Monday, June 21, 2021

Motorcycles Come to the Brick City - Ocala, Florida - Episode #46

By: David L. Morrill

June 21, 2021

In the late 1800s, a bicycle craze swept the United States. Bicycle shops sprung up around the Country, and bicycle races became a common occurrence at State & County Fairs.  Champion bicycle racers, became well known sports stars and their exploits were reported in newspapers nationwide. A local example of this is Jay Eaton, who founded the Eaton Beach Complex on Lake Weir in Weirsdale, Florida. 

The Tennessean - August 4, 1896

Eaton was a champion bicycle racer, who retired to Central Florida and purchased the Eaton Beach property in 1924.

In the early days of motorcycling, motorcycle companies would advertise in local papers to find local Agents to handle their products. Because many of these companies, had also produced bicycles, it was common for local bicycle shops to become the agents for Indian, Harley-Davidson, etc., and this was the case in Ocala. Local bicycle dealer R. E. Yonge, sold his business to  Benjamin Franklin Condon in 1907. Yonge's son Walter went on to become a prominent Ocala motorcyclist.

Ocala Banner - December 13, 1907

Condon probably became the Marion County Agent for Indian Motocycles of Springfield, Massachusetts some time in 1907. 

FYI: Indian referred to their bikes as "Motocycles" to stand out from other brands, until the early 1930s. 

The Condon Bicycle Emporium was located in the "Ocala House Block" in downtown. The Indian Motocycle Agent, Condon was probably the first motorcyclist in Ocala, and Walter Yonge soon joined in purchasing one of the new Indians. 

Condon Ad - Ocala Evening Star 1908

The new motorcycles soon attracted the attention of the City Fathers, as a notice appeared in the Ocala Evening Star of an ordinance, requiring all Bicycles, Motorcycles and Automobiles operated within Ocala City Limits to be equipped with lights. This was followed by a notice in the Evening Star on September 23, 1908 from City Marshall W.C. Bull warning automobile drivers, and motorcycle riders, that the City Speed Limit was 10 miles per hour. 

With the new attention from the City Marshall, the young men who now owned motorcycles sought another place to test the speed of their machines and their ridding skills. This was the Golden Age of early motorcycle racing. Steeply banked circular wooden tracks known as Motordromes were being built around the country. The numerous dirt oval horse racing tracks were also used for motorcycle racing. The top motorcycle manufactures like Indian, Excelsior, Cyclone, etc. hired teams of professional riders to promote their brand, and drive sales of their motorcycle to the public, however Harley-Davidson did not form a factory racing team until 1914.  Many of the riders also took part in the the Annual Daytona Beach Speed Carnival held on Ormond Beach, Florida beginning in the early teens. Numerous "World Records"  were set on the sands of the beach at low tide, and were reported in newspapers around the County. 

Buffalo Evening News - December 20, 1906

There's an old adage in motorcycling that the first motorcycle race took place, when the second motorcycle hit the street. That certainly seems to have been the case in Ocala, as a Motorcycle Race was included in the July 4, 1908 Festivities at the Marion County Fair Grounds off  West Emporium Street , which today is close to the intersection of  Hwy 40 and Martin Luther King Blvd. There was a half mile oval dirt horse track there, with a large grandstand, that hosted automobile & motorcycle races, along with the horse races.

Automobile Race @ the Marion County Fairgrounds - ca. 1912
Marion County Court Clerk's Office Collection

The scheduled motorcycle race was included in the articles detailing the 4th of July activities in the Evening Star on June 18, 1908. 

Despite the anticipation of a motorcycle race, the Ocala Banner reported "for some reason the motorcycle race did not materialize.", while the Evening Star reported a motorcycle exhibition was run, but gave no details. It would be more than a year before the first actual motorcycle race in Ocala would take place. Ocala would continue to be an Indian town. 

1908 Indian 3.5 H.P. V Twin
Kip Kolter @ Old School Biker Site

Ben Condon was the only Motorcycle Agent in town. He would continue to build his bicycle business in Ocala.

Ocala Evening Star - March 15, 1909.

 As the 1909 Marion County Fair rolled around, a motorcycle race was scheduled on November 24.

Ocala Evening Star - November 18-1909

 The Sunday before the race, the Evening Star reported that motorcycles entertained early Fair Grounds patrons.

Ocala Evening Star - November 22, 1909

Ocala's first documented motorcycle race took place at the Fair Grounds on Wednesday November 24, 1909. This type of race was referred to as a Tradesman Race, as they often involved riders who worked in the motorcycle trade. Two riders, Ben Condon and Ed Bennet competed, with Condon coming out on top with an average speed of 35.2 miles per hour. It appears both rode Indians. This was the first of two 5 Mile Heat Races.

Ocala Evening Star - November 24, 1909

The races packed the grandstands with Fair Patrons.

The Ocala Banner - November 26-1909

The second race held on Friday November 26th, featured Ben Condon ridding an Indian, and Walter Yonge riding a Reading Standard. It appears, despite the fact that the Walter's family were prominent members of the Ocala Business Community, the Ocala Evening Star miss-spelled his last name in their article that gave the details of the race.

Ocala Star Banner - November 26, 1909

After the race, Ben Condon, who owned both of the motorcycles in the race, ran a Motorcycles For Sale Ad for them in the Star Banner.

Ocala Evening Star - December 7, 1909

1910 was a relatively quiet year for motorcycling in Ocala. On July 20th, the Star Banner reported that the City Father's had adopted a new ordinance setting the speed limit for Bicycles, Motorcycles, and Automobiles at 10 on straight roads in the City, and 6 miles per hour on curves. The Motorcycle Races were mentioned as being scheduled during the Marion County Fair in November, but there is no mention of the races being run, or the results.

By early 1911, a new  player had entered the motorcycle business in Ocala. Hampton Smith Chambers, who was Ocala's Fire Chief at the time, became the Marion County Agent for Harley-Davidson and Excelsior Motorcycles. 

Ocala Fire Chief Hampton S. Chambers ca. 1915
 (Passenger) in the Fire Department's First  Automobile
Ocala Fire Department Collection

Chambers owned the Ocala Bicycle Shop, which was located on SE Osceola Avenue between the back of the Old Baptist Witness Building and the City Fire Station at Osceola Street and Broadway Street.

H. S. Chambers Ocala Bicycle - SE Osceola Avenue
(Cropped Photo ca. 1915)
Kent Sperring Collection

Ocala Bicycle Ad
Ocala Star Banner - October 24, 1911

In August 1911, Chambers launched a new package delivery business out of his Bicycle/Motorcycle Shop. As Ocala expanded, motorcycles would be the obvious choice for delivering parcels, as they had been used for this purpose in many other cities.

Ocala Evening Star - August 25, 1911

On September 11th, the Evening Star reported that George Chambers, and Laurie Yonge, made a round trip to Gainesville on their motorcycles. They reported that the "bad" roads in Alachua County slowed them down and it took  two hours each way.

Ocala Evening Star - September 11, 1911

It appears riding a motorcycle in Ocala has always been a dangerous affair. On October 20th the Star Banner reported the details of a bizarre accident involving a Horse drawn fire truck and motorcyclist Frank Gates.

Ocala Evening Star - October 20, 1911

Despite the extensive damage to Gate's motorcycle in the accident, Chamber's mechanics had it repaired "good as ever' by November 1st.

Ocala Evening Star - November 1, 1911

On November 8th, the Evening Stat reported Mr. Gates had submitted a bill for damages caused to his motorcycle in October 20th accident.

Ocala Evening Star - November 8, 1911

Business, went well for the new Harley-Davidson Dealer, and in November, the Star Banner reported H.S. Chambers was expanding his shop on SE. Osceola Avenue.

Ocala Star Banner - November 6, 1911

With two motorcycle dealers in town, the annual motorcycle races on the half mile track Marion County Fair in November took on new interest. Surely Indian and Harley-Davidson would duke it out for dominance on the track, as well as sales of motorcycles to local enthusiasts. A $100. cash prize was announced by the Fair, which was a princely sum for an amateur motorcycle race at a time when the largest professional motorcycle races generally offered $500. in gold as their first prize. Mr. Chamber's son George was already preparing for the races in mid October.

Ocala Evening Star - October 16, 1911

Ocala Evening Star - November 1, 1911

On November 13th, The Evening Star reported that racers were already taking practice laps at the Fair Grounds for the much anticipated up coming motorcycle races.

Ocala Evening Star - November 13, 1911

Mean while on the streets of Ocala, motorcycles were gaining a bad reputation for causing mayhem with the horse and buggy folks!

Ocala Evening Star - November 11, 1911

Motorcycle racing is not without casualties, and on November 17th, Harry Cole learned that lesson. Cole and Frank Gates were taking practice laps at the Fair Grounds Race Track for the up coming Marion County Fair Race when Cole hit a hole in the track, causing him to crash.

Ocala Evening Star - November 17, 1911

The Fair's first motorcycle heat race race took place on Tuesday November 21. H. S. Chamber's son, George Chambers claimed the $25 First Prize riding an Excelsior motorcycle, with Laurie Yonge finishing second on a Harley-Davidson. George Chambers, like his father, was now an Ocala Fireman.

1911 Excelsior - Bonham's Auction

Ocala Evening Star - November 22, 1911

The second race took place on Wednesday November 22, with Walter Younge claiming the $25. First Prize on an Indian Motocycle.

1911 Indian Motocycle - J & P Cycles

Ocala Evening Star - November 22, 1911

When the Friday night Final Race rolled off, George Chambers on the Excelsior Motorcycle claimed the big $100. First Prize, finishing a sixth of a mile ahead of Walter Yonge on his Indian Motocycle.

Ocala Evening Star - November 24, 1911

In early 1912, H. S. Chambers formed the Ocala Motorcycle Brigade. The purpose of the new squad is not explained, but it appeared to be connected with the Ocala Fire Department. A photo of the new squad appeared in the June 20th 1912 edition of the Evening Star. This appears to be the first motorcycle photograph the Evening Star published.

Ocala Evening Star - June 20, 1912

The riders in the Motorcycle Brigade were identified in two editions of the Evening Star.


The motorcycle races at the Fairgrounds continued through 1912. Both Chamber's Harley-Davidson and Condon's Indian dealerships were prospering confirming the old "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" adage. 

Ocala Evening Star - September 16, 1912

The Evening Star continued to report motorcycle accidents in the City, some of which appear to be the result of dangerous riding practices by local motorcyclists. Riding passengers on the handlebars like a bicycle???

Ocala Evening Star - April 23, 1913

For 1913 the Fairgrounds featured a new Motordrome Motorcycle Thrill Show, which appears to have replaced the motorcycle races.

Ocala Evening Star - September 11, 1913

These Motordrome Thrill Shows featured motorcycles lapping around steeply banked  circular wooden tracks, similar to the modern day Wall of Death Shows.

Early Motordrome Thrill Show
S. E. Rochelle Collection -Durham County Library

For 1916, the Fair's Motordrome Show featured female rider Hazel Russell, who was billed as the "Society Girl". Hazel, and her husband Ira Watkins preformed death defying stunts, while riding motorcycles on the 90 degree wooden wall.

Ocala Evening Star -November 30, 1916

By 1917, the early motorcycle shops had changed hands, and were passed down to the younger generation. H. S. Chambers Harley-Davidson Shop, and B. F. Condon's Indian Shop, were now combined on the ground floor of the old Baptist Witness Building, and were owned by Laurie Yonge. B.F. Condon had moved on selling automobiles.

Ocala Evening Star - December 20, 1917

 At the end of 1917, the Motordrome Show at the Fairgrounds closed it's gates, and the motorcycles were sold off in Evening Star Ads.

Ocala Evening Star - November 28, 1917

As America's involvement in World War One approached, motorcycle dealers were hit with a double whammy. First the supplies of new motorcycles, gasoline, spare parts, and tires, went to the military. Then their primary customers, young men, were drafted, sent off to training, and to service in Europe. This put an end to the first decade of motorcycling, and many local motorcycle dealers across the country, either switched to automobile sales, or closed their doors.


Bonham's Auction

Buffalo Evening News

Durham County Library

J&P Cycles Collection

Kent Sperring Collection

Kip Kolter's Old School Bike Site

Marion County Clerk's Collection

Ocala Evening Star

Ocala Fire Department Collection

S. E. Rochelle Collection

The Tennessean

Monday, January 20, 2020

Back To The Beginning - Episode #45

January 20, 2020

By: David L. Morrill
       @Mototique - Ocala, Florida

When I first built the blanked off 1921 Harley-Davidson motor for my racer back in 2010, I couldn't make up my mind, whether to use the front, or rear cylinder. I mocked up the motor both ways, and really liked the rear cylinder configuration.

Rat Racer - Rear Cylinder Mock Up
My rear cylinder had a nasty gouge in the lower bore, where a wrist pin had come  adrift, way back when. That wasn't a problem, as I was planning to have the cylinder bored, and use a modern aluminum piston. I checked with my parts supplier, but they said they were out of stock on the piston I needed, and it would be at least 6 months before they got a new supply. I was impatient to get the project moving, so I searched through my parts stash, and found a usable original iron piston & rings, along with a front cylinder with a good bore. I ran a hone through original tapered bore, and everything fit nicely, so the decision was made for me.

Warren Lane's True Grit Vintage Bike Show
Destination Daytona - October 2017
Photo by : Michael Lichter
I ran the front cylinder set up in Sons of Speed races for 2018 and the March 2019 race. After the March 2019 race, I started looking for a little more speed. One day, I was digging through my spare parts, and found another rear cylinder. the bore on this cylinder was near perfect, but it had a crack in the exhaust valve seat.

Cracked Exhaust Valve Seat - Bottom Left

After checking with several knowledgeable motor builders, the consensus was that the cylinder could not be repaired. I had met Michael Lange at one of our races, and after seeing this photo of crack, he said he could repair it. Michael did a great job, and a very reasonable cost.

Rat Racer - Rear Cylinder Set Up
January 2020
I ran this set up in the October 2019 Sons of Speed races, and the bike ran faster than ever!

2019 Biketoberfest Sons of Speed Race @ New Smyrna Speedway
Photo by: Jim Dohms - Dohms Creative Photography

Once again in my heat race, I lined up against a field of V Twin racers with twice the engine displacement of mine. I held on to third place, the final transfer spot to the final, for 4 laps, before Shawn McLean passed me on his beautiful Indian Power Plus twin, and went on to third place. The March 2020 race will  feature a new 30.50ci. -500cc single cylinder class. Woohoo! No more chasing V twins with twice the motor!

Rat Racer - Race Ready January 2020

Come out and watch us:

2020 Daytona Bike Week Sons of Speed Races
Saturday March 7, 2020 - 5:00 PM. 
New Smyrna Speedway
New Smyrna Beach, Florida

Jim Dohms - Dohms Creative Photography

Michael Lichter