Across America on a Motor Bicycle- 1903

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Here's some more

I'm about to post some more of it...
BTW- I need to get together with ya' and get some of your opinions/experience in casting...
I'll call ya' tonight or tomorrow.
On with the story!
Part V. Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes

Part V. Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes
And Down The Hudson To New York

With the Windy City at my back, I felt as if I would "blow in" to New
York in a week or so. The worst roads I knew must surely be behind
me, and, with better highways, I calculated that I would have no more
trouble with my motor bicycle. I reckoned without thought of the
cumulative effects of the continuous battering that the machine was
receiving. It has proven itself a wonderfully staunch steed, but no
vehicle could stand what I imposed upon the 90-pound vehicle, nor
should any be expected to do so. Before I got through with my trip I
had, as will he seen, a vivid personal experience that put me into
thorough sympathy with the Deacon and his one-horse shay.

As I have said, I did not want to remain in Chicago one minute longer
than was necessary. and accordingly I left there at 5:30 p.m., on
June23, and made my way to Kensington, 23 miles east. In the morning
I ordered and paid for some gasoline. What I got was a vile mixture of
gasoline and something that was much like linseed oil. I believe it was
that, but I did not discover the imposition until after I had started. and I
did not go back. A man who will sell such stuff has no conscience. Only
a club will appeal to him, and I had no time to waste in fighting. I simply
went on and made the best of it till I could get fresh gasoline elsewhere.
The roads were heavy from recent rains when left Kensington at 6:45
a.m., and here in the smooth and "built up" east I had to resort to the
trick I learned in the deserts of Nevada and Utah. I took to the railroad
track, and rode 20 miles along the ties to the lake. I saved a
considerable distance by following the railroad, and as I was seasoned
to such riding, the bouncing did not hurt so much as the thought that I
was having the same sort of traveling east of Chicago that I had west of
Omaha. Well, it as a big country to build up and supply with good roads.
Anyone who has made such a trip as I made can appreciate this in a
fullness that others cannot. When this country is eventually built up with
good roads it will be truly great and wonderful.

I left the railroad at Porter, Indiana, and got onto a road with a good
rock bed, which lasted for several miles. The rains, which had so
severely damaged the roads, had not hurt the crops much, so far as I
could see. It was all a "ranching country," as we say in the West,
farming they call it in the East, through which I was passing at this
stage. and it looked flourishing. I reached La Porte at noon, and
lunched there, having made 55 miles in the forenoon. I had been
keeping company with a smell like that of burning paint all the morning.
It came from the mixture that I was exploding in the motor. I got fresh
gasoline at La Porte, and at least had an honest smell for my money
after that. I passed through Goshen at 5 p.m.. and reached Ligonier,
where I stopped for the night, at 6:30 p.m. The roads began to get
better after I left La Porte, and the last 19 miles of this day's run were
made in an hour and 10 minutes.

I thought that when I got east of Chicago folks would know what a
motor bicycle is, but it was not so. In every place through which I
passed, I left behind a gaping lot of natives, who ran out into the street
to stare after me. When I reached Ligonier I rode through the main
street, and by mistake went past the hotel where wanted to stop. When
I turned and rode back the streets looked as though there was a circus
in town. All the shopkeepers were out on the side-walks to see the
motor bicycle, and small boys were as thick as flies in a country
restaurant. When I dismounted in front of the hotel the crowd became
so big and the curiosity so great that I deemed it best to take the
bicycle inside. The boys manifested a desire to pull it apart to see how it
was made. There was really more curiosity about my motor bicycle in
the eastern towns than in the wilds of the Sierras. The mountaineers are
surprised at nothing, and seemed to have caught from the Indians the
self-containment that disdains to manifest the slightest curiosity.
Although when spoken to about it, the Westerners would frankly admit
they never saw such a machine before, yet they turned toward me on
my first appearance stolid countenances with which they gazed at the
sky and the surrounding landscape. This day, when I reached Ligonier,
June 24, I had made 130 miles at 8.a.m. On June 25 I left Ligonier and
struck out over a sand road, through a rolling and fertile farming
country, to Wawaka, where I came to a stone road, and had good riding
to Kendallville. East of that place, to Bitler, the going was a good
second to what I had in Iowa, which was the worst of anywhere that
there were roads. Between Butler and Edgerton, after having ridden 48
miles from Ligonier, I crossed the state line into Ohio. The road
improved some then, but it was very bad in places all the way to
Swanton. at which place I resorted to the railroad for more comfort and
fewer dismounts. I rode nine miles to Holland along the tracks, but the
railroad bed was a poor one and about as rough riding as the road, so I
returned to the highway and found a six-mile stretch of good road south
to Miami. By taking this road I made a shortcut that saved me 15 miles.
and did not. therefore, see Toledo. I arrived at Perrysburg. Ohio. at 7
p.m. with 126 miles to my credit for the day. The price of gasoline
continued to decrease as I got East. In the morning of that day at
Ligonier I had paid 10 cents for half a gallon; at Butler I got the same
quantity for 8 cents, and at Swanton the price was 7 cents. The table
board did not improve, however. For me, with my vigorous Western
appetite. the bounteous supply of plain food served by the little hotels in
the Rocky Mountain country was much more satisfactory than anything
I got East. The meals out in Nevada and Wyoming were much better
than anything I got in Illinois, Indiana or Ohio, at the same price.
Everywhere I stopped during this part of my trip a crowd gathered
about me and my motorcycle, although neither the machine nor my self
had any sign on telling our mission. Whenever I told someone in a
crowd I had come from San Francisco there was at first open
incredulity. The word was passed along, and they winked to one
another, while staring impudently at me. At this stage of my journey I
had with me, however, a copy of the June issue of The Motorcycle
Magazine. with the story of my start from the coast and a picture. This
convinced the doubters, and immediately my bicycle became the subject
of unbounded curiosity, while I was the target of Gatling-gun fire of
questions that it was impossible to answer satisfactorily. The
consequence was I became more particular when and where I took the
trouble to convince people of my feat.

About this time I began to feel the effects of my five days' rest in
Chicago. That length of time led to my growing tender. and I was more
saddle-sore at Perrysburg that night than at anytime before. I felt then
as if I would have to finish with a hot water bag on the saddle.

From Perrysburg I got a 7 o'clock start, but soon discovered that I did
not have any more lubricating oil than enough to last for 30 miles. By
economizing I managed to reach Tremont where I got some oil at a
machine shop. It was so thick that I had to heat it before it would run,
but it was better than nothing. After leaving Fremont the roads began to
grow very poor. There had been several days of rain on them Just
before I came along and as they were simply dirty roads for repeated
stretches of 10 miles or more the mud was deep and wide.

Near Amherst about 30 miles west of Cleveland I got my first reminder
of the one-horse story and a foretaste of what was in store for me. The
truss on the front forks of my bicycle broke. When I stopped to remove
the remains of it, I found that it had crystallized so that it was like a
piece of old rusty iron. It broke in several places like a stick of rotten
wood. That was the effect of the terrible pounding the machine had
received over the railroad ties It occurred to me at the time that the
whole machine must have suffered similarly, but it did not show signs of
disintegrating at the time, and I concluded it would carry me to New
York. After leaving Elyria, 25 miles from Cleveland, I struck a good
side-path that continued for 20 miles. It was only six inches wide in
places, but those few inches spelled salvation for me, because the road
was so heavy with sand that if I had not had the path to ride I would
have had to have walked for long stretches. Just out of Elyria I met an
automobile, and it was having a hard time of it. It was all the engine
could do to keep it moving. The last five miles into Cleveland I went
over the best roads I ever had ridden on anywhere in my life.

It was 7 p.m. when I reached Cleveland. and my first move was to hunt
up an automobile station in order to get some oil. At the Oldsmobile
branch I found what I wanted, and they gave me enough to last for 300
miles, all I cared to carry, in fact. They took a lively interest in me and
my bicycle and examined my motor carefully. Like everyone else,
though, they had to he shown the photographs of my start from San
Francisco before fully accepting my statement that I had come from
California. My distance for this day, to Cleveland, was 121 miles, and I
used five quarts of gasoline.

It was on the day I left Cleveland, June 27, that my troubles began to
come thick and fast. I started from Cleveland at 10 a.m. and had gone
only a mile when the lacing holes in my driving belt gave way and I had
to stop and re-lace. For the first five miles the road was fine, and then I
came to a stretch where the road was being rebuilt and I had to walk for
a mile and a half. After that, I had a plank road for six miles, and then it
was sandy for 30 miles, all the way to Geneva. From there to Couneaut,
22 miles, the road was good in places, with occasional stretches of clay
and sand, through which it was hard going. It was a dreary day of travel
through a pretty farming country, where the ranchers seemed to be as
heavy-witted as the cattle. The belt broke five times during the
afternoon, and the last time I fixed it I laced It with two inches of space
between the ends in order to make it reach. I passed through town after
town. where I wondered what the people did for recreation. There was
nothing for them to do after their day's work but to walk around the
block and then go to bed. One thing I noticed is that it is a poor country
for shoemakers for nearly everyone. I saw, men, women and children,
were barefooted. It was plain that much of the country I saw was settled
by immigrant farmers from Germany and other parts of Europe. I made
only 75 miles this day. When I arrived in Conneaut. I got a piece of
belting at a bicycle store and spliced my troublesome piece of driving
leather. Then I discovered that the screws in the crankcase of the
motor were all loose, so I put in some white lead and tightened them. It
was so late by this time that I concluded to remain at Conneaut that

My hoodoo was with me all the next day. I left Conneaut at 7:30 a.m.,
and before I had gone quite 10 miles the oil began to leak out of the
crankcase, although I had done my best to make it tight and seal it with
white lead the night before. The belt again gave out and I had my own
profane troubles with these two defects all day. First it was the oil, and
then the belt, and I became so disgusted before noon that I felt like
shooting the whole machine full of holes and deserting it. This was my
first visit to Pennsylvania - for I been riding in the little 50-mile strip of
the Keystone Stare that borders on Lake Erie ever since leaving
Conneaut - and I can say that all my Pennsylvania experiences were
hard ones. The roads were fairly good and for most of the way I rode on
footpaths at the side of the road. The view from the road with the
luxuriant verdure-clad bluffs on one side and the horizon-bounded
expanse of the great lake on the other side was as magnificent as I had
seen. It reminded me of the good old Pacific.

By afternoon I had crossed the Pennsylvania strip and at last was in
New York state. It seemed as if I was nearing home then, but it is a big
state, and I came to realize the truth of the song that "it's a blanked
long walk to the *** Rialto in New York." I didn't have to walk, but
walking would have been easier than the way I traveled from the
western boundary of the Empire State to the metropolis. It was on the
afternoon of June 28 that I entered the state, and it was eight days later
before I got to the confines of the great city.

I had hoped to reach Buffalo on the day I left Conneaut but was still 25
miles from the Queen City when my troubles climaxed by the breaking
of a fork side. The crystallization resulting from the continuous
pounding was telling again. I walked two miles to Angola, and there
sought a telegraph office, and wired Chicago for a pair of new forks. I
learned that I would not be able to get a pair there for two days,
because they would have to go first to Buffalo and then be reshipped to
Angola. I therefore determined to get the forks repaired there if
possible, and make them do till I got to Buffalo. It is a fortunate thing
that I was not riding fast or going downhill when the fork side broke. I
was told that automobiles and motor bicycles frequently traveled the
road that I took from Chicago to New York, but the behavior of the
natives belied it. People all came running out of the houses when I
passed, and they stared as if they never had seen a motor bicycle

I spent two hours in a repair shop in Angola the next morning- June 29,
and at the end of that time the repairer pronounced the forks mended
sufficiently to carry me through to New York. I did not feel as confident
about this as the repairman did. I got to Buffalo by 11 o'clock, and after
a visit to the post office, I rode out to the E. R. Thomas automobile and
motor bicycle factory. There I met Mr. F. R. Thomas for the first time,
and I must pay a tribute to his generous hospitality, which I shall always
remember. His kindness was all the more magnanimous when it is
remembered that I was riding the product of a rival maker. The first
thing Mr. Thomas did was to send my bicycle inside and have it seen to
that it was supplied with oil and gasoline. Then he learned that my forks
were in bad shape, and he ordered men to get to work and make a new
pair for it and finish them at night. The men worked in the factory until
9 o'clock that night on my forks, and had them ready for me to make an
early start in the morning. For all this Mr. Thomas. would not accept
payment. In the meantime he showed me through his factory, and then
lent me an Auto-Bi, on which I took a trip about the city.

I left Buffalo at 5:20 a.m., determined, if possible, to get to New York
by July 2. and join in the endurance run to Worcester that started on
the third. After I had gone 10 miles the lacing holes in the belt broke
away again. I then put on the old original belt with which I had started
from San Francisco and which I had removed at Chicago. but still
carried with me. Everything went finely for the next few miles, and then
the connecting rod of the motor broke. Everything seemed to me to be
going to pieces. There was nothing for it then but to pedal, and I
churned away for five miles into Batavia. It was only 9 a.m. when I got
there, and it took until 3:30 p.m. to get the repairs made so that I could
start again. It went all right until I was 12 miles from Rochester, and
then the valves got to working so poorly that I could not make more
than five miles an hour with it. I managed to reach a cycle store in
Rochester, and there I went to work, intending to get it fixed and ride
half the night to make up for lost time. It was of no use. I worked until
11 p.m., and then gave it up until morning. I realized then that the motor
and bicycle were suffering from crystallization. There were no flaws or
defects of any sort in the parts that were breaking. They were just
giving out all at once, like the Deacon's famous shay that lasted him so
well and so long and was not weaker in any one part than in another. In
spite of all my troubles, I had made 80 miles that day, and I still had
hopes of being in New York in time for the fireworks. It took until
11:30 o'clock the next day, July I, to get the motor working, and then I
started from Rochester with C.O. Green, superintendent of the Regas
Company, and W.L. Stoneburn, the bookkeeper, riding with me as an
escort. They accompanied me 20 miles to Fairport. over roads so
muddy as to be nearly impassible. Not far from Fairport, when I was
alone again the hoodoo asserted itself. First the connecting rod worked
loose, and soon after the belt ends gave way. I lost as little time as
possible, however, and at night I reached Cayuga, with the satisfaction
of having covered 70 miles during the short day.

I left Cayuga at 8 a.m. and took my troubles with me, The batteries
were growing weak: first the eyelets of the belt broke and then the
lacing; next the crank axle got out of true, and every time it struck, the
belt broke. I had these troubles all day. Toward night the belt broke
five times in one mile. I got some new batteries at Syracuse, but after
going two miles on them they would not yield a spark, so I went back
and returned them, and after a search I managed to get some good
batteries. The fates seemed in a conspiracy to prevent my getting to
New York before July 4. The motor was getting in such shape that I
realized I would be lucky if I could finish with it at all. To add to my
troubles these two days from Rochester, July 1 and 2, were terribly hot
and I was nearly prostrated by the heat. I managed to make 65 miles
and get to Canastota by 9:30 p.m. on the second, and as that was the
day I had hoped to be in the metropolis, I did not go to bed in any
cheerful humor.

At 7 a.m. on July 3, I started from Canastota: determined to get to
Albany, at least, that day. I had trouble from the start. I re-laced the
belt seven times during the forenoon, and then I spliced it with a new
piece at Little Falls. I was still 40 miles from Albany when my
handlebars broke off on one side. I had been there a couple of times
before during the trip, and it did not take me long to lash a stick across
the steering stem. Soon after, the piston began to squeak, and I
discovered that the rings on it were worn out. Oil was of no avail, and I
rode on with the squeak for company. Six miles from Albany, while I
was on the towpath, the rear tire blew out There was a hole in it that
would admit a hand. I walked into Albany. Some of the remarks I made
to myself as I walked were not fit for quoting to a Sunday school class.
My distance that day was 135 miles. This was to be my last day of big
mileage though.

All the way through New York state I used the cycle path without a
license. It was not until after my trip ended that I knew I had been
violating the law.

On the Fourth of July my first move in the morning was to a bicycle
store, where I got a new tire and put in 14 new spokes, and then took
the motor apart. The piston rings were worn pretty thin but looked as if
they would still give service, so at 2:30 p.m. I started from Albany. Four
miles out, I gave it up. The motor would not explode as it should. I went
back to the bicycle store in Albany and worked on the problem there
until night. Then I went to see the fireworks and forget about it.

As I could not make the motor work, I concluded on the morning of July
5 to make myself work. I started to pedal in to New York. That last 150
miles down the Hudson from Albany is a part of my trip of which I will
always have a vivid recollection. I had seen some hills before, but the
motor climbed them for me. In the hills along the Hudson, I had to climb
and push the motor along. They seemed steeper than the Rocky
Mountains. This I will say, though - from the time I left the Pacific coast
I saw no grander scenery than that along the Hudson River. While
other sights were not up to expectation, the scenery of the Hudson was
far beyond it.

So enthusiastic was I that I pedaled along all night on July 5. It was a
long, dreary and strenuous ride, but I was well seasoned by this time
and fit to do a mule's work. After riding two days and a night under leg
power or rather over it, I reached New York in the middle of the
afternoon on July 6. 1 made frequent stops to rest and I attracted more
than a little attention but I was too tired to care. I can smile now as I
recall the sight I was with my overalls on, my face and hands black as a
mulatto's, my coat torn and dirty, a big piece of wood tied on with rope
where my handlebars should be, and the belt hanging loose from the
crankshaft. I was told that I was "Picturesque" by a country reporter
named "Josh", who captured me for an interview a little way up the
Hudson, and who kept me talking while the photographer worked his
camera, but to my ideal, I was too dirty to be picturesque- At any rate,
I was too tired then to care. All I wanted was a hot bath and a bed. but
before I got these I had to telephone to The Motorcycle Magazine to
learn where to go and wait to have more cameras pointed at me before
being escorted to my hostelry. Of all the sleep I had during my trip,
none was more profound, or sweeter than the one I had that night of
July 6 at the Herald Square Hotel, just 50 days after I left San
Francisco for my ride across the continent on my motor bicycle.

While I slept at the Herald Square Hotel, my ride really ended at the
New York Motor Cycle Club's rooms, No. 1904 Broadway. It was there
I left the faithful little machine that had carried me some 3,800 miles.
What was the exact distance I never will be able to tell, because, as
previously related, after breaking four cyclometers, I ceased to bother
with the mileage.

Compared with the first cycling journey across the continent, that of
Thomas Stevens in 1882, the first effort of the motor bicycle does not
suffer. Mr. Stevens required 103 1/2 days to ride from San Francisco to
Boston; my journey was completed in 50 days. While the idea of
establishing a record was no part of my purpose, it is worthy of remark
that none of the three powerful automobiles that have since crossed the
continent have come near to equalling my time. With the experience
gained and with a more powerful machine - the one I used was of but 1¼
horsepower - I feel confident that the journey from ocean to ocean can
be made in 30 days without particularly strenuous effort. With a railway
attachment, such as is in common use by bicyclists in the West, and
which would permit the use of rails across the deserts of Nevada, it will
be possible to more than realize the 30 days' estimate.

While it is true that my forks broke and the motor crank axle also gave
way, these are unusual accidents, nearly all of my other troubles were
minor ones, the belt being a most prolific source. But, as a whole, the
motor behaved splendidly and performed its work well under many
trying conditions. Its failure at Albany was really the only occasion
when it gave me serious concern. Subsequent examination proved that
the inlet valve had in some way become jammed so as to be immovable,
at least with the means at my command. Between fear of breaking
something and anxiety to reach New York, I possibly did not take the
chances at making a strenuous repair that under other circumstances I
would have taken. Save the forks, the bicycle also stood up well. The
wonder is that it stood up at all, so terrific and so frequent was the
pounding it received in the many miles of cross-tie travel. The saddle,
too, deserves praise. Despite its many drenchings and mud, and the
heat of the desert, and the banging of the railroad ties, it did not stretch
or sag the fractional part of an inch, and reached New York in as good
condition as when it left San Francisco.
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And there, my good friends, you have it. The story that became my own inspiration, and the man that became my hero and guiding star...
I will forever have a piece of George A. Wyman, and his triumphant story, in my heart and my soul.:cool:
Thank you very much for posting this. I read every word. He was quite a guy. This has actually made me think about making it up to the '08 rally in WA on my 2 stroker. Thanks again. I'm going to print it out for my history buff dad.
Please, PLEASE feel free to share this story.
It is my mission to have this man recieve the credit he was denied (and so dearly desreves) over the past 100 + years as not only the first motorcyclist to cross the country, but also as the first MOTORIZED crossing of our U.S.A.
This story must not be lost and forgotten any longer.
Spread it around...
excellent post Rif!!

this is the 1st time I have seen this whole story in print!!!

did you do this just for us?? :cool:

thanks for sharing.... & Yes, I'm telling people!!
did you do this just for us?? :cool:
Just for my bros and sisters at MB.c!:cool:
Yeah man it moved me so much the first time i read it that I imediately flipped it over and read it again. It's just darned amazing to me, and everytime i read it I glean something new.
O great disciple of the word of Wyman ......We Thank you.
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