City Dresses Up for Motorcycles

Attachment FAM090809 contains two articles published in the August 8, 1909, Indianapolis Star just days before the motorcycle race meet that was the first motorized competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first article discusses the upcoming events surrounding the seventh annual Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) convention which was being held in Indianapolis largely thanks to the christening of the newly constructed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with FAM national championship motorcycle races.
These kinds of events always have been and still are important to cities as they attract outside investment in their economies. Indianapolis was eager to welcome the bike-riding guests and this was reflecting in what the article describes as "gala attire" on business buildings and "streamers of flags and bunting stretched across leading streets at frequent intervals." Events of the week are reviewed including the 388-mile Cleveland-to-Indianapolis endurance run as well as other group rides up to  Kokomo and down to French Lick. Other activities mentioned: a photograph of riders and bikes at monument circle; a ride touring Indianapolis; a street parade of motorcycles; a ride to the Riverside "bathing beach" and, in the evening, a reception and entertainment at the German House which include vaudeville acts and band music. The Denison Hotel in downtown Indianapolis is noted as the official hotel of FAM.
The article also provides a tidy summary of the races planned on the upcoming Friday and Saturday which is a useful reference but would eventually change as track officials and FAM quickly realized the racing surface of the Speedway as it existed at the time was not up to the task. Hot-shot rider Stanley Kellogg is mentioned as having practiced on the track and predicting new world speed records.
The second article concerns the plans of the Speedway to open a saloon on facility grounds. Apparently, the plan was for it to be operated by Park Taliaferro Andrews, the New York civil engineer who designed the track. The plan was met with protests from local residents in the area who filed a petition against the saloon with city commissioners. The community reportedly had temperance value set.
A second attachment, IMSmotoNews080709, is a nice overview of the various activities planned for the then-upcoming motorcycle event. It opens to note how Indiana Motorcycle Club President Charles Wyatt shook hands with FAM Chairman G.H. Hamiton as he sat in the Overland pathfinder car preparing to leave for Cleveland to be there in time for the endurance run back to the Hoosier capital. A statement attributed to Wyatt read:
"Our little club with its comfortable quarters, in Vermont Street, will be visited during the coming week by motorcyclists from the private rider to the champion of the world - Jake De Rosier. Little we thought during the Chicago show last January, that we would be able successfully to swing this enormous project, and had it not been for the cordial and hearty support of several large manufacturers in Indianapolis, and the general support of the motorcycle manufacturers, and the allied industries throughout the United States, we would not have succeeded. If it were proper to give figures for publication, the public would be very much surprised to know how many times we would have to write a thousand dollars to cover the initial expenses of this event. We have succeeded with this loyal support and most cordially invite Indianapolis citizens to cooperate with us during the coming week in properly entertaining our visitors, in order that they may go away from here with the absolute knowledge of one pleasure that has been better than any other they have had while here - that being a genuine taste of Hoosier hospitality."
The article recounts the early arrivals of teams and riders. Stanley Kellogg, as was in other reports, is confirmed as the first of the racers to enter the city. His teammate, Charles Balke, was another early arrival. Balke is referred to as "Demon" Balke, but he also had another nickname, "Fearless." With them was Joe Merkel, the designer of the bikes of their Pottstown, Pennsylvania, team, "The Flying Merkels." Other big names included Walter Davidson of Harley-Davidson, along with the Indian, Excelsior, Reading-Standard and Thor factory teams along with top California riders.
As for the endurance run, Chairman Hamilton reported that there were more entries for the Cleveland-to-Indianapolis event than at any such similar ride up to that point in history. Some of the manufacturers involved are listed:

  • Reliance (Oswego, New York)
  • Curtis (Hammondsport, New York)
  • Torpedo (Chicago)
  • Excelsior (Chicago)
  • Indian (Springfield, Massachusetts)
  • Merkel (Pottstown, Pennsylvania)
  • Thor (Aurora, Illinois)
  • Emblem (Angola, New York)
  • Harley-Davidson (Milwaukee)
  • N.S.U. (New York, New York)
  • Yale (Toledo)
  • New Era (Dayton)
  • Reading-Standard (Reading, Pennsylvania)
  • Pierce (Buffalo)

The week's schedule is summarized at a high level. On Monday, delegates were expected to begin arriving. Tuesday marked the beginning of the endurance run. A note is made here that FAM President Earl Ovington was to ride with Chairman Hamilton in the Overland pathfinder car. Overland also provide a car for newspaper reporters. On Wednesday the run was scheduled to end at 5:30 p.m. in Indianapolis. The big highlight on Thursday was a motorcycle parade throughout the city. That night the Indiana Motorcycle Club was providing entertainment at one of the local "summer gardens." Friday was the day of the big convention and one of the main items on the agenda was the election of a new slate of national FAM officers. The plan called for the FAM motorcycle races to take place at the Speedway on Friday and Saturday.
An article in a third attachment, IMSmotoNews080909i, continues with the general theme of this post - preparations by the city and the Speedway for the fast-approaching motorcycle races. The article leads by stressing the motorcycle parade throughout town that coming Thursday. It was scheduled to start from Monument Circle at 1:30 and 500 riders were expected. The idea was to conclude the tour at Riverside, but the exact route had yet to be announced.
At the Speedway there were high expectations of large crowds streaming in from across the midwestern United States for the Friday and Saturday race meet, August 13 and 14. Track officials announced that construction of grandstand seating had been completed. The Big Four railroad lines planned runs to the Speedway from downtown every 15 minutes. General admission tickets were selling for 50 cents and grandstand seating was 75 cents. Races were scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
Promoters of the FAM convention and associated events had covered downtown with red, white and blue decorations - almost certainly with lots of bunting on buildings. The Cleveland-to-Indianapolis endurance run was scheduled to start the day after this particular article was published. The latest reports indicated that some 90 riders would take part. Meanwhile, the riders entered in the Speedway races had already started practicing and planned to continue.
Some interesting numerical facts are presented and entries. Eleven factory-backed Indian motorcycles were on hand for various events and all associated riders were expected the following day. Some of the names: DeRosier, Chapple, Huyck, Derkum, Stubbs and Goerke. Local riders using Indians were: Baker, Hidgin, Grepp, Crockett, Hollstein and Gibney.
The article references Oscar Hedstrom, one of the principals at Indian, in commenting that the endurance run would not be "a bed of roses," and, in fact, was expected to be a severe test. As a note, two great, totally legendary hotels were involved in the run. The riders would depart from the Hollenden House to cover the 363 miles to finish at the Denison in Indianapolis. The article reports that experts believed the run would be particularly hard on single cylinder engines.
*Note that FAM is reported to have been in business eight years at the time, meaning it was founded in 1901.*
Favorites for races are mentioned. Charles Spencer, another Indian rider, was highly touted for the two-cylinder class. He had enjoyed success at Cleveland's Valley track the previous Saturday. A.B. Swanson of Providence, Rhode Island is noted for holding the New York to Chicago record. 
The article reports on the different makes of bikes expected during the week:

  • Indian (20)
  • Reading-Standard (15)
  • Merkel (8)
  • Thor (8)
  • Harley-Davidson (7)
  • Excelsiors (6)
  • N.S.U. (6)
  • Emblem (4)
  • Yale (4)
  • Reliance (4)
  • New Era (3)
  • Pierce (3)
  • Marvel (1)
  • Torpedo (1)
  • Racycle (1)

With respect to FAM officers, the article closes by reporting that Phillip Brown of Indianapolis was being considered for the role of Indianapolis FAM representative. 

FAM090809.pdf4.38 MB
IMSmotoNews080709.pdf2.11 MB
IMSmotoNews080909i.pdf649.72 KB