(click to enlarge photos)
(Published in The Seattle Times online on June 23, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on June 26, 2022)
Vroom with a view: Bikers still ‘see everything’ 112 years later
By Jean Sherrard
It was, proclaimed the Seattle Times, “the first real endurance tour in the history of the motorcycle in the Pacific Northwest,” hosted July 3, 1910, by the Seattle Motorcycle Club.
In our “Then” photo, 26 club members pause near Volunteer Park before the event, straddling their cycles while wearing leather chaps, sporting mustaches and derby hats.
These early bikes were not dependable, says Tom Samuelsen, historian of the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling. An extended trip demanded equal reservoirs of luck, mechanical improvisation and sheer tenacity. Writer Frank Richardson Pierce retrospectively detailed the riders’ elaborate dance:
“When the photographer finished, the club members shoved belt-tightening levers and pedaled madly until the engines started. Then, loosening each belt so that it slipped on the pulley, they dismounted, [easing] the machine off the stand. … Remounting, they tightened the belt and were on their way.”
The grueling, 2-day run began at 7 a.m. from Pioneer Place (now Pioneer Square) and adhered to a punishing schedule.
Checkpoints included Kent, Tacoma, the Mount Rainier Park entrance and the Nisqually glacier, plus an overnight stay in the town of Elbe. A checkered flag was waved in front of the Seattle Times building at Second and Union at 6 p.m. Independence Day, July 4.
Of the 33 motorcyclists who started the tour — propelling two-thirds of the 50 motorcycles then owned in Seattle — all but four vroomed the distance. Local shops and merchandisers awarded top finishers prizes ranging from headlight lamps and goggles to new sets of tires.
Our “Now” photo was snapped Sunday, May 22, from the same vantage, the steps leading up to the Volunteer Park water tower, looking south along 14th Avenue.
These 30 motorcyclists also participated in that day’s 11th annual Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride. A global event spanning more than 700 cities and 100 countries, it has raised more than $31 million since 2012 for the Movember Foundation, on behalf of prostate-cancer awareness and men’s mental health.
Seattle hosts one of the largest such rides, mainly sponsored by two local clubs, the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts (VME) and the Rainier Ravens (an all-women’s motorcycle group).
While the classic motorcycles featured here are more reliable than their early counterparts, their riders are no less passionate about their choice of conveyance. Samuelsen waxes poetic about motorcycling zen:
“It’s nothing like riding in a car. And if you slow down a bit, you can see everything — farmland, mountains, ocean — and become part of nature. It provides direct immersion into the world.”
For our usual 360 video, narrated by Jean Sherrard, vroom over here.
In addition, we offer several bonbons of motorcycle memorabilia and documentation, most supplied by the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling, now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
First, let’s supply a few additional details concerning our Now and Then photos, courtesy of Tom Samuelsen, PNWMoM senior historian:
“The THEN photo depicts the Seattle Motorcycle Club (SMC) member’s First Annual Endurance Run that was to be held on July 3-4, 1910. This was the first real endurance tour in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Valuable prizes were offered for the best score. This run was held under the sanction of the Federation of American Motorcyclists. Each rider was credited with 1000 points at the 7am start in Seattle’s Pioneer Place, now called Pioneer Square. Rules stated that for each minute late or each minute early at the control timing points there would be 2 points deducted. The run also included one secret control check. The average speed of 20 miles per hour kept riders safe on the dirt roads and trails up Mt. Rainier and they rode far beyond the highest point reached by auto or carriage.
“They returned to the town of Elbe where they spent the night. The next morning, they rode to Olympia and checked in at Ashley’s Motorcycle Shop in Tumwater then took lunch at the Carlton Hotel, leaving Olympia at 1:15pm after a pass through several check stations in Tacoma and Kent.
Seattle was reached at 6:00pm with the last check at the Seattle Times Building. Two silver cups and several prizes were awarded to the dusty riders. Of the 32 starters all but four riders made it. Perfect scores were earned by seven riders as follows: C.R. Roy, 6 ½ Yale; Lee Dagner, 7 Indian A.W. Hirsch, 4 H-D; Nels Christopher, Fred Walker, Paul Koch and B.S. Klein all of whom rode 4hp Excelsiors. (Article by the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling)
“The NOW photo features members of the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling, co-organizers of the re-creation of the 1910 Seattle Motorcycle Club photo. It was taken on May 22, 2022, just south of Volunteer Park’s historic Water Tower on 14th Avenue East for the Seattle Times ‘Now & Then’ pages in the weekly Pacific NW Magazine. Jean Sherrard and the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling (PNW MoM) have collaborated to recreate the images of early motorcycle history multiple times.
“Front row, L-R; Jack Mackey holding the minutes of the Seattle Motorcycle Club’s 1910 ride planning. Most of the motorcyclists pictured are members of the PNW MoM and the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiast (VME). Tom Samuelsen holds a photo taken in Seattle on July 3, 1910 at the starting point of the Endurance Run; Tammy Sessions (PNW MoM President) hold SMC records from 1910. Tad Dean, Jeff Earle, Chris Sharon, Paul Henderson, Emily Mullens (leader of the all-women’s motorcycle group Rainier Ravens) also appear, l-r.
“Several motorcycle groups are represented in the current photo, including Mike Coski representing the historic Tacoma Motorcycle Club (also formed in 1910), and Cretin’s MC members, Knuckle Busters MC members, and other prominent members of the motorcycle industry. “
(again, click twice to expand to full size)
Plus a couple of Seattle Motorcycle Club treasures from 1910. Just below, a copy of the actual minutes of the club committing to the endurance tour.
A menu from the SMC 1910 banquet, celebrating a successful summer of touring:
Of special note, the fish entree: “Scallop of Pedal au Spring Fork”. For dessert, “Endurance Run Pudding”.
(Incidentally, the Firloch Club was most likely at the same spot as today’s Seattle’s Tennis Club.)
For both enthusiasts and the moto-curious, here are a slew of candid photos taken of participants in the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride. Thanks to all the easy riders who joined in!
A late-breaking extra and mea culpa! A photo of the Seattle Motorcycling Club at the start of its 1911 endurance tour, also near Pioneer Square, was misdated as 1910 (due to operator error!).