Monday, January 8, 2018

The Story Behind the Headlines?

California Motor Company offers bicycle racer George Wyman $500 prize money to ride their motor-bicycle from San Francisco to New York City.  The Goodman Company gets exclusive rights to publish the story and helps with the trip expenses.

Filling the holes of the Wyman saga based on reliable and verifiable sources is a pains taking process.  Very much like a detective following leads, running down rumors and piecing the timeline together.  Sometimes, a new piece of the puzzle helps others fall into place.  When a new bit of the history surfaces, the Wyman Project is eager to share with the public.  Speculating about historical events beyond that supported by documented facts is a risky undertaking.  We want to present the information in historical context, offering reasonable assumptions about the circumstances surrounding new information.  The Wyman Project is very curious about the circumstances leading up to the first crossing of America by motorized vehicle. What were the stakeholders interests and motivations?  What did each hope to gain?  What follows is speculation about the story behind the documented tidbits.  We preface our assumptions with the phrase, "It is likely..."

FOLLOW THE MONEY - Investigations by Marti Wyman Schein, Research Director of the Wyman Project, and those published by Road Rider Magazine in September of 1988 point to a collaboration of the California Motor Company (CMC) and the Goodman Company, publisher of The Motorcycle Magazine, bank rolling much of, if not all of Wyman's historic 1903 journey.  It is likely the CMC put up prize money and would provide technical support.  The Goodman Company likely covered most of Wyman's trip expenses in exchange for exclusive story rights.  Wyman would keep a day-to-day journal and submit regular reports to the Goodman Company.

Dateline May 21, 1903 - Reno Gazette-Journal:  This news clipping confirms other rumors that Wyman would receive a $500 prize (Over $13,000 in 2017 dollars) if he arrived in New York City within 40 days from leaving San Francisco.  It is likely this information came from Wyman himself, given to the reporter for the Gazette-Journal.  Wyman was always eager to tell his story to the local news.  It was repeated in the Winnemucca paper a few days later.

The researchers at Road Rider Magazine make the case the CMC may have been heavily involved with the Wyman adventure.  The questions raised in that article are still unanswered to this day, as all records of the behind the scenes activities and motivations of the CMC owners are long gone.  But, the chronology of the events, juxtaposed with the contemporaneous reporting suggests a collaboration.  The California motor-bicycle was competing with scores of other motorized cycles.  Having invested large sums of startup capital in the CMC, the owners would have been eager to show how well the California performed.  (See the Wyman chronology, 1877 - 1959, in the Road Rider article, linked below.)

"America's First Road Rider - THE HISTORY, "Speculation on the Wyman Story" by G.W. 'Oley' Knudsen and Bob Carpenter, Road Rider Magazine, September 1988, Vol 19 Nbr 9

THE CALIFORNIA MOTOR COMPANY - At the turn of the last century, J.W. Leavitt and L.H. Bill owned/operated bicycle shops in the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, CA.  In 1901, Leavitt and Bill founded the California Motor Company.  They hired Roy C. Marks as chief mechanical engineer.  Their goal was to mass produce the motorized bicycle, dubbed the 'California', based on Marks design.  The CMC factory was located at the San Francisco bicycle shops at 730 & 309 Larkin Street.  The CMC was struggling to expand the market for its California motor-bicycle.  Something of a 'dud', its first model was just 90cc and 1/2 horsepower.  At that displacement it was prone to mechanical breakdowns as the under powered motor labored to carry a rider.  In 1902 the California was fitted with a larger 200cc, 1.25 HP motor.  If Leavitt & Bill could not make CMC profitable though the sales of the 'California' at least they could make the company attractive on the ever expanding motorcycle production market.

Cycling sports entrepreneurs Leavitt & Bill were active in the bicycle racing scene in the bay area, sponsoring an annual 100 mile bicycle rally event.   They knew top seeded bicycle racer George Wyman.  He participated in the bay area rallies in 1901 and 1902 after his return from Australia. Wyman had an international reputation for hard riding.  While in Australia around 1900 Wyman circumnavigated the continent of Australia on a bicycle, becoming the first American cyclist to do so.  Owing to his reputation for hard riding it is likely Wyman was eager to expand his riding horizons with a motor.  Sometime in 1902, Wyman acquired a California motor-bicycle.  It is not yet known how he came to get the bike, whether new from CMC or used from someone, or how much he paid for it.  Motor-bicycles in 1902 were retailing for between $200 and $250 ($5,000-$6.900 in 2017 dollars).   In July of 1902, Wyman rode 'the California' across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to attend the "Fifty Mile Bicycle Race" in Reno, NV (source:  Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review, page 255, April 1903)  Wyman was the first to ride a motorized vehicle, of any kind, across the Sierra Nevada range.  It was on the ride back to San Francisco that would inspired Wyman to attempt a transcontinental journey.

On August 17th, 1902, a large combined race featuring events for bicycles, motor-bicycles, and automobiles is held at San Francisco's Ingleside Racetrack.  Two California motor-bicycles are entered in the 5th event, a three-mile motor-bicycle handicap.  Wyman attended, but was not one of the California racers.  He was at the event, representing the Bay City Wheelmen, riding in three bicycle races. It is likely he watched the two California and one Thomas motor-bikes race.

Late summer or early fall, 1902, it is likely Wyman and the CMC got together to discuss his transcontinental attempt.  Wyman would need financial and technical support for the journey.  Whether he approched CMC or they came to him, we suspect the company and the racer came to an arrangement.  CMC would have seen the transcontinental attempt as an opportunity to showcase the California.  It is likely, CMC offered Wyman a $500 incentive if he could reach New York City in 40 days.  From their stand point it was a calculated business decision.  If Wyman pulls it off it would be a huge endorsement of the quality of the California.  And, enhance the value of the CMC for any potential buy-out scenario.  If he did not make it with the 40 day, then all CMC was on the hook for was a New York City to San Francisco 1st Class train ticket for Wyman.  Given their inside knowledge of the performance capabilities of the California it seemed like a good business decision.  Wyman's planned route was slightly over 3,800 miles.  Making the journey in 40 days meant he had to cover an average of 95 miles each day.  CMC might have doubted Wyman's ability to make the journey in under 40 days, so no payout.  But, probably confident, given Wyman's reputation as a 'sticker' to eventually reach New York City.  There would be very little downside for CMC...except for bad press if things went wrong.

THE GOODMAN COMPANY - Publisher of the widely read "Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review", Goodman was keen to launch America's first periodical focusing on the growing motorcycle trend.  The first ad for the new magazine appears in the May 2, 1903 edition of "Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review."

Wyman had an agreement with Goodman to publicize the journey.  Wyman would provide timely and regular progress reports from the trail.  For exclusive rights to Wyman's articles and photographs, Goodman would provide reasonable travel and communication expenses, giving Wyman something like 'reporter' status. The Goodman Company had a well honed reporting infrastructure already established from years of covering the bicycling news across America and internationally. (Goodman states it has 'exclusive' rights to Wyman's reporting on page one, after the ad, of the June 1903 issue, The Motorcycle Magazine.)

Communication with the Goodman offices, in either San Francisco or New York City, were made by telephone, telegraph and postal mailings.  Wyman kept a paper journal of his journey and took photographs with a Kodak Vest Pocket camera.  Every few days while on the trip Wyman would have to compile his notes, get film developed and have the reports sent to Goodman.  The June 1903 premier issue of "The Motorcycle Magazine" featured the first installment of "Across America on a Motor Bicycle"  by Wyman.  During his ride, the Goodman Company published many news clips in "Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review" chronicling Wyman's journey in the April - September 1903 issues.  This periodical had a much higher circulation and subscription rate than the just launched "Motorcycle Magazine" so it was important for the Goodman Company to keep interest in the Wyman story high.

CMC - Wyman - Goodman:  The April 25, 1903 issue of Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review contains a clip announcing Wyman's intention to ride across America.  By this time it is likely the stage was set between the CMC, Wyman and the Goodman Company.  This begins the coverage of what could be the motor sports story of the century...or not.

One of the questions raised by Road Rider in the September 1988 article is: Why so little publicity about the historic first ever motorized vehicle journey across America?  Articles and news posting about the crossing appeared mainly in the local news papers, Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review and of course The Motorcycle Magazine.  All low circulation periodicals.

Another curiosity is the almost complete lack of any mention of the California brand in any of the published articles.  Or, the absence of the CMC logo in any photographs of the bike Wyman was riding, and no CMC advertising found before or during the ride.  Wyman mentions the California brand in just the first of his 5 "Across America on a Motor-Bicycle" articles.  And, that mention describes the California in a non-possessive manner describing his ride over the Sierra's, "During the previous summer I had made the journey on a California motor bicycle to Reno, Nevada..."  Note, he calls it as 'a California,' not 'my California.'   There is scant (only 1) mention of Wyman riding a California in news reports published in "Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review" during his May - July trip.

Could it be CMC imposed a temporary moratorium on Goodman Company and Wyman not to mention California brand until after successful completion of the trip?  Makes sense if CMC wanted to manage the publicity to minimize the negative impact of catastrophic failure of the motor.  Wyman's reference to 'a California', not 'my California' lends credibility to that idea owing to the successful first crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by him on the California.  A contrary speculation is Wyman was at odds with CMC and refused to mention the California by name.  But that is not likely.  CMC would have done extensive advertising about its top of the line motor-bicycle going across America.  Without access to the agreement documentation, if any still exists, we my never know the true circumstances surrounding the relationships among the three stakeholders in this historic event.

All Fame Is Fleeting

Wyman rides the California across America in 50 days.  He misses the 40 day prize money window due to the many mechanical breakdowns and parts delays.  Wyman gets his 1st Class train ride back to San Francisco.  (Imagine his thoughts as he gazed out of the train window while traveling back along the route he just rode.)  His epic accomplishment rapidly fades into obscurity as the news of the first transcontinental crossing by automobile captures the imagination of America.

The Goodman Company launches "The Motorcycle Magazine" and proclaims Wyman a two-wheel motor sports hero.  Publishing the account of Wyman's San Francisco to New York City journey documents the first coast-to-coast long-distance motorcycle ride for posterity.  The magazine goes out of publication in 1906.

In October of 1903, the California Motor Company is sold to Consolidated Manufacturing, maker of the Yale brand of bicycles and motorcycles.  The negotiations for such a buy-out must have been in the works for months.  The following year, the machinery of the CMC in the San Francisco factory is disassembled and moved to the Yale factory in Toledo, OH.  The California-Yale is produced for a couple of years before going out of production.

The Spirit of the Long Ride

The legacy of Wyman's epic journey is not in his motivations or personal rewards.  That he kept going after missing the 40 day prize money window shows he was riding for other reasons.  He had to know finishing the first ever crossing of America by motorcycle was the extraordinary achievement in itself.  The legacy of George A. Wyman's successful 1903 ride across America literally defines the spirit of the long-distance motorcyclist.

Read -  Across America on a Motor Bicycle by George A. Wyman