Here’s a quick followup to this week’s post on Wells Bennett which also just so happens to tie in perfectly with the One Motorcycle Show in Portland this weekend. I won’t be up there but I know a ton of great folks that are so if you are in the area definitely head that way.
Having taken on the flat tracks as a teenager back in Kansas, and then rising to fame conquering America’s infamous motordrome circuit, Wells Bennett could have easily retired from the sport no less a legend, but he was far from done. With the suspension of professional racing throughout America’s involvement in WWI, Bennett found himself keeping busy with cross-country record runs and stunt riding for filmmakers in Hollywood. When professional racing resumed in 1919 Bennett got right back to work onboard his trusty Excelsior. Gone were the circular motordromes on which he had made his name, replaced in the early 1920’s with +100 mph speed records, high speed flat track racing, hill climbs, and transcontinental records. Bennett conquered them all, claiming trophies and smashing records in nearly every format in post-war American motorcycle competition, including a 24 hour record that stood nearly to WWII. His well seasoned grit in the saddle along with his knack for publicity became Bennett’s signature on the culture, but as one of the few pioneers to actually live to confront retirement Bennett began to look outside of the race track for his living. So, as the original legends each began to pull back from competition so too did Bennett and he retired by opening an Excelsior/Henderson dealership in Portland, Oregon.
Just after his 33rd birthday, in August of 1924 the veteran racing icon from Wichita, Kansas decided to again try his hand at the impossible in favor of two-wheeled adventure and set off to the icy slope of Mt. Hood. The plan was for Bennett to reach the 11,200 ft., snow-capped, and craggy summit of Mt. Hood onboard his trusty 28HP Henderson DeLuxe Four. Not satisfied with the traditional southern route of the annual American Legion climb, Bennett decided to attempt his climb on the more treacherous northern face of Mt. Hood. Three of Bennett’s men from the dealership, Joe Walker, Ard Pratt, and Roy Jones, as well as a camera man from Fox News Weekly accompanied him on the journey, clearing a trail the best they could and standing by to catch the machine in the event of a spill. As reported in the local paper following the attempt, Bennett’s journey was “Gallant though unavailing,” and he only managed to make it to Cooper Spur, about 8,500 feet above sea level. However, though the summit was not captured that day the publicity certainly was and Bennett enjoyed the fruits of his efforts for many years to come. Though Excelsior remained one of the major motorcycle manufacturers throughout the great atrophy of the teens and 20’s, the company could not outrun the great depression, and as they closed their doors Bennett moved on to a position within the sturdy Ford Motor Company. William Wells Bennett later retired to a ranch at the base of his old geographical friend Mt. Hood until he passed at the age of 78, truly an icon of our culture.