Possibly one of the most shared archival films from America’s Golden Age of motorcycle racing, however the footage is woefully, if not comically misidentified, citing errors from the locations to the individual names of the racers, errors which have created a considerable amount of confusion among modern day enthusiasts. Revisit this priceless footage from New York's Sheepshead Bay board track speedway, now with an accurate understanding of the history involved, and enjoy a rare glimpse into the excitement of the American board track speedway.
The son of a seamstress and a cigar maker, Irving Edward Janke was born on January 5, 1896 in bustling town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which at the time was home to the world’s tallest building. A city of German immigrants and American industrialism, Milwaukee soon became home to forerunners in America’s transportation revolution, including pioneers Joseph Merkel, William Harley, and the Davidson brothers, the latter gents being responsible for a brand now synonymous with the town, if not the American motorcycle itself. By the time he was just 13 years old young Irving was already infatuated with motorcycles, apparently more so than he was with his schooling as he left the academic life just before entering high school.
Arthur G. Chapple and Walter Goerke, two of America’s finest motorcycle racers are seen here posing just before a hill climb competition in December 1909. True pioneers of both the sport and the culture, Chapple and Goerke can be counted amongst the most influential of American motorcycling’s founding fathers. The two friends from Brooklyn began their love affair with motorcycles as soon as the new machines first appeared in stateside.
Imagine being a 14 year old boy in 1908 holding down a job waiting tables in Denver to help support your family. You have a bicycle, and bicycle racing has never been so popular, so you begin entering into amateur competitions, pocketing a little extra scratch when you win. You are good, and over the next couple of seasons quickly move up the ranks in the local scene, winning more and more and garnering a good bit of attention. So much so that the local super star bicycle champion takes you under his wing. There is a shift happening though, towards the increasingly present and capable motorcycle which your new mentor has already taken to quite successfully. He introduces you to the new machines and begins pacing you on his motorcycle at the big money events until ultimately you too to make the transition into the sport of motorcycle racing. Right at that moment two new venues are built in your hometown, large, circular, wooden stadiums constructed specifically for racing motorcycles. The timing couldn’t be better. Still a teenager, and a novice motorcycle rider at that, you begin your career on the boards of the treacherous motordrome. Such was the case for a young Denver boy named Maurice Leon Fredericks, but by the time he began racing motorcycles in 1911 everyone knew him simply as Curley.
Even in modern times it is rare to find a professional athlete who’s career lasts for decades, but when looking back to the earliest days of professional American motorcycle racing, finding a career that lasted more than 10 years is quite a challenge. For most who dared to compete in these first, raw years of the sport retirement was reserved for only the most skilled and lucky, and the career of pioneer motorcycle racers was most often recorded in lifespan than tenure. The title of the most durable pioneer American motorcycle racer, and perhaps without question one of the most prolific goes...
A shot of the Indian Sales Company located at 223 West Liberty Street in Savannah, Ga. ca. 1927. The gentlemen running this new operation are posing with a sharp lineup of fresh Indian’s, including the Springfield company’s latest 4 cylinder, the product of Indian’s most recent acquisition of the Ace Motor Corporation. Joseph Neely, who is pictured with his 4 year old son Joseph Jr. on the far right, was the owner of Savannah’s newest establishment. A local businessman and motorcycling enthusiast, Neely had been piloting motorcycles through the low country for years before opening his own shop.
A poem published in Motorcycle Illustrated in August 1921 after the death of Albert “Shrimp” Burns, the star of the Indian factory racing team and one of the most beloved champions in American motorsport. The photograph is of Shrimp’s machine following the crash, an 8-Valve Springfield factory special that just so happened to be the same motor No. 50 on which one of his idols, pioneer racer Charlie Balke had died in 1914.
Four gentlemen from the Milwaukee Motorcycle Club posing on their new, top of the line Harley-Davidsons in the Sumer of 1916. Featuring several unique design features, including a new rounded tank profile, the 1916 lineup seemed to anticipate the coming Art Decco movement of the 1920’s. 1916 marked the final year for the iconic Renault Grey Harley and the new, all-electric, three-speed grey fellows were adorned with beautiful factory pin striping and gleaming with nickel plating...
Here we have a moment captured in the final days of the American motordrome, a rare glimpse inside the Omaha Stadium Motordrome in the Fall of 1914. The godfather of the American motordrome, Jack Prince came to the United States a British high wheel bicycle champion in the late 1800’s, and it was in Omaha, in 1889 that he won the title of World Champion. Twenty-five years later...
This week's post marks the beginning of a new aspect of Archive Moto! Not much film footage has survived since the earliest days of American motorcycle competition, but the rare treasures that have made it to the digital age deserve just as much care and attention to the history behind the events as our photographs do. I am happy to announce the additions of the Archive Moto Film Vault to my website, as well as the creation of the Archive Moto Youtube page.