August 26, 2018

The Adventures of Prescott's First Motorcycle Club

Back in 1911 motorcycles were closer to what people might call motorbikes today. Early machines had pedals like a bicycle. Single cylinder engines produced a meager 4 horsepower, while 2 cycle engines produced 7.

Still, like the automobile, motorcycling proved popular and on March 10th, 1911 a number of enthusiasts formed the Yavapai Motorcycle Club.

Ray Vyne was the club's first president. The club was "intended to institute club runs, hill climbing contests, etc., and trophies will be hung up for such events."

Their first project was to institute racing events for the upcoming 1911 Frontier Days in July. The fair had already introduced automobile racing and the addition of motorcycle contests brought these portions of Frontier Days the monicker of "gasoline events."

1911 Curtis-Marvel
Five races were held. The first race was 3 miles for single-cylinder cycles. Four riders competed; two developed engine trouble and had to drop out. The winner was the club's president, Ray Vyne, who completed the race in 4 minutes, 53.2 seconds aboard his Curtiss-Marvel. The 2nd place finisher rode a Harley.

The track used was the old horse racing track and its condition was poor. "Deep furrows and gulches served to make fast driving on the stretches impossible and all of the turns were inches deep in sand," the paper reported.

1911 Indian
There was also a 5 mile race for the twin-cylinders--despite the fact that only two such bikes existed in town! Both were Indians and regardless of the lack of competition, spectators were thrilled by a close race.

Both sized engines ran together in the other three events. There was a 3 mile "Handicap Free-For-All" where the smaller engines got an eighth of a mile head-start. It turned out to be not nearly enough.

The first ever running of an "Australian Pursuit Race" in Yavapai county featured the bikes spread-out on the track an eighth of a mile apart. If one was passed, he was eliminated until only one rider remained. It took two and a half miles of running before one of the Indians won the novel contest.

1911 Harley-Davidson
The remaining two motorcycle events were a bit odd. Engines were turned off for the "Emergency Race." This was inspired by those times when one's engine failed. It was a 100-yard pedaling race. One rider desperate to gain the early lead had his hopes dashed when, at the start, he exerted his full force upon the pedal and broke it clean off.

Perhaps the most unconventional event was the "Slow Race." The object of this contest was to finish last. "This unusual contest was more a trial of patience than of skill," the paper noted. Six riders entered. One could not touch his feet to the ground and "slipping clutches and loose belts were barred." At the start, "two of the riders added a touch of humor to the situation by (immediately) falling off their machines."

"Dorris of Phoenix succeeded in coming in last and defeating Belding who was making every effort to stand still without showing any signs of hesitation," the paper joked.

The story behind the first year of the automobile in Prescott, AZ (1903) and its effect on everyday life.

In 1913 races were extended to a new, much longer course. "The Prescott Loop" was used for racing both motorcycles and automobiles and became renowned across the state. Racers began at ten-minute intervals "to insure a continuous thrill." Shortly after the last bike started, the first bikes began returning.

The start was at the Courthouse Plaza. It then ran east on Gurley to Mt. Vernon where they turned north to the Jerome Junction road and returned via the American Ranch. They then reentered Prescott "by way of Mercy hospital at Grove Ave. and (turned) onto Gurley St. and thence proceed(ed) down Gurley to Mt. Vernon once more." The finish line was at the plaza.

For safety, Gurley St. in the downtown district was roped-off and a watch kept at Miller Valley. As soon as a racer passed that point, word was telephoned into Prescott and warning was given through an alarm from the fire bell. "This will insure that the streets will be clear so that the machine can go down on its way at full speed," the paper explained. Mastering the curves at the intersections of Gurley at Grove and Gurley at Mt. Vernon were considered particularly challenging.

The Yavapai Motorcycle Club was the perfect host to the visiting competitors. A "splendid impression (was) made on Phoenix motorcyclists by the spread at the Yavapai Motorcycle Club on the occasion of the July 4 visit at Prescott," the Phoenix paper stated. "The cozy club rooms, the magnificent banquet right in the club, (and) the feeling of perfect accord among the members could not have failed to make an impression on the chugbike adventurers." 

In September, 1913 the motorcycle club took it upon themselves to install crossroad signs around the Prescott Loop. "The signs (had) an orange background with black letters symbolic of the club's colors. (They bore) inscriptions pointing to the various roads which must be taken in order to reach certain points. In addition the distances from the crossroads to the various towns in the county (were) stated."

True story of the shocking death of Rev. Fred Allen who was struck down by lightning on Sep 2, 1911.

The following year, at the 1914 Frontier Days, the endurance of these machines was tested to the limit. A course was set to start in Phoenix at the Board of Trade to Prescott with one lap around the 43 mile Prescott Loop before finishing at the plaza. In order to finish in a timely fashion in Prescott, riders started at 5:30 in the morning!

The boys from Maricopa county won all of the $250 purse that year, but it was hardly a windfall. When they calculated their expenses for participating, it totaled $256!


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Weekly Journal-Miner, 3/15/1911; Pg. 4, Col. 4.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/6/1911; Pg. 4, Col. 3.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/2/1913; Pg. 6, Col. 4.
Arizona Republican, 7/23/1913; Pg. 2, Col. 3. 
Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/3/1913;  Pg. 8, Col. 5.

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