What a contrast! Stage 5 brought us into the flatland and the roads were no longer cool, graceful curves but straight segments leading to straight segments. Some of the route instructions would say “go to mile 168.2 and take left at first paved road”. The route master (thanks John) had us taking 90 degree turns back and forth through corn fields which was somewhat disorienting. I think we went over the same railroad tracks 27 times!
As the afternoon heated up, bikes began to feel the pain of hard riding, hot sun and rough road surfaces. A good description of the toll taken can be found on the AMCA website: http://www.antiquemotorcycle.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=174&cntnt01origid=221&cntnt01returnid=97. The Grim Sweeper truck and trailer team were very busy.
We were hosted in the midst of this open space by Kersting’s World of Motorcycles….wow. What a great spot to see a large and varied bike collection and to meet a very gracious owner. Thanks also to the volunteers for serving lunch.
The Henderson’s were not without problems today. The Wolf Pack suffered several indignities including broken fender brackets, leaking gas tanks, loose handlebars, etc. All could be attributed to the brutal beating provided by the roads and heat. For Blue Bird, we started the day in top form…here you can see me with three of the Henderson world’s finest: Vern Acres, Evan Kune and Mark Hill (riding the Dale Walksler special).
Even the smooth running Blue Bird had some challenges…about 3 pm, with the temperature in the upper 80s, the bike started to miss, cough, and jerk. What was happening? Pending engine failure? Magneto problems? Fortunately, it appears that it was intermittent fuel starvation due to excessive heat in the fuel lines and carburetor…gas boils and bubbles causing problems. I eventually found that running fuel from the reserve tank which was cooler, venting the tanks and running faster kept it turning smoothly. We crossed the finish line with clean points and headed to the “pits” for the nightly chores.
Off the the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa tomorrow.
Long days + fun + hard work = Cannonball Stage 4. Early morning drizzle in Southwestern NY gave way to scattered clouds and sunshine by the time we got to Bowling Green, Ohio. The ride was (mostly) awesome…sweeping curves, farm and forest, small towns with great turn-of-the-century architecture, etc. The brutal aspect came in the form of potholes, road seams and non-intentional speed bumps. On a rigid frame motorcycle from 1917, these really start to pummel the rider. They also loosen nuts and bolts! Today’s riding partners included Vern Acres and Mark Hill (the man responsible for keeping many of these Henderson’s alive and on the rode). Mark was throwing wrenches out of a hole in his saddle bag while Vern was keeping the speed up whenever possible. I wish you could hear the sound of the three bikes running side-by-side- awesome!
In order to keep all the mileage points, riders have to be prepared for “secret” checkpoints. We decided to skip lunch and drove by the lunch stop…about 2 miles later “we” decided to turn around and go back to the shopping plaza and see if there was a secret checkpoint there…nope. It was a good call none-the-less because we would have been penalized for not checking in. This did add 4 miles to the odometer so I had to constantly do the arithmetic at each of the 30+ instructions as we continued to the final check in.
Results indicate some remarkable achievements for Class I, II and III bikes with perfect scores so far:
Late night maintenance complete, time for 6 hours of sleep. Stage 5 will be another good slog of 275 miles. Let’s hope all the parts keep working in harmony.
The hardworking Staff of the Cannonball deserve our thanks…the “pre-ride” team sets out to review the route early in the morning and for Monday, they found washed out roads, gravel and the promise of flooding. It was raining hard and forecast to continue all morning. The back-country would become impassable in parts so the difficult decision was made at 8 am to cancel the Stage. We were, of course, all suited up and ready to ride but safety is most important. So…load the van up and head to Jamestown. We received a nice welcome at Jamestown Harley Davidson and local enthusiasts turned out to see the bikes and talk about the Cannonball. Some of the bikes are hard core with patina on patina but others are pristine. On example of pristine is the Indian and Princess sidecar outfit ridden with style by the Harper’s from Colorado:
The team work and friendship is what makes this event so incredible. Even the simple tasks become difficult when you are tired and every thing is wet. Here is my supportive and loving bride helping under the awning of the Sprinter. Thanks Nancy!
Tuesday is scheduled as a 271 mile ride which should really test bikes and riders- hope to see you in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The first “longer mileage day” was not easy on some of the bikes. While the morning started well, with cool temperatures in the 40s and overcast skies, the sweep trucks were busy. An excellent description is provided the AMCA: http://www.antiquemotorcycle.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=171&cntnt01origid=221&cntnt01returnid=97.
For Blue Bird, the day started with a nice departure and full layers of riding gear.
Some serious touring through American history, farms and small towns and let us ride some great roads and chat with many local people at fuel stops. It is a pleasure to tell the story of Alan Bedell, Cannonball Baker and the Henderson Motorcycle Company and to describe this rolling circus. Most folks think we’re crazy.
We were hosted for hot coffee and doughnuts by Hemmings in Vermont who have a lovely museum with antique cars and trucks. (I tried to talk them out of the Hudson Panel Wagon but they weren’t listening. You can visit them: https://www.hemmings.com/about-us/sibley).
My riding partner today was good friend Vern Acres, a skilled and fast Canadian rider. Vern was on Evan Kune’s Henderson hot rod I called The Flamethrower. After a long uphill pull at full power, Vern would close the throttle and a torch of flame 6-10″ long would fire out the open exhaust!
We made good time and arrived early at the finish line followed closely by Brian Pease on his single speed 1916 Henderson. Here are the first finishers across the line today:
For the fellow riders and support crews who had to repair their elderly beasts, the parking lot became the Cannonball Machine Works.
Tomorrow? 100% chance of heavy rain forecast for 226 mile route to Jamestown, NY. Wish us safety and luck!
Getting out of town was the first task. Portland, Maine on a nice Saturday morning has traffic, complicated roads and we were following route instructions that seemed to call for a change every tenth of a mile. Lesson number one: trust your own navigation skills and don’t follow the other guys!
Once into the green hills and valleys of southern New Hampshire, the riding became very enjoyable. The crazy mass of bikes gradually filtered into smaller groups and I was riding with a couple of Aussies (1928 Indian Chief and 1928 Harley Davidson JL) and a fellow I had known only from the vintage website forum on a 1928 BMW R52. We seemed to have a repeated pattern of 5 miles of curvy roads at 30-50 mph followed by a small town with slow speeds and quaint (with a capitol Q) scenery. Imagine repeating this for a couple of hours; good riding and very little traffic. The only real eye opener came after a sign that said “Loose Gravel, Motorcycles Use Caution”. Loose Gravel? Must be some term used with New England restraint…that was one of the Craters of the Moon! It spanned the entire lane, was a foot deep and filled with crushed rock. Fortunately we were able to go around the crater as there was no oncoming traffic.
Crossing the finish line felt really good, especially to see family and friends who came to hang out and show support. Thanks to everyone!
Sunday looks like a cool, gray day with about 260 miles to cover. See you in Binghamton, NY.
Friday was the Prologue…short ride to Bug Light Park for the traditional group photo. Sounds simple? Herding cats is the cliche but man-o-man, was that a project. We had 106 riders and bikes in a semicircle on the grass overlooking the bay and lighthouse, hundreds of spectators and one talented photographer. The image will be created from a series of shots all stitched together to make one high-resolution group photo- it should be awesome. Here is half the circle from my vantage point in the line up:
The ride to the park and back (10 miles each way) was in the midst of busy traffic and the course instructions carried us through street changes in rapid succession with several complex intersections. For some of the bikes, the heat and the waiting at long red lights was too much….seven required rescue by the sweep truck and trailer. Once back at the hotel, nightly maintenance was carried out. My valves received a careful adjustment: .006″ intake and .008″ exhaust.
Tomorrow is the main start of the endurance run…Portland, ME to Keene, NH. May the strength of Alan Bedell be with us all!
It was a busy day today with various mechanical projects (new pushrods!) but the highlight was “Crazy Legs” Bob, the talented pinstripe artist. Because the blue Henderson flies so well and sings so sweetly, she has been named “Blue Bird”. Her official naming as it happened:
As outlined in an earlier post, Alan Bedell was the inspiration for this Bedell Tribute motorcycle. After his record-breaking ride, Alan enlisted in the US Army Air Service and was sent to Lake Charles, Louisiana for Aviation training in early 1918. He passed away, along with many other young men in the crowded military camp, due to the devastating influenza pandemic which killed so many people around the world. This ride is in his memory, may he ride in peace.
Final preparation work will take place on Tuesday and then we will be off to Portland on Wednesday for registration and Tech Inspection on Thursday.
WIlliam Henderson was constantly working to improve his four-cylinder motorcycle. Unlike modern design and production schedules, he would make improvements to a wide range of mechanical items as the bikes were being built. For 1917, there were probably close to 3,000 bikes manufactured. My engine number, 9661, would be very late in 1917. It turns out that the length of the “minor fork” in the front end changed by a small amount. When the current Cannonball bike was assembled a year ago, the front fork link geometry was not quite right. Under the watchful eye of Mark Hill, the 4th Coast Fours “factory recall” program replaced the correct length minor fork.
We also used two springs in the housing, one for rebound and one for compression which should improve overall road feel.
A short test ride indicated success but the real deal is coming soon….on to Portland, Maine!
It is not very often that six Detroit-era Hendersons get to tour the Adirondacks. After arriving in upstate New York, the pre-Cannonball shakedown ride offered a unique chance to hear the sound of William Henderson’s engineering expertise. Twenty four cylinders resonating together on back roads through the old towns of early America…stone houses, abandoned paper mills and some serious farm equipment.
As with any shakedown ride, problems arose which needed fixing. Can you imagine replacing a clutch bearing on a single speed Henderson within 20 minutes while having lunch? Done!
Tomorrow will be devoted to some mechanical tweaking and more riding.
This was the headline from the July 5, 1917 edition of Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated. Those words got me thinking about what we judge to be significant within the context of our time and place. For Alan and his contemporaries, the natural world was to be concurred by the might of human engineering. This week, as we cross Montana and North Dakota at 75 mph, turbo diesel and 7-speed transmission purring without complaint, we look out at the magnificent prairie and consider a lone rider on a dirt trail 100 years ago-almost incredible. Much of the United States was without paved roads then….just sand, dirt or mud. We pay tribute to Alan with this Cannonball adventure.
Take a look at the map as shown in the Pacific Motorcyclist and Western Wheelman below:
Bedell Record Map