Thursday, June 13, 2013

Henry Hammond Springs of Augusta, GA. - Episode #15

By: David L. Morrill
@ Deadly Dave's Blog

Updated: June 12, 2015

Atlanta's Henry Hammond Springs -1921
Don Emde Collection

The idea for this article came to me, while I was researching the death of early Birmingham, Alabama racer Gene Walker. The June 1924 issue of Motorcycling & Bicycling had an article on Walker's death, but also included a photograph of the dedication of a memorial to Atlanta racer Hammond Springs on the second anniversary of his death.

As I looked around for information on Springs' racing career, I found there was little information available. Springs rose from a local Atlanta racer to ride an Indian  factory prepared racer in the most prestigious national race of that time. At the time, he was the youngest professional racer in the country. While much of Hammond Springs' story has been lost to time, it is time to share what remains.

Henry Hammond Springs was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1902. Tragedy came early to the Springs family. On December 26,1909, Hammond's father, Augusta Fire Fighter Edward Springs, was killed responding to a fire. Edward Springs was driving a steamer fire truck to the scene of a fire, when he was pulled from the driver's seat, and run over by the wheels. Several years later Hammond's widowed mother Mary remarried, and the family moved to Atlanta.

Growing up in Atlanta, which was the southern capital of motorcycle racing, Hammond Springs was drawn to motorcycle racing. Racing a Harley-Davidson, Springs began honing his racing skills at Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway. The one mile oval dirt track, which was located south of downtown Atlanta, held it's first motorcycle race in front of a crowd of twenty three thousand spectators on July 4, 1917. 

Lakewood Speedway
Atlanta, GA.

Professional motorcycle racing had been curtailed throughout the country during America's involvement in World War 1.  Some local racing continued during this period, which allowed amateur racers like Hammond Springs, to compete with more experienced professional racers. Springs first mention in the press was as an entry for the Lakewood Races held on July 4, 1918.

Atlanta Constitution - July 4, 1918

He is not mentioned in the results. There were no motorcycle races held at Lakewood Speedway on Labor Day. The event sponsors dropped motorcycle racing in favor of Automobile races. It was probably due to the death of Atlanta rider Ed Wilcox on the first lap of the 1917 Labor Day race at Lakewood.

When professional racing returned to Atlanta in  1919, seventeen year old Hammond Springs had already made a name for himself at Lakewood racing his eight valve Harley-Davidson.

Atlanta Constitution - May 29, 1919

In June 1919, Springs had his first serious brush with the danger involved in racing. While chasing Nemo Lancaster at Lakewood, Springs struck the rear tire of Lancaster's machine. Both rider's were violently thrown from their machines, with Springs landing on his head. The spectators, who saw the crash, feared both riders had been killed. Both Springs and Lancaster required medical attention, but later returned to the track, to watch the final races. They were a bit banged up, but not seriously injured.

Atlanta Constitution - June 1919
Furman Family Collection

The caption for this photo collage from the Atlanta Constitution states:

"At the top is a scene from the northwest turn at Lakewood snapped a few minutes before the accident occurred. At the left below is Eugene Walker who regained his title as Southern Dirt Track Champion. At the right below are the two principles in the accident. Nemo Lancaster has his right foot bandaged and Hammond Springs has a cracked dome as a result of the smash-up. Neither was seriously injured as both were back on the track to witness the ten mile championship."

On July 4, 1919, Springs finished third in the one mile trial, less than a second behind Indian riders Nemo Lancaster and Tex Richards. Rain plagued the later races, and Springs was unable to keep up his earlier pace on the wet track.

In August 1919, Hammond Springs was involved in one of the more unusual stories of early Atlanta motorcycle racing. Each year, small group of black racers competed in an outlaw race at Lakewood Speedway billed as the Grand Colored Motorcycle Championship Race. The event drew large crowds from Atlanta's black community.

While the Atlanta Indian and Harley-Davidson dealers were not directly involved in the race, several of the racers worked for them, and they often provided back door support. This may not have been purely philanthropic on the dealers part, as large side bets were often placed between them on the race outcome.

Hammond Springs had recently switched to riding for the Atlanta Indian dealer Harry Glenn, and his mechanic was black racer Hal "Demon" Wade. After Wade complained to Springs that his tired 1912 Indian racer was not up to the challenge, Springs took matters into his own hands. Without permission, Springs and Wade snuck in the Indian shop on the night before the race, and removed the new big valve racing engine from Springs' racer. Then they installed it in Wade's 1912 racer.

Atlanta's Hal "Demon" Wade - 1919

The competitive engine  allowed Wade to easily win the final race. The story came out in an article in Motorcycling & Bicycling, and in Jim Crow Atlanta, it could have certainly put an end Springs' racing career. Springs' sponsor won a tidy side bet on the race outcome with the local Harley-Davidson dealer, and all was forgiven.

With Hammond Springs success in the July 4th Atlanta races, Harry Glenn was anxious for his young rider to begin professional competition. Glenn convinced Springs' Mom to allow the 17 year old to enter the Labor Day races at Lakewood.

The Labor Day motorcycle races returned to Lakewood Speedway  in 1919. They drew large crowds and a big purse, which attracted the best riders in the South. Hammond Springs race ended with a blown engine on the first lap of the race. Rumors at the time had Hammond springs going to the Harley-Davidson team for the 1920 season.

Motorcycle Illustrated - September 18, 1919.
On July 5, 1920, Hammond Springs won the 10 mile Race at Lakewood defeating both Tex Richards and Harry Glenn.

Atlanta Constitution 
July 6, 1920

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - July 8, 1920

By 1921, Springs was making a name for himself racing in national championship races around the country as a member of the Indian Factory racing team.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - September 1, 1921
Indian dispatched a large team of riders, including Hammond Springs, to compete in premier race of the year, the Dodge City 300. Indian's Shrimp Burns turned the  fastest lap in the time trials with Hammond Springs, and Johnny Seymour tying with the 5th fastest lap.

Atlanta Constitution - June 12, 1921

Harley-Davidson dispatched a large team of riders, with Ralph Hepburn and Otto Walker setting the second and third fastest laps. As the race started, pole sitter Shrimp Burns, pulled out with mechanical problems. The heat, and the length of the race took a toll on several of the other Indian riders, who slowed with mechanical problems. The race was won Harley-Davidson's Otto Walker. The only bright spot for Indian, was Johnny Seymour's second place finish. The remaining top finishers were all Harley-Davidson mounted.

After the Dodge City race, Hammond Springs traveled to the Indian factory in Springfield, Massachusetts. During that visit, he was photographed on his Dodge City racer on the factories roof.

On August 15, 1921, Hammond Springs won the 10 Mile Professional Race on the one mile dirt track at Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Springs edged out Harley-Davidson's star rider, Jim Davis, by just two feet at the finish. Davis had won the 5 Mile Professional Race, and set a new track record earlier that day, with Springs finishing fourth.

On May 17, 1922, an article appeared in the Atlanta Constitution on local riders Nemo Lancaster and Hammond Springs entering the upcoming race at the Lakewood Speedway. In describing Springs, the article stated:

Atlanta Constitution
May 17, 1922

On May 20, 1922, Springs won the 10 Mile National Race at the Lakewood Speedway. This was Springs first win in a National Championship race, and it came in front of his hometown crowd. He also defeated local Champion, Nemo Lancaster, and his Indian teammate Gene Walker. This was the highlight of Springs career.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - May 25, 1922

Atlanta Constitution
May 21, 1922

But, as fate often has it in the racing game, Springs' greatest triumph was followed only nine days later by tragedy.

On May 30, 1922, Hammond Springs traveled to the half mile dirt track at Springbrook Park in South Bend, Indiana. Springs was leading the last race of the day, with Dayton, Ohio rider Eddie Brinch close behind. They collided throwing both riders from their machines. Brinch sustained a broken collarbone, but Hammond Springs died of his injuries that evening in a South Bend Hospital.

This article from Wichita Daily Eagle contains the last known photograph of Hammond Springs racing. At the time the article was written, it was boot known he had died from injuries.

Wichita, KA. Daily Eagle - May 30, 1922

The death of the daring young Atlanta rider was reported in newspapers across the country.

Atlanta Constitution - May 1922
Wichita, KA. Beacon - May 31, 1922

The coroner's inquest found the death was a racing accident and cleared both riders of responsibility for the fatal accident. Springs was nineteen, when he died. Hammond Springs was returned to Atlanta, and buried at West View Cemetery.

On the day of his funeral, Springs received a motorcycle escort to the cemetery from both the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Motorcycle Club. Atlanta motorcycling notables Harry Glenn, Hal Gilbert, Nemo Lancaster, Harry Vismore, and Charlie Hages were pallbearers at his funeral. Atlanta's motorcycle shops were closed the day of his funeral, as an act of respect for Springs family.

Hammond Spring's Funeral Notice
Atlanta Constitution 
June 3, 1922

Springs was a hometown hero in Atlanta, and on the second anniversary of his death, an elaborate memorial was dedicated at his grave site. It features a stone reproduction of the loving cup trophy, Springs received for his first race win at the Atlanta's Lakewood Speedway.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated
June 1924

Henry Hammond Springs Memorial
West View Cemetery Atlanta, GA.

Bertha Avery Hood Collection - 2011

In the December 1922 Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated reported that Hammond's brother, Clarence Springs, had taken over long time Atlanta Harley-Davidson dealer, Gus Castle's, Atlanta business interests.

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated - December 28, 1922

Author's Note:

Special thanks to Don Emde and Mike Bell for their contributions to this story.


Atlanta Constitution

Bertha Avery Hood Collection

Don Emde Collection

Find A

Furman Family Collection

Mike Bell Collection

Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated

Stephen Wright - American Racers 1900-1940

Wichita, KA. Beacon

Wichita, KA. Daily Eagle

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jacksonville, Florida's Early Motorcycle Racers - Episode #14

By: David L. Morrill
@ Deadly Dave's Blog

Updated - February 2, 2017

Savannah 300 Mile Road Race
Motorcycle Illustrated - December 3, 1914
The legendary 1913 & 1914 Savannah 300 Mile American Classic Road Races were steeped in controversy. These grueling 5 hour races were run on public roads, many little more than tree lined dirt trails, in and around Savannah, Georgia. Scoring errors, and the deaths of two riders, marred the events. The annual race was cancelled after only two events.

I was surprised to find out that Jacksonville, Florida riders Jonathan Yerkes and Herb Camplejohn competed in the races. The fact that they rode in these classic events for major motorcycle companies, and were among the top finishers intrigued me. I figured it was time to find out more about them.

It appears the first motorcycle race in Jacksonville, Florida was held by the Jacksonville Motorcycle Club on the beach course at Pablo Beach on September 16, 1909. It featured a 50 Mile race won by J. McGraw of Jacksonville on a Thor Motorcycle.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - September 23, 1909

Motorcycle Illustrated - October 1, 1909

After his defeat in the 50 mile race Ray E. Reed issued a challenge to fellow Jacksonville racers in the November 15, 1909 edition of Motorcycle Illustrated:

By the closing months of 1909,  Jacksonville, Florida had a burgeoning motorcycle community supported by several motorcycle dealers.

Motorcycle Illustrated - November 15, 1909
Jonathan Yerkes was part of one of Jacksonville's prominent families. The family's Florida Hardware Company was located in downtown Jacksonville.

Harley-Davidson Racing Team - Jonathan Yerkes (second from left)
 1914 Savannah 300 - Chris Price@ArchiveMoto

Yerkes developed a keen interest in motorcycles and racing.  By 1910, he had been elected President of the Jacksonville Motorcycle Club.

In December 1910, an announcement appeared Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review stating Yerkes and his club secretary, Francis Engle, were leaving for an extended motorcycle tour of Europe.

Motorcycle racing had become very popular in Jacksonville. A. Stoddard, the new President of the motorcycle club, lobbied hard for the inclusion of  motorcycle classes in Jacksonville Speed Carnival held on Pablo Beach. The annual April race was similar to speed runs held at Daytona Beach, and was run along the beach at low tide.

The officials of the Speed Carnival at first stated, "there would be no motorcycle classes" in the Speed Carnival. They changed their minds just a month before the event,  requiring the Jacksonville Motorcycle Club to get a Federation of American Motorcyclists (F.A.M.) sanction for the event, and handle all the necessary arrangements for the motorcycle classes. The sanction was obtained and motorcycle classes were added to the event.

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - January 28, 1911

Yerkes, on a Thor motorcycle, won the 5 Mile Race for private owners riding single cylinder motorcycles. He followed up his win with  second, and third place finishes in the days remaining motorcycle events.

Pablo Beach, Florida Beach Course
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - April 8, 1911
Yerkes next event was in the motorcycle class of the Atlantic Beach, Florida Automobile Meet. He finished second in the 5 Mile Private Owners Race.

Frank Herbert "Bert" Camplejohn grew up with his brother Charles in Jacksonville, Florida. By 1911, Bert was  a motorcycle mechanic, and had developed an interest in tuning and racing his motorcycles.

Savannah 300 Road Race 
Motorcycle Illustrated - December 3, 1914

Camplejohn first appeared in the national racing press competing at Atlantic Beach , Florida. Motorcycle races of the time often took place on holidays to attract more racers and large crowds of spectators. Camplejohn, riding an Indian, took second in the Independence Day Ten Mile twin cylinder race.

On Thanks giving Day, the Jacksonville Motorcycle Club held races at Montcrief Park. Camplejohn rode a Reading Standard motorcycle to a win in the 5 mile private owners race.

The following month Bert, and his brother Charles, announced the opening of the Camplejohn Brothers Bicycle and Motorcycle repair shop in Jacksonville.

Both Yerkes and Camplejohn continued honing their racing skills in events around Florida. Yerkes was the more successful, and was referred to as "Jacksonville's Champion".

1913 Savannah 300

In mid 1913, the Federation of American Motorcyclists announced the Savannah Motorcycle Club had obtained a sanction for a motorcycle road race to be held on Christmas Day 1913.

Savannah 300 Road Race Course

The course used a shortened 11.25 mile version of the original 26 mile Savannah American Grand Prize Vanderbuilt Cup Course, which hosted automobile races from 1908 until 1911. This course was made up of public roadways in and around Savannah.

The 1913 race, known as the American Classic, was scheduled for Christmas Day and would be 300 miles in length.  The race attracted top riders from around the country, and both Yerkes and  Camplejohn entered. Rain delayed the race until December 27th.

The Automobile Journal
December 1913

Camplejohn rode a Thor, and Yerkes chose to ride an Excelsior. Yerkes arrived in Savannah late, and lined up for the start of the race ,after just one hour of practice.  At the end of the grueling 27 lap 5 hour race event, Bob Perry - Excelsior was shown in the lead, Maldwyn Jones - Merkel was second, Bert Camplejohn  - Thor was third, and Jonathan Yerkes - Excelsior was close behind in fourth.

1913 Savannah 300 Road Race Results
Automobile Journal - December 1913

Cincinnati Enquirer - December 28, 1913
A controversy surrounded the race results. Perry was given the trophy and the $500. in prize money. It was then announced the Merkel Factory Representative had filed a protest challenging the results. The protest alleged  Jones had been shorted one lap during a pits stop.

Atlanta Constitution - December 28, 1913

A recheck of the scoring revealed Jones was indeed in the lead at the end of the race, but the protest was disallowed because it had not been filed within one hour of the end of the race. The Savannah Motorcycle Club was severely criticized in the press for their sloppy handling of the race.

1914 Savannah 300

For the 1914 race, Bert Camplejohn was one of four riders chosen for the Excelsior Motorcycle Company factory team.

#8 - Bert Camplejohn
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 1, 1914

The Harley-Davidson Factory decided to send a team to Savannah. They would ride the new "Stripped Stock " 11K Racers developed by team engineer Bill Ottaway. This was the first appearance of a full Harley racing team, since their disappointing initial outing in the Dodge City 300 Mile Race in July.

Harley-Davidson Riders - Practice for Savannah 300 Road Race
Motorcycle Illustrated - December 3, 1914
Following the Dodge City race, Harley sent a single rider, Leslie "Red" Parkhurst, to the FAM National Championship Race in Birmingham. Alabama. Parkhurst won the race, surviving post-race protests lodged by Indian, and Excelsior.

Parkhurst was determined to be the winner, and the positive press convinced Harley-Davidson to send a full team of riders to the Savannah 300. Jonathan Yerkes was chosen to be one of the six factory riders riding for Harley Davidson in the 1914 Savannah 300.

Harley-Davidson Racing team - Savannah 300 Road Race
Bicycle World and Motorcycle Review - December 8, 1914

Harley-Davidson 11K Racer

Prior to the running of the 1914 race, F.A.M. officials announced the race would be under their direct control to assure proper rules and scoring. During the practice sessions for the 1914 race, the course was not closed to public vehicle traffic.

There were also packs of stray dogs wondering onto the track.  Rider Mud Gardner struck a stray dog, and went down. He was struck by Bill Brier and Al Stratton. Brier was the most seriously injured, having been taken to the hospital, for a crippled hand and a head wound. Both Brier and Gardner were unable to compete in the race. A complaint was made to the Savannah City Fathers, and motorcycle mounted Sheriffs Officers dispatched several of the offending K9s, with pistol fire.

Shortly after practice resumed, Camplejohn was involved in an accident with a local automobile driver, who pulled onto the course in front of him. In describing the event, The Bicycling and Motorcycle Review stated:

"Then Bert Camplejohn wanted to see if he could cut an automobile in two and nearly did it. Fortunately he escaped serious injury, but what he did get was sufficient to keep him out."

Getting knocked out of the race may have been a blessing for Camplejohn.

Thirty-two riders pulled numbers, and started the 300 mile race on November 25, 1914. Tragedy struck on lap three, when Mooresville, N.C. rider Gray Sloop left the course in a high speed corner, hit a tree, and was killed instantly. This happened in full view of a large group of spectators, including children.

Motorcycle Illustrated - December 3, 1914

New York Times - November 26, 1914
Later in the race, Savannah rider Zeddie Kelly crashed and was seriously injured. He died of his injuries the next day. 

#3 Zeddie Kelly - 1914 Savannah 300
The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - December 15, 1914
Five hours, after the race started, Indian rider Lee Taylor, crossed the start/finish line as the winner  Jonathan Yerkes finished the race in sixth place.

Raleigh, NC. News and Observer - January 14, 1914

When an article concerning the deaths appeared in the New York Times, City Fathers decided the annual event would not take place in 1915. They had received numerous complaints from local citizens about road closures, and the dog massacre.

Jonathan Yerkes 6th place finish was mentioned in a Bosch magneto ad that appeared in the December 1, 1914 edition of The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review.

Bosch Magneto Ad - 1914 Savannah 300
With the demise of the Savannah 300, Bert Camplejohn and Jonathan Yerkes faded from the motorcycle press. Certainly, the loss of such a prestigious nationally sanctioned race just a couple hours travel time from Jacksonville, limited their competition on the national stage.

Camplejohn continued to work on motorcycles, and his 1917 draft registration for World War 1, lists motorcycle mechanic as his occupation.                                                                                            

The Savannah 300, went down in motorcycle racing history as one of the legendary races. Bert Camplejohn, Jonathan Yerkes, and all the others competitors in the two Savannah 300s faced deadly hazards with every lap. The loss of riders Gray Sloop and Zeddie Kelly only reinforces the peril they faced. They should not be forgotten.

Author's Note:

The State of Georgia erected an Historic Marker commemorating the earlier Savannah Automobile Race course.

Georgia State Historic Marker - Savannah, GA.
It was erected in the area of the old grandstand section of the course, close to the spot where Gray Sloop was killed. It makes no mention of the two years of the Savannah 300 Motorcycle Road Race, or the deaths of Gray Sloop and Savannah native Zeddie Kelly.


Atlanta Constitution

Automobile Journal

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

Chris Price@ ArchiveMoto

Cincinnati Enquirer

Johnny Whitsett Collection

Motorcycle Illustrated

State of Georgia

New York Times