davidson VIV Information Guide 1910-1920 the eight variants of the 11K Racer were:

Specialty Models

Model 11K4 - Track Racer, F head single with magneto
Model 11K5 - Roadster Racer, F head single with magneto
Model 11K12 - "Fast Motor", F head V twin with magneto
Model 11K12H - "Fast Motor", F head V twin with electrical system
Model 11KT - Track Racer, F head V twin with magneto
Model 11KR - Roadster Racer, F head V twin with magneto
Model 11KRH - Roadster Racer, F head V twin with electrical system
Model 11KTH - Track Racer, F head V twin with electric

The new racer quickly proved to be a winner, in the hands of team rider Otto Walker. In April, Walker won  the Venice, California 300 Mile Road Race. He followed that up in July, with a win at the Dodge City 300. These were two of the biggest races in the country, and Otto Walker and the new racer became a force to reckon with. The new racers had proven they could win major Championship races against the best riders in the country.

Daniel Statnekov@Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing
After the 1915 season, Harley Davidson made two major changes to their new racer. The first was a new Keystone frame, which removed the frame loop under the engine, and sandwiched the engine between two mounting plates on the sides of the engine. The second was the introduction of a new overhead valve cylinder, with four valves per cylinder.

Bill Ottaway, took a "Fast" Motor" bottom end, removed the front cylinder, piston, and rod. With a rebalanced crankshaft, he created a "blanked off" four valve 30.5ci. single. Maldwyn Jones, who had recently come to Harley-Davidson from Merkle, won several races using the new engine.  Eight valve racing V twin racing engines were also built, which used the "Fast" motor single cam bottom end. The "Fast" motor bottom end was eventually replaced by a special two cam racing bottom end.


Maldwyn Jones  Harley-Davidson Blanked Off
Single Cylinder 2 Cam 4 Valve Racer
While development continued on the pocket valve engines, they were usually relegated to backup status to the eight valve racers. In the longer races, the eight valve racer, were used as rabbits, to make the competition run harder to keep up. The eight valve engines, were faster than the pocket valve motors, but did not always have the reliability to finish long races. Several of the tried and true pocket valve racers, were often entered as insure a win.

Harley-Davidson Single cam 8 Valve racing Engine
http://www.antiquemotorcycle.org


In 1921, the factory built several " blanked off" racing engines, using the latest pocket valve cylinders. These single cylinder racers were known as SCAs (single cylinder alcohol), as they they ran on alcohol. 

Harley-Davidson Keystone Frame SCA Racer
Wheels Through Time Museum Collection

Harley-Davidson SCA "Blanked Off" Pocket Valve Racing Engine
The pocket valve racing engine, which debuted with the 11K racer, stayed in production through the 1920s, with various updates of the engine cases, cylinders, etc. While it would come to be overshadowed by the eight valve racing engine, it was Harley-Davidson's first Nationally competitive racing engine, and was directly tied to the development of it's eight valve replacement.


Sources:

antiquemotorcycle.org

Atlanta Constitution

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1914

Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives

Brian Slark & Kelly Stewart@Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

Daniel Statnekov@Pioneers of American Motorcycle Racing

Harley-Davidson Archives

Matt Walksler@Wheels Through Time Museum

Tech's Harley-Davidson VIN Information 1910-1920

The Call Leader - Elwood, Indiana - 1912




Friday, December 19, 2014

Let It Ride, Adding a Clutch to a 1921 Harley Racer - Episode #29

By: David L. Morrill

There's an old gambling expression that goes "Let it ride." This denotes letting all your winnings ride on the next bet. That expression pretty much sums up the theme for this episode.

It's been a while since I wrote Episodes #8, and #13, on building my 1921 Harley-Davidson replica racer. These two technical episodes get more page views than any of my history episodes.
While I have done a couple of updates on these earlier episodes, I've decided start a new continuing episode on upgrading my racer.

My 1921 Harley-Davidson Model J Replica Racer
Like most of my projects, this one begins with the delivery of a box. One day my wife told me I had a large box from Europe sitting in the garage. I'd been waiting for it for a couple months, and was excited to see if it would work. Once I got the box down to my shop, and unwrapped, my earlier suspicions about the amount of work this conversion would take where confirmed.

The Mystery Box
For the most part, early Harley-Davidson racers, came without clutches, transmissions, or functioning brakes. That makes them nearly impossible to ride, except on the racetrack. I decided to Convert my racer so it can be ridden at antique motorcycle events, which will require a working clutch, and brake.

In 1912, Harley-Davidson introduced a single speed clutch built into the rear wheel hub. Known as a "Free Wheel Clutch", it allowed riders the ability to have the engine running, while the bike was stationary. This clutch setup was also an option for the factory produced racers.

1912 Harley-Davidson Free-wheel Control Ad

Replica Freewheel Clutch
When I compared the clutch setup I received, to the space between my frames rear axle plates, I realized it would not even close to fitting my frame. I had been assured it would bolt on, but there was no way if would fit, as it was too wide. Fitting it to my frame would require removing the right side drum brake, and re-machining the rear hub width to narrow it. Guess I should have listened to that little voice, told me not to go down this path.

I checked the function of the clutch assembly, and it worked fine. Several folks familiar with the overseas supplier, had warned me it would be a waste of time, to try and return it for a refund. That meant that I would have to do whatever was necessary to get this clutch to work on my frame.

My weapon of choice in taking on this task, was my leather belt drive vintage South Bend metal lathe.  I think my wife's grandfather bought this lathe for the family lumber mill sometime in the thirties or forties. A few years ago, I became the care taker of this family mechanical heirloom.

My Belt Drive South Bend Metal Lathe

I've never claimed to be a trained machinist, so this project really tested my machining skills. Most of what I learned about operating a metal lathe, came from watching my grandfather, who was a master metal worker all his life.  After countless hours of measuring, and lathe work, I was able to fit it in the space available, and the clutch worked properly.

Clutch fit to my Keystone Frame

When my machine work was complete, and the clutch was fitted, it was apparent that the center line of the new rear hub, would not line up with the frames center line. This was caused by the worm gear clutch activator on the left side of the hub. The width of this mechanism, could only be narrowed slightly, and still function. I would not be able to determine just how much the rear wheel was of center until the rear wheel had a rim laced to it, and tire mounted.

Lacing and truing spoked wheels is an acquired skill best left to professionals. I usually use Buchanan Spoke & Rim to build my spoked wheels. They did the original wheels on my racer, but that was not really an option in this case. I have only laced, and trued, a couple of wheels in my time, but that was many years ago. My first mistake, was not photographing my original rear wheel before disassembling it for the spokes & rim.  I laced, and re-laced, the rear wheel countless times, before I finally got it right. Pretty much, what I remembered of lacing the first spoked wheel 43 years ago!

Finished Rear Wheel Ready for Truing
The next step is truing the rim. This two step process, and starts with horizontal truing, which allows the wheel to run true side to side.

Horizontal Wheel Truing

Once the wheel runs true horizontally, it's time to concentrate on vertical truing, which allows the wheel to run true, with no up and down hop.

Vertical Wheel Truing
After a couple of hours, everything was running true. Now comes another fun part. Mounting a modern tire to a 1.85" rim, without pinching the tube, is a real art. After about an hour of flying tire irons, and a more than few choice words, the rear tire was mounted, and held air.

Completed Freewheel Clutch Rear Wheel
With the rear wheel setup completed, my next task was to fabricate a clutch lever to activate the rear wheel clutch. I had previously ordered the rod that connects the clutch lever to the clutch, but the casting that mounts the clutch lever to the frame's seat support tube, is no longer available. After some trial, and error, I came up with a mount for the lever.

Clutch Lever in the Drive Position
Pushing the lever forward engages the clutch, and drives the rear wheel. Pulling the lever back disengages the clutch, allowing the rear sprocket to spin on the rear hub, with out driving the rear wheel. A quadrant gate on the lever mount, controls the available lever travel, and a spring loaded tensioner holds the lever in place at either the drive, or non drive setting. This video, shows the rear wheel clutch function with the engine running:


Live Engine Clutch Test Video

Now that all the fabrication was dome, and the rear wheel was mounted to the frame, it was time to determine how much the rear wheel was off from the frame's center line. This was done by checking the front and rear wheel alignment using a 6' long piece of angle iron as a straight edge.

Rear Wheel Alignment Check
The final verdict is the rear wheel is off center to the right around 3/8 of an inch. Really not as bad, as I first thought.

Front Wheel Shows a 3/8" Rear Wheel Misalignment to the Right

 Fixing the front and rear wheel misalignment will require modifying the frame's rear axle mounts. The next step is to install a functioning brake, so I can take a test ride, and see what effect it has on the bike's handling at speed. That should be interesting!

So, what lessons did I learn from this experience? 

First,  this is by far, the most expensive motorcycle project, that I've ever built. Adding the clutch contributed significantly to the total cost and time involved in this project. I was also warned by people in the know, that the clutch supplier had problems, and that using his clutch would involve a lot of work. That was true, and knowing what I know now, I would probably not do it again. I've said before, that building replicas of these old racers is not a job for amateur builders. This episode confirmed that. But in the long run, it will all be forgotten with the first blast down the road, and that's really what it's all about!

That's all for now, but please check back for future updates to this episode.