Friday, July 10, 2015

100 Years Ago Today - Episode # 35

By: David L. Morrill

July 10, 2015

Updated: August 6, 2015

100 Years ago today, a young Birmingham, Alabama motorcycle mail clerk, took his first step towards becoming one of the most accomplished professional motorcycle racers of his time.

Gene Walker at Bob Stubbs Indian Dealership in Birmingham, AL. ca. 1913
Furman Family Collection



On July 10, 1915, Gene Walker won the Five Mile National Championship Race at Saratoga, New York. This was Walker's first season as a member of the Indian Motocycle's Factory Racing Team.


Motorcycle Illustrated - July 15, 1915

Pittsburgh, PA. Daily Post - July 11, 1915
During his ten year racing career, Walker won 19 National Championships, numerous non championship races, and set track records at racetracks across the country.

Atlanta Constitution - September 1919

In April 1920, he set the first officially recognized motorcycle land speed record for Indian at Ormond Beach, Florida.

Indian Motocycles Wigwam News - May 1920


Indian Motocycle Ad - 1920
Walker died of injuries sustained in a practice crash in June 1924 at the age of thirty.

Birmingham, AL. News - June 1924
Indian Motocycle Memorial Ad - June 1924

Gene Walker was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association's Hall of fame in 1998.


To read more about Gene Walker's career please check out Gene Walker, Birmingham's Lost racing Champion - Episode #2 @



Sources:

Atlanta, GA. Constitution

Birmingham, AL. News

Furman Family Collection

Gene Walker, Birmingham's Lost Racing Champion - Episode 2

Hendee Manufacturing Company - Indian Motocycles

Indian Motocycle Wigwam News

Motorcycle illustrated

Pittsburgh, PA. Daily Post

Friday, July 3, 2015

Beware of Shipping Greyhound Package Express - Press Release # 7

July 3, 2015

It's a sad commentary on the state of American business these days, that some companies will hire anyone who walks through the door. Companies like Greyhound Bus Lines spend millions of dollars in advertising to attract new customers, only to have a few dishonest employees steal from them. By their lack of action to ferret out the bad apples, the thieves actions, become the companies' image.

Over two months ago, Dewey Rice, of Early Harley LLC. completed a special Harley-Davidson frame for me, and shipped it to me via Greyhound Bus Lines Package Express. The frame was apparently stolen by a Greyhound employee, who failed to enter the shipment in their online package tracking system. After complaining to the Greyhound Package Express Cooperate Office in Dallas, TX. I provided photos of both the package, and the company generated shipping label, to no avail.

The frame may show up for sale, either online, or in person. It has a wider rear section to take a single speed rear hub clutch, and a 1916 J/JD front section. The frame is bare metal finish. Please keep your eyes open for it, and notify me, or Dewey if you have any information on it's whereabouts. #donotshipshipGreyhound

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mooresville, North Carolina's Gray Sloop - Episode #34

Updated: May 20, 2015

Several years ago, I was researching the 1913 & 14 Savannah 300 Road Races for another episode.   I ran across O. C. Stonestreet's article Gray Sloop, Motorcycle Racer.  Gray Sloop of Mooresville, North Carolina was one of two riders killed in racing accidents during the 1914 Savannah 300 Mile Road Race. Mr. Stonestreet incorporated the article as a Chapter in his book They Called Iredell County Home, and it is shared here with his permission. Thank you Mr. Stonestreet for sharing your work.

Gray Sloop, Motorcycle Racer

By: O. C. Stonestreet

After referring to itself as "Port City of Lake Norman," for some time now Mooresville, North Carolina, has taken to calling itself "Race City, USA."  Nearly a century ago there was a Mooresville man whose life and achievements might serve to bolster Mooresville's new sobriquet. His name was Gray Sloop.

Mooresville, North Carolina's Gray Sloop
Specht's Harley-Davidson Birmingham, Alabama
O.V. Hunt Collection - July 1914 (cropped)

Gray Sloop was born in Mooresville in August of 1889, the only son of Augustus J. and Dovie Ann Sloop. Gray's father passed away in July of 1904, leaving the 15-year-old as the man of the family.

Parade in Downtown Moooresville, N.C. - 1911
Gray Sloop with Indian Motocycle (far right)
O. C. Stonestreet Collection
It is unclear just when young Sloop began making a name for himself in racing circles, but he was well-established as a motor sportsman by 1913. In late June of that year he left for Elgin, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, to participate in the Elgin Motorcycle Race to be held on the Fourth of July.

This race was described as a 250-mile contest over an eight-mile course, and was billed as the first nationally-sanctioned motorcycle race and also the first 250-mile motorcycle race in the United States.

At the time of the Elgin race Sloop was riding a Reading- Standard cycle, specially built for him by the company in Reading, Pa. Mooresville's weekly newspaper, The Enterprise, noted, "Mr. Sloop is the only man from the South entering the [Elgin] races, so far, and we predict for him one or more of the capital prizes." First prize in the Elgin Race was $500 in gold and a two-foot tall trophy, the “V Ray Cup.”

The Statesville Landmark carried more information about the coming race. "The Motorcycle, a magazine published in Springfield, Mass., in its latest issue, speaking of the unusually strong line-up for the national motorcycle race at Elgin, Ill., on July the Fourth, said, after giving a list of the most important entrants, ‘One of the latest entries to be received is from Mooresville, N.C., and is signed “Gray Sloop.” This entry puzzled the contest committee for some time and Chairman Hill was inclined to believe that some one had worked in a yacht by mistake until he looked into the matter. Then he learned that Gray Sloop is a youngster who sprang from nowhere this year and romped off with the motorcycle championship of North Carolina. Sloop will ride a Reading Standard machine in the Elgin race and he is being talked of as a dark horse who is likely to spring surprises.’"  Sloop didn't win at Elgin, but that didn't stop him.

Motorcycle illustrated - June 1914

The race was won by a Texan, Charles "Fearless" Balke, who, with a blistering average speed of 55 mph over public roads, led an Indian Motorcycles sweep of the first five finishing positions. Out of 45 cyclists who had registered for the Elgin race, 43 began it and just ten completed it.

Sloop was not among those completing the course. According to a Chicago newspaper, Sloop had to make the eighth-mile qualifying run three times before he qualified, this due to brake malfunctions. His troubles continued during the actual race.  “Sloop dropped out of the race,” reported the paper, “in the twentieth lap, after breaking over ten chains on his machine. The chains were the cause of many falls of the different riders, none of whom were injured.”

On June 8, 1914, just short of his 23rd birthday, “Fearless” Balke was killed in an accident at the Hawthorne dirt track near Chicago. Motorcycle racing was a dangerous business.

Chicago Tribune - June 6, 1914

In early July of the next year Gray Sloop did very well in what was billed as the "Southern Championship Race" from Birmingham to Atlanta and back, an endurance race. 

Gray Sloop - July 1914
Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History
By this time Sloop was not only riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, he was selling them in Mooresville.

Gray Sloop Harley-Davidson Ad
Mooresville, N.C. Enterprise - 1914

 Reported The Enterprise, "Mr. Gray Sloop returned Tuesday night from Birmingham, Ala., where he participated in the Fourth of July motorcycle races. He won not only first place, but the world's championship, making the total distance of 462 miles from Birmingham to Atlanta and return in 12 hours and 20 minutes. While en route he had twelve changes of tires and changed one wheel. His part of the prize money was considerable."

Entrants in the 1914 Birmingham Ledger Endurance Run
O. V. Hunt - 1914 

Later that same month Sloop and his modified Harley took on Charlotte's Archie Templeton, piloting an Indian motorbike, in a two-contestant, 226-mile race from Charlotte to Columbia, S.C., and back, for a $200 prize 
Templeton completed the second half of the race, about 113 miles, in 2 hours and 56 minutes, whereas Sloop had trouble with his French racing motor just four miles short of the finish line in downtown Charlotte.

It is interesting to note that both Templeton and Sloop were "on their own" when it came to avoiding speeding tickets, other traffic and other "unforeseen difficulties." At the Charlotte finish line, where about a thousand spectators had gathered, Templeton graciously remarked to Sloop, "Hard luck, old man. You raced a good race."  Sloop replied in kind, "Same back at you. A little hard luck on my part, but you deserve full glory for the race."
  
Next we hear of Sloop as the big winner of the professional 50-mile race held on Labor Day, 1914, on the Isle of Palms, near Charleston, S.C. 


Gray Sloop - Isle of Palms, SC. - September 8, 1914
Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

  "Riding against time on a Harley-Davidson," reported The Enterprise of September 10, 1914, "he rode one mile at the speed of 92 miles an hour. His winning time was 55 minutes and 45 seconds, with 20 hairpin turns, which gives him the championship of North and South Carolina."

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 17, 1914
It is a wonder that Sloop did so well, as about a week prior to the Isle of Palms race, Sloop was in an accident with his motorbike and two-horse surrey wagon in Mooresville. 
"Mr. Sloop," The Enterprise informed its readers, "was knocked senseless to the ground by the impact from the tongue of the surrey. His left arm struck the pole and the muscles were cut pretty severely. While down, a horse stepped on his hip. "After regaining consciousness, Sloop somehow managed to get back on his cycle, which was relatively undamaged, and get medical help. The young man certainly had grit.

Harley-Davidson Ad featuring Gray Sloop
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 22, 1914
Sloop's last race was run on Thanksgiving Day, 1914. It was the Savannah 300 Road Race in Savannah, Georgia. This was only the second time the race had been held, and Sloop had ridden in the previous year’s race. 

Harley-Davidson Racing Team - 1914 Savannah 300 Mile Road Race
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1, 1914
The course wound through the city and consisted of 27 laps of 11 miles. 

1913/14 Savannah 300 Race Course

Holding third place, Sloop had just completed the third lap when he lost control of his Harley, the same machine on which he had won the Isle of Palms Race, and ran over a small embankment was hurled through the air. He broke his back, neck, hip and leg and was dead when assistance reached him.

Gray Sloop (right) on the backstretch shortly before his fatal crash
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 8, 1914

Thus ended the life of the 25-year-old motorcycle racing enthusiast from Iredell County.
Motorcycle Illustrated - November 26, 1914



  The Enterprise quoted a Savannah newspaper:

  "An examination made after the race showed a broken handle bar had been the cause of the accident which cost the life of Sloop. It was found Sloop had fallen on Norwood Avenue and cracked the right side of his handle bar. On Dale Avenue the bar had cracked completely off and Sloop entered the dangerous curve at Waters Road and Estill Avenue with only the left handle bar to his machine. "When he ran into the rough ground, this caused him to loose control. He was thrown from his machine and went into the air. "When descending the back of his neck struck a guy wire with such force as to cause a fracture of the neck. He then dropped between the machine and the tree. During the investigation after the race the piece of broken handle bar which had fallen from Sloop's machine was found on Dale Avenue by members of the Harley-Davidson racing stable."
  
 His death fell like a pall over his hometown. Twenty-five young men of the town met the train carrying his body from Savannah to Charlotte and from the Queen City escorted his remains home to Mooresville. His grave in Willow Valley Cemetery was covered with flowers.

Gray Sloop's Headstone
Willow Valley Cemetery - Mooresville, N.C.
   "For many years he had been the dependence of his widowed mother and his [two] sisters, and the burden of grief falls heavy upon them," reported The Enterprise, which also referred to his handsome appearance, his affable and congenial spirit, and his simple life of purity and nobility.

His racing skills and potential in the new sport were known and admired to such an extent that an article reporting his demise was carried in the New York Times

New York Times - November 27, 1914
Although his name is unknown there today, Gray Sloop was the first to make Mooresville, “Race City, USA.”

Epiloque:

Zeddie Kelly of the Savannah Motorcycle Club, sponsor of the race, lead the first five laps of the race, when he stopped for a spark plug problem.  Kelly quickly reentered the race, but was severely injured on lap nineteen, when his Harley-Davidson left the track, and struck a tree. He died of his injuries the next day, and was buried at laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah.  Kelly's death brought the death toll of the race to two, and the bad publicity in newspapers around the country, led to the cancellation of a proposed 1915 race.

Savannah's Zeddie Kelly shortly before his fatal crash
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review December 15, 1914

Wilmington, N.C. Morning star - November 28, 1914

About the Author:

O. C. Stonestreet, is a Iredell County, North Carolina native, is a Navy Veteran and a retired public school history and social studies teacher. He lives in Statesville, N.C., with his wife Judy, and writes a regular column for the Statesville Record & Landmark newspaper. Mr. Stonestreet is also the author of They Called Iredell County Home, which is available through Amazon.com.



References:

      "Will Enter the Big Race" Mooresville Enterprise, June 5, 1913.
      "Will Enter Big Race" Mooresville Enterprise, June 26, 1913.
      "To Be in Motor Cycle Race" The Landmark, June 27, 1913.
      "An Election Next Monday" The Landmark, July 1, 1913.
      Day, Donald S., "Balke, on Indian, Wins Elgin Race" The Inter-Ocean Newspaper (Chicago, Ill.), July 5, 1913.
      "Local Briefs" Mooresville Enterprise, July 10, 1913.
      "Won First Prize and World's Championship" The Landmark, July 10, 1914.
      "Gray Sloop Accepts Challenge" Mooresville Enterprise, July 23, 1914.
      "Archie Templeton Won Motorcycle Race from Gray Sloop" Mooresville Enterprise, July 30, 1914.
      "Motorcycle Collided with Surrey" The Landmark, September 1, 1914.
      "Motorcycle and Surrey Collided" Mooresville Enterprise, September 3, 1914.
      "Gray Sloop Wins Races at Charleston" Mooresville Enterprise, September 10, 1914.
      "Killed in Cycle Race" The New York Times, November 27, 1914.
      "Met Death in Savannah" The Landmark, November 27, 1914.
      "Lee Taylor Wins Motorcycle Race" Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1914.
      "Instantly Killed at Savannah" Mooresville Enterprise, December 3, 1914.
      Stonestreet, O. C., "Gray Sloop: A Man Ahead of His Time" Mooresville Tribune, July 13, 2005.


Attachment Sources:

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Chris Price@Georgia Motorcycle History

Mooresville, N. C. Enterprise

Motorcycle Illustrated

New York Times

O. C. Stonestreet Collection

Wilmington, N.C. Morning Star


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Barber Museum's Vintage Insider News Spring 2015 - Press Release #6

Thanks to the folks at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum for including my article, Hebert McBride - Birmingham's Amateur Speed Demon, in the Spring 2015 edition of Vintage Insider News.

Vintage Insider News Spring 2015 - Cover

Vintage Insider News Spring 2015 Article - Page 1

Vintage Insider News Spring 2015 Article - Page 2

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Short History of Harley-Davidson's Early OHV Racers - Episode #33

By: David L. Morrill

Updated: July 30, 2015

The idea behind this episode comes from a single photograph shared on Facebook by Lonnie Isam Jr. Lonnie's family has a long history of involvement in antique motorcycle restoration.  The photo shows a rider, whose name escapes me, seated an early Harley-Davidson single cylinder overhead valve (OHV) half mile dirt track racer.

Early Harley-Davidson Blanked Off OHV Single Cylinder Racer - ca. 1916
Lonnie Isam Jr. Collection
The introduction of Harley-Davidson's all conquering eight valve racers of the teens and twenties, is a bit of a mystery. Little is known about the development of these engines, but I have been able to find a few period articles that may shed a little light on the story. In Episode #30, on the birth of Harley's 11-K racer, I detailed Harley-Davidson's late entry in the professional motorcycle racing game.  When they did, they started with a racing engine loosely based on their 1914 production pocket valve single cam V twin. While this engine was quickly competitive, Harley's chief competitors on the track had been racing exotic overhead valve racing engines for years. Harley's Race Engineer, Bill Ottaway, realized he would quickly reach the limit of the pocket valve racer's development, and so he began developing special four overhead valve cylinders. The exact history of when this development started has been lost to time, but it appears it began sometime in 1915.

1915 Harley Davidson Single Cylinder Pocket Valve Racer
R. I. Jones Collection
While Harley-Davidson had a 1915 single cylinder racer, for reasons unknown, Ottaway chose to use the V twin bottom end, as the test bed for his new engine. This was accomplished, by blanking off one cylinder. By removing one cylinder, piston, rod, and rebalancing the crankshaft he created a blanked of 30.5 ci. single. The 30.5 ci class had been created to slow down the 61ci V twins, which were previously used on the half mile dirt tracks popular in the period.

It is pure speculation, but Ottaway may have chosen to develop the new OHV cylinder, on a single cylinder engine, because the single has a straight intake from the carburetor to the cylinder. The V twin uses the same T shaped intake used on the production engines, with the carburetor sticking out to the right or left of the engine.  That style intake creates more turbulence of the incoming gas/air mixture.

By April 1916, the OHV single was ready for it's first race test. Several bikes were sent to the half mile races held at Roanoke, Virginia on April 30, 1916. The new single cylinder OHV racers were fast right from the start, with team rider Ray Weishaar wining several races.  He even lapped an "OHV ported" Indian in one of the races.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - June 1916
Harley-Davidson wasted no time in advertising the new racer's win, with a two page ad in Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated.

Harley-Davidson Ad - Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated
July 9, 1916
Now, there was certainly more to Ottaway's plan than just building a single cylinder half mile racer, and there was. He was also, at the same time, developing an eight overhead valve V twin to challenge Indians eight valve racers.

8 Valve Harley Racer - ca. 1916
Lonnie Isam Jr. Collection
For this venture, he also used the 11-K V twin bottom end. New front and rear OHV cylinders were added, and testing began. By June 1916, the new V twin OHV racer was ready to race, and was shipped to held at Detroit, Michigan on June 11, 1916.

 Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - June 1916
Bill Brier won a heat race on the new eight valve racer, but the new racers suffered teething problems in the longer races, and development continued.

On July 4, 1916, the new 8 valve racer proved it's speed by winning the pole for the biggest race of the year, the Dodge City 300. Floyd Clymer, on his first time on board the new 8 valve racer, set the pole time. While Clymer led the race, he eventually slowed with engine problems, Irvin Janke went on to win the race for Harley-Davidson on one of 8 valve racers.
Motorcycle Illustrated - July 6, 1916 

Harley-Davidson Racing Team - 1916 Dodge City 300

The new 8 valve racers showed also their dominance in the 100 Mile Championship Race at Sheepshead Bay, New York. Harley-Davidson took five of the top six spots, proving the new 8 valve racer was more than a match for it's competition.
Harley-Davidson 8 Valve Racer Ad - July 6, 1916
Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated 
A new two cam bottom end was developed for for both the V twin racer, and the blanked off single. In the hands of Harley's 'Wrecking Crew" Racing Team riders, both of these bikes went on to become a dominant force in racing for years to come.

1923 Harley-Davidson 2 Cam OHV Racing Engine Patent Drawing
WWAG.COM

1928 Harley-Davidson 2 Cam Racing Engine
R. I. Jones Collection
In 1921, Harley-Davidson ceased involvement in professional racing. They did however continue to provide select riders with race bikes thorough their dealer network.  One of the beneficiaries of this program was Gene Walker of Birmingham, Alabama. Walker, an Indian Factory team member, was one of the top riders in the country.

In mid 1921, Walker was suddenly fired by Indian for refusing to ride in the Dodge City 300. Left without a ride, Walker returned to Birmingham, and went to work for his former Birmingham Indian teammate, Gail Joyce, who was now the Birmingham Harley-Davidson dealer. Walker got his hands on a blanked off two cam Harley-Davidson, and began racing it. How this came about, has been lost to history, but perhaps Harley-Davidson saw a way to poke their former racing rival Indian. Walker would become a dominant force on half mile dirt tracks around the country.

Gene Walker - Harley-Davidson 2 Cam Single - 1923
Don Emde Collection
After dominating the half mile races on the Harley two cam Harley single in 1923, Harley-Davidson issued an ad touting his dominance.

Harley-Davidson Ad - 1923
The Harley-Davidson ad may have been the final humiliation for Indian, as they quickly rehired Walker. Sadly, he died of injuries sustained in a practice crash on the half mile track at East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania in June 1924.

After Walker's death, Indian threatened to pull out of racing if the displacement was not reduced to slow the bikes on the half mile dirt tracks. The displacement was reduced to 21ci.-350cc. In 1926, Harley introduced a new single cylinder OHV racer, which came to be known as the Peashooter, for the unique popping sound it made. Most of these bike went to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but a few stayed here for use on half miles, and cinder tracks.

1927 Harley-Davidson Peashooter Racer
Harley-Davidson CAC Cinder Track Racer

When the Great Depression hit, American motorcycle companies were struggling to survive, and racing activities were curtailed. They would return in the 30s with Class C racing, which outlawed specialty racing machines not based on production models. This was  not the end of the exotic OHV racers.  The technology was used to build alcohol powered hill climb racers.

1930 Harley-Davidson DAH Hill Climber
R. I. Jones Collection

As the years pasted by, few examples of the these early OHV racers have survived, and they are among the rarest of Harley-Davidson's early racers.


Sources:

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Don Emde Collection

Lonnie Isam Jr. Collection

Motorcycle Illustrated.

R. I. Jones Collection


Friday, March 13, 2015

The Strange Case of Louis Delibero - Episode #32


By: David L. Morrill

Updated: March 14, 2015


Family stories are an interesting thing. They come down to us from older relatives, and are sometimes dismissed by others, because they assume their recollections of events long passed are suspect. This story comes from a reader, who asked me to help find more information on the mysterious death of a family member in 1918. The family story she shared with me, was so intriguing, i thought it was worth of looking into.



Luigi "Louis" Delibero  
Delibero Family Collection
Luigi "Louis" Delibero was born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1892.  By the early teens, he was part of a wave of Italian immigration to the United States. Delibero, along with other family members settled in the seaport town of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Delibero Americanized his first name to Louis, and eventually found work as a mechanic at the Automatic Machine Company. The Automatic Machine Company was part of  Bridgeport's ship building industry. With World War 1 raging in Europe, and assumptions that America would eventually be drawn into the war, ship building was an important industry.

Bridgeport, CT.  Telegram - 1918
Louis Delibero - Automatic Machine Company ca. 1918
Delibero Family Collection
Motorcycling for both transportation, and recreation, was well established in the Bridgeport area. They had an active motorcycle club going back to the early teens. It was also the home of Stanley T. Kellogg, who was one of the most accomplished motorcycle racers of this period, and also the local agent for Excelsior motorcycles.


Bridgeport was also close to two centers of early professional motorcycle racing, the Motordrome board tracks in Newark, New Jersey, and Brighton Beach, New York.  Top racers from around the world competed on these steeply banked circular wooden tracks, drawing large crowds of spectators. A tragic crash at the Newark track in September 1912, killed two well known racers, along with several spectators, and led to the banning of motorcycle racing in Newark. After the Newark tragedy, motorcycle racing shifted back to the dirt oval horse racing tracks common in the area.

Atlanta Constitution - September 1912
The Bridgeport Motorcycle Club, which boasted fifty members in 1911 began sponsoring motorcycle competitions at the Bridgeport Aerodrome, the Nutmeg Driving Park, and later at the Seaside Park Racetrack.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1911
Motorcycles provided cheap transportation in the days when automobiles were out of reach of all but the affluent. Like many young men of this age, Louis Delibero was also drawn to the freedom, and excitement, of motorcycles. He purchased an Indian Motorcycle, most likely from the Bridgeport Cycle Company, which was the local Indian dealer.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram -1918
Louis Delibero with Family Members
Delibero Family Collection












Louis Delibero of Bridgeport, Connecticut was listed as motorcycle owner #743 on the State of Connecticut List of Registered Motor Vehicle dated August 15, 1914. As he became more involved in motorcycling, he joined the Bridgeport Motorcycle Club, and began to compete in their motorcycle events.

Bridgeport, CT. Motorcycle Club - ca. 1918
Delibero Family Collection







In the September 30, 1915, edition of Motorcycle Illustrated, and article stated Bridgeport's Stanley Kellogg would be in charge of the motorcycle races at the nearby Danbury, Connecticut Fair.




In the June 29, 1916 edition of Motorcycle Illustrated, an article stated the Bridgeport, Connecticut Motorcycle Club had affiliated with the Federation of American Motorcyclists (F.A.M.) and stated there were now thirty members.



Delibero became an accomplished racer, in the dangerous world of dirt track motorcycle racing. The Bridgeport Motorcycle Club's races, were now held on the horse track at Seaside Park. The results of these motorcycle races, were not covered by the local newspaper, so there no known articles documenting Delibero's racing. 

Seaside Park Racetrack - Bridgeport, CT.
Bridgeport Baseball History - Mike Roer
In the

As America's involvement in World War 1 approached, Louis Delibero registered for the draft in June 1917.  His state draft registration, revealed he was not Naturalized American Citizen,  had a wife and child, and listed his occupation as a "gasoline engine mechanic".  When asked if he could ride a motorcycle, he responded he was "A Racer."

State of Connecticut Draft Registration - March 2, 1917
Ancestry.com
Though his skills as a mechanic, and motorcycle rider, where in high demand by the Army, Delibero was not drafted. He had a wife, young child, and also worked in an industry important to the war effort, so he was exempted from the draft.

Louis Delibero with his Indian Racer - ca. 1918
Delibero Family Collection
The deadly nature of dirt track motorcycle racing was confirmed in July 1918, when fellow Bridgeport racer James Pollozo, was killed competing in a motorcycle race on the one mile dirt oval at Pottstown, Pennsylvania. An article on his death appeared in the Bridgeport Telegram, under the headline:

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram - July 6, 1918

On October 4, 1918, Louis Delibero, died of injuries sustained, when his Indian Motorcycle collided with a box truck some where outside Bridgeport. The collision literally broke his motorcycle in half. There is little information on the fatal crash, other than the story passed down through his family.

These two post crash photos of the remnants of Delibero's motorcycle, which were taken after it was returned to his family, show the violent nature of the crash.

Remnants of Delibero's Indian Motorcycle - October 1918
Delibero Family Collection


Strangely, there is no mention of the accident, in the local Bridgeport newspaper, which regularly covered serious motorcycle accidents. Because what remained of Delibero's motorcycle, was returned to his family, I would assume the accident took place somewhere close to Bridgeport. Older family members, who were just children at the time of Delibero's death, remember seeing the remnants of the motorcycle in the attic of the family home years after his death. Now, this might have gone down as just another tragic accident involving a young man, a fast motorcycle, and an inattentive truck driver, were it not for one other small element of the story.

After Delibero's death, it was rumored that his fatal accident was staged by the local Black Hand members, because he refused to fix the outcome of upcoming motorcycle races. The Black Hand, which had origins in Sicily, was well established within Bridgeport's Italian American Community. Their principal crime was extortion from Italian owned businesses, and they where suspected in several local murders. This June 1918 article details  a local murder, in which local Black Hand members were the suspects.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram - June 6, 1918
Motorcycle racing was popular in Italy, and betting on the results of races, which was controlled by local crime figures, was common. It was also common practice at American race tracks of the time to gamble on the outcome of motorcycle races. A local Italian racer, would have been a crowd favorite with Bridgeport's Italian race fans. If the story passed down through the Delibero family was true, the local Black Hand also wanted to fix the outcome of the races.

Luigi "Louis" Delibero, was buried in the St. Michaels' Cemetery in nearby Stratford, Connecticut. He was twenty six at the time of his death, and left behind his wife Rose Masisco Delibero, and young sons Louis, and Frederick Delibero.

Coincidentally, eight days after Delibero's death, the Italian Societies of Bridgeport sponsored a Carnival at Seaside Park to Celebrate both Columbus Day, and Liberty Day.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram - October 12, 1918



The Carnival celebration featured several motorcycle races, and drew large crowds from the local Italian Community. Were these races the Black Hand was trying to fix?

Whether this just a tragic accident, or a ninety seven year old unsolved murder mystery, will never be known. Crime within immigrant communities of the time, did not garner the attention of law enforcement, it would in other communities. With the demonstrated violent nature of the local Black Hand, anyone with information, would have surely feared to came forward. The local press liked the sensational headlines generated by this type of crime, but they seldom followed up beyond the initial headlines. There is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to question if the death of Louis Delibero was in fact an unsolved murder.

Sources:

Ancestry.com

Atlanta Constitution

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1911

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram

Delibero Family Collection

Mike Roer@Bridgeport Baseball History

Motorcycle Illustrated - 1908, 1915, 1916