Arthur George Chapple, the man rocketing up the Fort Lee hill in December, 1909 as covered in this week’s previous post, was one of America’s first and most loved motorcycle racing stars. A pioneer of the sport, Chapple’s racing career dates back to the earliest days of competition, when daring early adopters found themselves duking it out with the very men responsible for the machine’s creation, men like Glenn Curtiss, Oscar Hedstrom, and Joseph Merkel. He became a fixture competitor around the Northeast, and as such became one of the first to ride on Jack Prince’s experimental board track in Clifton, NJ in 1908, the track which began the infamous motordrome era. His accomplishments and natural skill in the saddle also earned him a place on the Indian factory team shortly after it was founded, the first professional factory team in the country.
Originally from Pensilvania, Chapple had been living in Brooklyn for years when he was hired by Hedstrom and Hendee in the first day’s of 1909, joining the legendary Indian Wigwam team alongside his friend and neighbor Walter Goerke, Birmingham’s Robert Stubbs, and Denver’s Erle Armstrong. Over the next few years Chapple knocked down records at Ormond Beach, won prestigious races like the inaugural meets at Indianapolis, tested out prototype machines for the Springfield Company, and became a favored competitor of the day’s journalists. He was a champion of the dirt tracks, the board tracks, road races, and land speed records, and even became an instructor at the Brighton Beach Motordrome, training a new generation of board track stars. Chapple’s life up until that point was defined by his success in racing, but he was also a devoted husband, father, industry man, and ambassador of the culture. Throughout the teens he held jobs with Indian, Merkel, Goodyear, Dayton, and New York’s Motor Car Equipment Company. He penned articles for Motorcycle Illustrated and the New York Globe, founded motorcycle clubs like Brooklyn’s Invincible MC and the Atlanta Motorcycle Club, and even paced world roller skating record holders at Madison Square Garden in 1914.
However, as WWI violently twisted Europe into a gruesome stalemate, Chapple was convinced of the vital role that he motorcycle could play, by 1916 he began shifting all of his attention to promoting the service roll of the motorcycle and those who rode them. In January 1916 he designed an armored, tow-behind machine-gun trailer for use with a motorcycle and began talks with foreign military war departments interested in such tech. As the America divided its sentiments over involvement in the Great War, Chapple became part of the preparedness movement, enlisting as a Private in the New York National Guard’s 1st Motor Battery Division in April, 1916. At the time the US Army, led by General John Pershing, was involved in continued maneuvers against Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa along America’s southern border. Chapple quickly moved up the ranks to Corporal after running countless dispatches from the headquarters in NYC to Camp Beekman in record time. In July he began mobilizing what had become the largest motorcycle unit in America, about 75 machines for deployment to the border. Chapple’s unit mustered at Camp Peekskill, , and began running machine gun unit, convoy escort, and dispatch drills for the next 2 months. His life as a celebrity racer secured him an exclusive role as a war correspondent with Motorcycle Illustrated, and though he was semi-retired and in his early 30’s, and despite his looming deployment to Camp Peekskill set for July 9th, Chapple still managed to run at the big Independence Day FAM National Championship races at the Sheepshead Bay board track speedway, coming in 2nd place behind Harley-Davidson’s Leslie Parkhurst in the 2 Mile championship.
By 1917, America’s involvement in the war was still a divisive issue, now a Sergeant in the NYNG 1st Motor Battery, Chapple continued to encourage preparedness among all enthusiasts, promoting the formation of local Motorcycle Minute Men units and encouraging clubs to run mustering drills. On April 6th the United States officially declared war on Germany and by that June the first wave of the Selected Service draft for men between the ages of 21 and 31 was initiated., Chapple was 32. Eager to get into the fight, Chapple decided to leave behind his role as a Sergeant in the National Guard and found an enlistment opportunity as a First Lieutenant in the 47th Infantry, specifically serving in an early stage of the US Army’s armored vehicle and tank division and relocating to Peoria where the machines were being produced by the Holt Caterpillar Co. However, despite his mechanical experience, extensive training, and enthusiasm Chapple never saw the European deployment which he desire, rather spending the remaining year of the war training mechanics and running supplies to port. A.G. Chapple was one of many of America’s motorsport stars who answered Uncle Sam’s call of duty during WWI, and though many would serve on the grizzly fields of Belgium and France, none played a more prominent role in inspiring the country’s motorcycle enthusiasts to pledge themselves and their machines to the noble cause.