Biographies, potted marque histories, forgotten words and phrases, technical terms … that’s why it’s gallimaufric.
Abingdon Engineering: Set up in 1856 to make tools. Being based in Birmingham it’s hardly surprising that the firm became part of the burgeoning West Midlands bicycle industry. In 1903, like so many other bicycle manufacturers, it began to fit engines, initially from Minerva, Fafnir and MMC. It adopted the memorable trade mark King Dick, named after the boss’s prize winning bulldog, and by 1910 Abingdon King Dick was producing its own 3.5hp singles and 6hp V-twins, some of which were supplied to other manufacturers including Ariel. Innovations included the Abingdon Spring Fork, featuring an early coil-sprung, telescopic shock absorber. Abingdon King Dick survived the post-WW1 depression; in 1925 it abbreviated its trade name to AKD and concentrated on ohv fourstroke singles from 148-346cc. The last AKD motorcycles were made in 1932 but King Dick is still very much in business, still based in Birmingham and still making hand tools.
Acceleration: The rate at which a motorcycle overcomes inertia to reach the desired speed. Inertia increases with the mass of the bike and rider, which is why skinny brats on lightweights can get away from the lights ahead of their fuller-figured elders and betters. Sprinters record acceleration in terms of thousandths of a second over a measured distance; my M21 is better suited to a calendar.
AOIV: Automatically operated inlet valve (basically a springloaded flap (qv moiv).
Don Jeronimo de Ayanz (1553-1613): Knight of the Order of Calatrava, was a Spanish soldier, painter, astronomer, musician and inventor. As a soldier he fought in France, Flanders, Portugal and the Azores; he also foiled a French plot to murder King Felipe II. All of which inspired playwright Lope de Vaga to base a play on his life. As an inventor he designed windmills, a distillery to provide fresh water at sea, scales accurate to fractions of a gram, a means of measuring torque, a diving suit and a type of submarine. And (here’s where he becomes relevant to our story) after he was appointed to oversee the hundreds of mines in Spain and its empire De Ayanz devised a way to use steam to pump water out of a mine and pump fresh air in. In one year alone he was granted 48 patents, including one for the use of steam power. The year was 1606–almost 100 years before Savery’s ‘miner’s friend’ began to pump water from British mines.
William Barnett (1802-1865): In 1838 Barnett patented not one but three gas engines featuring an effective form of flame ignition; they also compressed the gas prior to ignition. These innovations were widely copied and were still in use as late as the start of the 20th century. The ignition system was similar to that later adopted by Hugon and Otto. They had three cylinders but only one of these produced power; the others were pumps to compress the gas and air. Barnett’s designs represented important steps on the way to the first practicable internal combustion engine, built by Etienne Lenoir in 1860. Dugald Clerk (qv), in his seminal book on gas and oil engines, wrote: “Barnett’s inventions as described in his specification are so important that they require more complete description than has been accorded to earlier inventors.”
Father Eugenio Barsanti (1821-1864): In 1854 Barsanti, of the Piarist Fathers of Scolopi, and hydraulic engineer Felice Matteucci patented a hydrogen/air engine in London. They chose London because patent law in Italy did not offer the international protection of a British patent. A prototype was finally built in the 1860s and some Italians still claim Barsanti invented the internal combustion engine.
Blind (n/vb): Slang for a flat-out ride/to ride flat out, circa 1920.
Blue ‘Un: Nickname for The Motor Cycle inspired by its blue masthead.
George Brayton: In 1872 a patent was issued to GB Brayton of Philadelphia for a gas engine he called Brayton’s Ready-Motor. The following year it was tested in New York by Prof Thurston of the Stevens Institute of Technology. In 1878 the Ready-Motor was introduced into the UK by Messrs Simon of Nottingham. A pump was used to compress air and force it through a series of perforated brass disks and materials exposing a large surface of petrol in a separate cylinder so as to vaporize the fuel.
Samuel Brown (1799-1849): In 1823 Brown was granted the first of a series of patents for gas engines that seem to have been inspired by the condensing steam engine. Burning gas, rather than steam, expelled the air from a vertical cylinder and cold water was injected to “condense the flame and produce a vacuum”. It was the first gas engine to earn its keep in industry. The August 1824 issue of Mechanics magazine reported that one of Brown’s multi-cylinder engines had raised 300 gallons of water 15ft fuelled by a single cubic foot of gas. By 1832 his engines were powering pumps at Croydon; Soham, Cambs; and Eagle Lodge, Old Brompton.
Bubbler: Slang, circa 1910, for surface carburettor.
Change speed lever: Original (pre-Word War 1) term for what is still known as the gearchange lever; the term survived the move from hand to foot actuation.
Dugald Clerk (1854-1933): In 1881 Scottish engineer Clerk patented a form of two-stroke engine featuring a separate charging cylinder. The modern, compact two-stroke engine, which uses the area below the piston as a charging pump, was designed a few years later by Joseph Day and proved emminently suitable for powering motorcycles from Scott to Suzuki. Clerk was acclaimed as an authority on internal combustion engines, acting as judge at the automobile trials at Richmond in 1899 and 1900. In 1908 he became president of the Incorporated Institution of Automobile Engineers and was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1916 Clerk was appointed director of engineering research for the Admiralty, sat on the advisory committee for aeronautics to the Air Ministry and was knighted in 1917.
Commencer: Slang, circa 1950, for kickstarter.
Abraham Darby I II and III (1678-1717, 1711-1763 and 1750-1789): Britain was lucky enough to get three Abraham Darbys in succession: lucky because all three did things with metal that put them at the heart of the industrial revolution which would make Britain the workshop of the world. And that was the foundation for a motorcycle industry that dominated the global market. In 1709 Abraham Darby, the son of a Quaker farmer, worked out how to burn coke rather than charcoal to produce brass and iron. This was good timing because increasing demand was outstripping the supply of charcoal, forcing up prices. Switching to coke entailed a move from forests to coalfields. Key centres were South Wales, Scotland, Staffordshire and Shropshire the Darbys were based at Coalbrookdale, on the River Severn in Shropshire. The new fuel cut the price of brass and iron as it boosted output. Darby also set up the world’s first metallurgy laboratory and patented a continuous sand-moulding method to mass-produce cast brass and iron goods so costs fell. His casting methods allowed the accurate production of complex components, facilitating the development of steam engines. There was another useful by-product. Coke was, and is, made by heating coal. The coal gas collected from coke ovens was not only burned to provide light and heat, it was used as fuel by designers of early internal combustion engines. Darby’s son, Abraham 2, went into the family business bigtime, expanding capacity with six new furnaces and learning how to make purer ‘pig’ iron which was just right for forging into wrought iron. He also bought control of the county’s entire output of coal and iron ore – horsedrawn railways from the mines to the furnaces and then to docks on the Severn. This boosted the firm’s transport production twenty-fold. Steam pumps were installed to increase water supplies to the waterwheels that powered the furnaces. And in 1779 Abraham 2’s son, Abraham 3, used wrought iron to make the world’s first iron bridge which is still a potent symbol of the industrial revolution. The 100ft bridge was prefabricated spans the Severn at the spot now known as Ironbridge. It’s still in use and Ironbridge, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, is well worth a visit by any motorcyclist who wants to understand the roots of the British industry. Paintings and posters promoted the revolutionary new bridge and the international publicity certainly helped the company’s expansion. But this success led to a labour shortage. Abraham 3 responded by building good quality housing and buying local farms to guarantee affordable food supplies. He also paid higher wages than the surrounding farms, mines and potteries. Labour problem solved. The dynasty died with Abraham 3 in 1789 but a succession of ironmasters continued the expansion programme. In 1802 Richard Trevthick relied on the expertise of the Coalbrookdale works to produce boilers for his first high-pressure steam engines. Exports included iron pots and other trade goods for Africa, sugar mills for the West Indies and steam engines for the Far East.
Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802): Grandfather of the immortal Charles, Erasmus was a large, loquacious eccentric whose interests ranged from botany to phisiology, physics and philosophy. He figures in our story not as an inventor but as an encourager of inventors. In 1766 he wrote to his friend Matthew Boulton: “As I was riding home yesterday, I considered the scheme of the fiery chariot, and the longer I contemplated this favourite idea, the more practicable it appeared to me. I shall lay my thoughts before you, crude and undigested though they may appear to be, telling you as well what I thought would not do as what would do, as by those hints you may be led into various trains of thinking upon this subject, and by that means (if any hints can assist your genius, which, without hints, is above all others I am acquainted with) be more likely to improve or disapprove. These things are required: 1st, a rotary motion; 2d, easily altering its direction to any other direction; 3d, to be accelerated, retarded, destroyed, revived instantly and easily; 4th, the bulk, the weight, and expense of the machine to be as small as possible in proportion to its use. Let there be two cylinders. Suppose one piston up, and the vacuum made under it by the je d’eau froid. That piston can not yet descend because the cock is not yet opened which admits the steam into its antagonist cylinder. Hence the two pistons are in equilibrio, being either of them pressed by the atmosphere. Then I say, if the cock which admits the steam into the antagonist cylinder be opened gradually and not with a jerk, that the first-mentioned [piston in the] cylinder will descend gradually and not less forcibly. Hence, by the management of the steam cocks, the motion may be accelerated, retarded, destroyed, revived instantly and easily. And if this answers in practice as it does in theory, the machine can not fail of success! Eureka!” Boulton went on to partner James Watt and manufacture what were, in their time, the most advanced engines in the world. We’ll never know how much Darwin inspired them, but they probably read his 1765 poem, The Botanic Garden, in which he wrote:
Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam, afar
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car ;
On, on wide waving wings, expanded bear
The flying chariot through the field of air;
Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,
Shall wave their fluttering ‘kerchiefs as they move,
Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowds,
And armies shrink beneath the shadowy clouds.
Thomas Davenport (1802-1851): A blacksmith with three years of schooling to his name. Davenport came from a poor background in Vermont, USA, started his apprenticeship at 14 and at 21, in 1824, set up his own smithy. In 1831 he heard that a local ironworks had installed an electromagnet and went to take a look. It lifted six-and-a-half hundredweight of iron (340kg for younger readers) and Davenport was impressed enough to sell his brother’s horse to buy a magnet of his own. Before long he had built one for himself, insulating the wire for its coils with silk from his wife’s wedding dress. Over the next couple of years he made two more. Then he attached two of them to a rod and set the rod up so it was free to rotate between the other two magnets. Then he attached a battery to the magnets via a commutator (having first designed and made a commutator). And so, in 1834, Thomas Davenport made an electric motor. Two years later he decided to patent his invention. Rather than posting his application he walked to the Patent Office in Washington DC, but during his trek he spent the patent application fee on living expenses so he walked home empty-handed and posted the application. Maybe it arrived, maybe it didn’t. We’ll never know as the patent office burnt down. Davenport was finally granted his application in 1837 and went on to build a model electric-powered cart, an electric printing press (which he used to print his own magazine, the Electro-Magnet and Mechanics Intelligencer), an electric piano, an electric telegraph and an electric railway. All of which should have made him rich and famous. But his electric motors were fragile, heavy and expensive; the devices he powered with them were seen as no more than curiosities. Samuel Morse (who entered Yale College at 14, the same age that Davenport started his apprenticeship), was granted a US patent for his telegraph in 1840, having shown it off to President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet. Davenport died in 1851, aged 48; his sons claimed the cause was a broken heart because Morse had been given credit for inventing the telegraph. But next time you start your bike by pressing a button, spare a thought for Thomas Davenport.
Dr Alfred Drake: In 1843 Dr Drake of Philadelphia, USA exhibited a water-cooled horizontal gas engine featuring regulator valves controlled by a governor. The ‘lighting gas’ was mixed with 10 times its volume of air and ignited by hot-tube ignition. Drake was granted an English patent in 1855. The engine ran at 60rpm and developed about 20hp; it was later converted to run on petrol.
Drain-pipe merchant: Slang for a motor cyclist who runs a straight-through exhaust and delights in the excessive noise it produces, circa 1920s.
End, The: Slang, circa 1910, for Land’s End.
Flapper bracket: Slang, circa 1925, for pillion seat (qv Peach perch).
FT: Abbreviation, circa 1916, for flat twin; sometimes combined with valve configuration, eg OHVFT for overhead valve flat twin. The term ‘flat twin’, to replace the somehow more formal ‘horizontally opposed’ was coined by The Motor Cycle and resisted by some American motor cycle journalists. The Motor Cycle gleeful;ly reported its spread from Europe to the colonies.
Gas: Slang for petrol (clearly an abbreviation for gasoline) associated with the USA but also used to describe the vapour produced by a carb. Eg: “The motive power is a 6hp JAP engine, which is supplied with gas from an Amac carburetter.” (From The Motor Cycle 1915.)
Gee: Slang for motor cycle, circa 1914, presumaby derived from ‘gee-gee’, the common term for a horse. Ariel would use the equine link in its advertising slogan ‘cheval de fer’, iron horse. And more than one motor cycle club used the name ‘iron horsemen’.
Gills: Fins, as in cooling, before they were cooled fins, circa 1910.
Grease: Common usage for mud, circa 1910.
Green ‘Un: Nickname for Motor Cycling, inspired by its green masthead.
Murial Hind [with passing references to other notable women riders]: In 1952, as part of Motor Cycling’s golden anniversary, Harold ‘Oily’ Karslake, constructor the the Deadnought and at that time librarian of the Association of Pioneer Motor Cyclists, offered ‘A Pen-picture of one of the Most Versatile Motorcyclists of the Early Days—Competitor, designer and Technical Journalist—Murial Hind’: “Fifty years ago, around the time Motor Cycling was about to make its debut, a young lady named Muriel Hind was anxiously awaiting her 21st birthday and delivery of her first motor bicycle, a Singer with a 2hp engine in the rear wheel. Probably the first woman motor bicyclist in the country, if not the world, she was destined to leave a mark on our sport unequalled by any feminine successor. Born of a Dorset county family and orphaned at seven years of aged, she was reared by relatives and, although her brother rode one of the 1902 Humbers made under P&M licence, and an uncle rode the earliest vertical-engined Werner, the rest of her relatives looked upon any means of progression other than the horse with horror. So Muriel Hind had to wait for that momentous birthday before she dared assert her will. Having taken delivery of her new model, some two years were spent in acquiring a thorough knowledge of its intricacies, as well as those of another Singer of 3hp, and overcoming some of the prejudices of the times. At this period Rex motorcycles had achieved considerable popularity and, deciding to make her future with motorcycles, a move was made to Coventry. On her arrival there, the Rex Company took an order for their first ladies’ model, having to bend their ideas—and their frame—to Mis Hind’s very decided views on design. The advent of the original London-Edinburgh Run in 1904 inspired her desire to ride in competitions, and her first move was to join the Motor Cycling Club in April 1905. She took a Singer Tricar through the 1906 Edinburgh Run, gaining the coveted gold medal at her first effort in a trial. This began some years of competition riding, to be ended late in 1912 when romance came with her marriage to Dick Lord of the Rex Company. The latter ha been no mean performer in trials, hill climbs and the TT, but with marriage his competition carer ended. Incidentally, no insurance company would accept Miss Hind’s application when she started riding, ad it was some time before the late Ivan B Hart-Davies succeeded in persuading Lloyds underwriters to issue a policy to her. In this connection, in more than 50 years’ riding and driving apiece
neither Dick Lord nor his wife have ever made an insurance claim—a wonderful record…in the years 1910-1914 Muriel Hind was the writer of a Motor Cycling feature for the ‘weaker’ sex, ‘The Lady Motorcyclist’, which influenced a larger number of women to rake an active part in the pastime. Such names as Mrs Kennard, Beatrice Langston, Mrs Harry Reed, Mrs de Lissa, Lottie Berend, Mrs CC Cooke and ay Walker will come readily to the memory of pioneers. Riding kit in those far-off days consisted of a long-skirted heavy tweed costume, lace-up knee boots, and a large hat secured with a tulle scarf tied in a big bow under the chin. A loose fitting lightweight waterproof overall was carried for rough weather…preserved with care in the garage are a 1914 ladies’ model Douglas and the famous old ‘Blue Devil’, a 7hp twin-cylinder Rex…No one has ever persuaded Mrs Lord to discuss her achievements, but the writer personally watched some of them…Not the least remarkable was in 1920, at the Coventry Motor Club’s annual open hill climb. Mrs Hind had ordered a special ladies’ model 7hp Rex for the event, but it was not ready in time. I was in charge at the foot of the hill and was asked if she could ride another competitor’s mount. ‘Yes,’ was the answer, ‘but not to compete fo an award.’ EA Gorton, on a twin Rex, had clocked fastest time in his class and offered Miss Hind his machine. We helped her to mount, tucked her skirts round the tank and, with a push of a yard pr two, she was off up the hill like a streak. There had ben some tumbles due to lose stones and ruts and thus we were delighted and relieved when the news was given out that Mis Hind had beaten Gorton’s time by 2.6sec. She got no official award, but the club later presented her with a lovely silver cup as a memento…fo be sure, there was occasional adversity, as in the ACU End-to-End Trial of 1908, when the rear wheel of her solo Rex did its best to fall to pieces through broken spokes, but she practically rebuilt that wheel in between a series of hectic sprints to get to checks on time and to qualify for a bronze medal! A capable mechanic, Miss Hind always put the finishing touches to her machines, and doubtless this was a factor in her remarkable run of successes in all types of trials. When adjustments were called for, she could mend punctures or take up a slack belt as quickly as anyone I have ever seen and could ‘TT’ with the best to make up lost time. A real sport, she would rarely allow another competitor to help with anything…These pages could be filled with a list of events in which she took part before the Kaiser war, not the least of many being the 1908 January Quarterly Trial of the ACU, in which she made fastest time on both the test hills. Pioneers will remember this event, which was run in heavy snow and high winds. At Whitsun that year and on the same machine, she won a gold medal in the London- Edinburgh Run. At an early date, Miss Hind wrote to the editor of Motor Cycling suggesting a special column for women motorcyclists, adding that they should have their own motorcycling club. She persuaded manufacturers to make models specially for ladies, and to further this idea, tested these models and wrote most attractive articles around her experiences. Motorcycling for ladies became quite a vogue with the well-to-do, carrying on the tradition of the earlier rage for pedal cycling. Pillion riding began about I912, but girls did not take to it on a large scale until after the Kaiser war, which radically altered the lady motorcyclists’ outlook on the clothing subject due, no doubt, to the experiences of the girls who became despatch riders in the Services, in which they had to ride men’s motorcycles. Before the l914-18 affair, women could be prosecuted for masquerading in male attire! After that war, a demand arose for lady trials riders and there was no shortage of applicants. At once one’s memory leaps to the name of Marjorie Cottle, who did a stupendous ‘Round-the-Coast’ ride of 3,406 miles on a solo Raleigh in 1924, and for years rode in classic one-day and other trials with great success. There were, of course, many others too many to mention here. Even Brooklands succumbed to the lady rider, where Mrs Stewart secured a number of records. Moreover, she actually rode in a classic road race, the French Grand Prix. In more recent times, a team of three women riders secured the Silver Vase in the 1927 ISDT from under the very noses of the men’s teams-Marjorie Cottle, Mrs Mclean (nee Louie Ball) and Edith Foley were the heroines concerned. Furthermore. Florence Blenkiron, Theresa Wallach and Beatrice Shilling each gained Brooklands Gold Stars for lapping the track at over 100mph-a remarkable award for women to win, and one in the true ‘Muriel Hind’ tradition. In the early days of the MCC lady riders were encouraged, but due to an unfortunate wrangle over an award, no further women members were accepted after about 1908. But Miss Hind, having joined in 1905, retained her membership right through to 1950 when, at the AGM, she was elected an hon life member…quite recently the MCC reopened its membership to ladies an a number now compete in the club’s trials again. Furthermore, ‘Bemsee’ accepted a woman’s entry when Olga Kevelos rode in the ‘Motor Cycling’ race meeting at Goodwood last year. In 1931 Mrs Lord was elected a life member of the Association of Pioneer Motor Cyclists, having held a 1904 motor-cycle driving licence, and, is the only woman member.” The last word should go to Muriel. In 1910 she wrote: “I like the feeling of power, life, the mighty rushing wind beating on one’s cheeks with the roar of the passing breeze and the beat of the exhaust deafening one’s ear. This is the power that drives and here is the motor cycle’s charm.”
Hutchis: Hutchinson waders, first mentioned in the press before the Great War, were fisherman’s waders adapted to suit motor cyclists. ‘Hutchis’ would be a mainstay of all-weather motor cycling for years to come, often combined with a waterproof poncho; the phrase ‘Hutchis and poncho’ was a commonplace, later superseded by ‘stormcoat and waders’.
IOE: Inlet over exhaust valve configuration, quite popular until the Great War; more common in the US than Europe
Intermeeting: Portmanteau word, circa 1920, an inter-club meeting.
Ixion: Nom de plume of Canon BH Davies who wrote for the Blue ‘Un from its inception in 1903 until the 1960s. The greatest motor cycle journalist of his or any other generation he was, for decades, at the heart of the motor cycling movement. (‘Ixion’ is pronounced, he once explained, ‘Icks-eye-on’ with the stress on the middle syllable.) You’ll find a good selection of his work in the timeline; he also appears on the introduction page (that pic appeared with his article ‘200 Miles in a Day’ which you’ll find in the 1903 features section. Ixion wrote on a number of other topics but, though it pains an old atheist liike me to admit it, was first and last a man of the cloth, serving as parish priest at St Barnabas Church, St Leonards on Sea from 1926 to 1940. I was privileged to attend the ceremony when a plaque was unveiled there in his memory; the Sunbeam MCC stages an annual run in his name. Ixion’s books Motor Cycle Cavalcade and Reminiscences of Motorcycling are wonderful.
Jehu: Slang, circa 1910, for the rider of a bicycle or motor cycle; derived from slang for a coach driver. The name appears in the bible; it’s link to motoring remains a mystery.
Jigger: Slang, circa 1918, for a motor cycle.
Knut: Slang, first found 1912, for noisy motor cyclists obsessed with speed, previously known as Promenade Percies (qv). Examples of usage: “…as soon as the flashy bounder or “Knut” sees that he himself will be in danger when blinding through traffic on a silent machine he will slow down…” “The ‘spell of the knut’, as he called it, was over the whole nation, and speed was the chief factor kept in mind by most designers.” “I was informed in every instance that the power and speed were too low to appeal to the pubiic, viz, the ‘knuts’.” “I was informed in every instance that the power and speed were too low to appsal to the pubiic, viz, the ‘knuts’.” “Simplication of control and maintenance of power in prolonged use are the factors which weigh most heavily with a majority among us. The open exhaust, dropped bar ‘knut’ is distinctly over-articulate.” “It is a shame that a few would-be ‘knuts’ and budding motor cycle manufacturers should bring obloquy on us all.” “I have often been amused when some member of the ‘knut’ brigade has ‘sprinted’ past me on the road, and whom I have overtaken further along repairing a broken belt—a sadder, but perhaps a wiser man.” “‘Anti-Knut’ complains that three motor cyclists rode to and fro with cut-outs open in front of Barnet Church last Sunday during divine service. Such behaviour is most reprehensible, and we hope the offenders will not repeat it.”
Phillippe Lebon (1767-1804): In 1799 Lebon patented, and exhibited, a ‘thermolampe’ fuelled by gas distilled from wood and set the scene for gas-powered lighting and heating. More importantly, to motor cyclists, in 1801 he invented the first internal combustion engine. Wood gas and air were compressed separately ; the mixture was injected alternately to either side of a piston and ignited by an electric spark, driving the piston back and forth like a double acting steam engine. The two pumps and a dynamo were both driven by the engine. Development of Lebon’s engine was curtailed by his murder by ‘prowlers’ while in Paris helping with the preparations for the coronation of Napoleon as emperor.
Etienne Lenoir (1822-1900): On 24 January 1860 Frenchman Etienne Lenoir patented the world’s first commercially successful internal combustion engine. It ran on coal gas, which was readily available as a by-product of coke ovens, and was sold with power outputs from about 1hp to 20hp to compete with steam engines in a variety of roles including road transport. In 1863 a 1½ hp 2.5-litre engine was used to power a cart called the Hippomobile. It covered the 11km from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back in about three hours, including stops for running repairs. Word of this feat attracting the attention of Tsar Alexander II and a Hippomobile was sent to Russia, where it vanished. The Lenoir design featured a double-acting layout with spark ignition, though this proved troublesome and Lenoir switched to flame ignition. Although it ran reasonably well, the engine used a lot of gas (about 100cuft per hp per hour), it was noisy and tended to overheat so if sufficient cooling water was not applied it seized. Nonetheless,in September 1860 an over-excited reporter for the Parisian newspaper Cosmos wrote that the steam age was over. By 1865 Lenoir had sold 143 engines in in Paris alone and the Reading Gas Works had started to make them (the design was protected by a separate English patent). In all more than 500 were produced on both sides of the Channel, but in 1863 Lenoir sold his patents to Compagnie Parisienne du Gaz. He turned to his attention to marine engines motorboats and in 1888 built a four-stroke fuelled by naptha.
Professor Archibald ‘Archie’ Low: Archy Low was, for 24 years, chairman of the ACU. He was chairman of the RAC motor cycle committee. He raced successfully at Brooklands and designed a motorcycle of the ‘Everyman’ type. He even rigged a speedway bike with a rocket engine. You can’t have much more of a career in motor cycling than that, but motor cycling was only one of his interests. Archibald Low was born in 1888. In 1914 he invented ‘televista’ and transmitted moving images up to four miles. The images were fuzzy, the range was short, but this was a working TV system 12 years before John Logie Baird came up with television. If the First World War hadn’t diverted him Low, not Baird, might well have been Mr TV. He appreciated its potential, and not just for entertainment: “There [is] no reason why, when the invention is further developed, the enemy could not be watched from immense distance and all their movements recorded. At sea, too, hostile ships would have their every movement seen. Surprise dashes would be made impossible.”
During the Great War Low, with the rank of Captain, served in the Royal Flying Corps as an ‘experimental officer’, leading a team developing radio controlled aircraft with explosive charges as guided missiles. They also worked on radio and wire-controlled rockets. The Germans took his activities seriously enough to mount a couple of assassination attempts. After the war the Brits lost interest in this technology; the Jerries didn’t, as shown by the remote controlled missiles they used against British shopping in the Second World War and the V weapons.
From 1919-1922 Low served as Associate Honorary Assistant Professor of Physics at the Royal Ordnance College. After which he adopted the title Professor Low. In 1922 he designed an ‘Everyman’ motorcycle; a term coined, probably, by Ixion of The Motor Cycle as part of a decade’s-long quest for a motor cycle suited to the ‘non-enthusiast’: clean and cheap to use, easy to start and ride, incorporating weather protection. The Low Engineering Company’s version featured a pressed-steel frame with a fully enclosed four-pot 500cc two-stroke engine and shaft-drive. It could be hosed down like a car and was, in Low’s words, designed to be ridden by both “men in white tennis pants as well as women in skirts”. Low was a futurist; in 1933 he wrote a feature for The Motor Cycle predicting what motor cycles would like like in 1953 (this will be found in the 1953 features section of the timeline); the same year he joined the nascent British Interplanetary Society (he was its president from 1936 to 1951, and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1976).
In 1947 he bolted four solid-fuel rockets to a speedway bike which lapped Wembley speedway track though this wasn’t quite a first; Fritz von Opel strapped six solid-fuel rockets to the back of a 496cc Neander in 1928 (check out that year in the timeline). Prof Low didn’t only predict the future of motor cycling. In various articles he looked forward to mobile phones, smartphones, the internet, space stations, space travel, telecommunications satellites and, rather whimsically, wrote: “Dancing in the future would probably be enjoyed in an armchair, with a seat swaying slightly, lights lowered, and possibly some drug. People would be too lazy to dance, and they would have to achieve the sensation in an armchair.”
MOIV: Manually operated inlet valve; eg a valve opened by a cam and closed by a spring (unless it’s desmodromic) (qv AOIV).
Manxland: Slang (UK), circa 1910, for Isle of Man.
Maudes Trophy: Maudes Motor Mart was a major motor cycle and car dealership based in Great Portland Street in London’s West End (once at the heart of the motor cycle trade). In 1923 proprietor George Pettyt presented the ACU with a silver trophy to be awarded annually to the manufacturer which achieved the most impressive ‘endurance test’. Norton won for the first three years; BSA snapped up the trophy in 1926 (for 60 climbs of Belch y Groes) followed by Ariel. No Maudes Trophy was awarded in 1929 but Ariel stole the limelight when HS Perrey and FE Thacker crossed the Channel in three-and-a-half hours aboard a 497cc twin. They must have enjoyed the experience because they turned round and rode home. In 1930 it was Dunelt’s turn (for covering 13,119 miles on The Island in 16 days). Ariel bounced back in 1931 with seven stunts involving seven models. A 350cc sidevalve lapped Brooklands for seven hours, covering 368 miles; an ohv 350 did 700 miles on seven bob’s worth of petrol and oil; a 550cc sidevalve was decoked in 4min 19sec (well under the seven-minute target) using only spanners from the standard toolkit;
a 500cc ohv four-valve 500 covered 80 miles in an hour (well over the 70-mile target); a 550cc sloper ran on public roads for 70 minutes in each of its four gears; a 500cc ohv sloper combo made seven ascents of seven famous hills including Porlock and Beggar’s Roost; and seven schoolboys were each invited to kick-start a Square Four seven times. It started first kick on 48 out of the 49 attempts, and then went on to complete 700 miles in 670 minutes (beating its 700-minute target). Triumph took the trophy in 1933 when its new (and short lived) 650cc 6/1 vertical twin hauled a sidecar round Brooklands for 500 miles in 498min—it also won silver in the ISDT. Next year P&M won the Maudes when a humble 250cc Red Panther averaged over 35mph in a run to Land’s End at a thrifty 115mpg. After a three-year gap Triumph took the honours in 1937 when Tigers 70, 80 and 90 lapped Brooklands at 66.4, 74.7 and 82.3mph respectively. Beeza took over the following year with a 600cc sidevalve M21 combo and a 500cc ohv Empire Star—soon to win glory as the Gold Star. As well as 40 ascents of Bwlch y Groes and acceleration, speed
and braking tests at Brooklands, the Beezas traversed London from north to south and east to west in top gear. In 1939 Triumph was keen to publicise its new vertical twins. A Speed Twin and a Tiger 100 proved themselves with a run from John o’ Groats to Land’s End followed by a six-hour blast round Brooklands. The first post-war trophy went to BSA. Three A7 Star Twins were ridden to Austria, where they picked up gold medals in the ISDT, followed by a run to Oslo where all three averaged better than 80mph over a standing quarter. They reached home after nearly 5,000 trouble-free miles apiece—and that was the last time a British marque won the Maudes Trophy. No-one went after the trophy for the next decade; in 1962 a trio of Honda 50s lapped Goodwood non-stop for a week, clocking up an aggregate 15,800 miles. BMW became the next winner, in 1973, when a brace of R75/5 twins lapped The Island for a week. The following year Suzuki took the honours with its new range of two-stroke triples: a GT380, GT550 and GT750 were ridden three times round the coastline of Britain. After which no challenges were mounted for 20 years. In 1994 three Yamaha FZR 600s averaged over 100mph in the Supersport 600 TT—and at the time of writing Yamaha still holds the trophy because since there there have been no attempts to win it. As motor cycles have evolved to a standard of reliability that could only be dreamed of when the Maudes Trophy was first up for grabs, it’s not easy to think of a reliability stunt that would justify its revival.
Mechorn: Slang for ‘audible means of approach’ circa 1920 (presumably abbreviated from ‘mechanical horn’). It was operated by pressing a knob and became known by the generic name Klaxon. Superseded by electric horns some of which imitate the sound of a mechorn, often transcribed onomatopoeiacally in English as ‘awooga’.
Mote: Slang, verb (UK) circa 1900, for ride or drive, presumably abbreviated from ‘motor’.
Oilies: Slang (UK) circa 1910 for oilskins.
Jan Olieslagers (1883-1942): When Belgian bicycle manufacturer S de Jong & Co fitted a ZL engine into one of their Minerva bicycles the first person to start and ride it was a 17-year-old mechanic named Jan Olieslagers. That was in 1900. Within two years he became the first rider to top 100km/hr and was described as world champion motor cyclist. Riding everything from sub 50kg racers to huge bicycle pacers Olieslagers was almost unbeatable and earned the enviable nom de guerre ‘The Antwerp Demon”. His reputation spread to the New World: when he raced at the Buffalo Velodrome in 1908 the organisers had to give the rest of the field a 640yd start in a 3½-race to make the event interesting [you’ll find an interview with the demon in 1908]. Presumably in search of new challenges, in 1909 Olieslagers teamed up with his brothers Jules and Max to buy a Bleriot XI monoplane and by 1913 had set seven world records. As soon as the Great War broke out Germany invaded Belgium and the Olieslagers joined up. Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Jan Olieslagers had a busy war. In 1915 a crash landing left him with arm, leg and chest injuries. Before year’s end he became the first Belgian pilot to claim a victory by forcing down a German scout plan with his Nieuport which was dubbed Demon, just like its pilot. By 1918 he had earned a reputation as a nursemaid for rookie pilots, had spent time in a coma following another crash, and had made 518 sorties, engaging in 97 dogfights with six confirmed kills—but he was uninterested in making claims and his actually tally was probably nearer 30. Belgium’s leading ace, Willy Coppens, gave Olieslagers a new nickname: “Jan sans Peur” (Fearless Jan). Following demobilisation Olieslagers opened a garage; in 1923 he was largely responsible for the opening of Antwerp airport—his statue still stands by the entrance. When Olieslagers died, in 1942, the Germans were back in Belgium and had banned the Belgian national anthem and any display of the Belgian flag. But as a mark of his nation’s regard, Olieslagers’ casket was draped with the flag and the anthem was played in his honour. No one better exemplified the links between motor cycling and aviation, or the profoind contribution motor cyclists of all nations made to their countries’ military, on the ground an in the air.
PS Olieslagers was also an expert marksman who is described by the US National Rifle Association as the “Father of Aerial Combat”. This part of his story falls outside the scope of this timeline (except for the fact that BSA followed his suggestions about improving the Lewis gun). You can find more about his exploits and inventions at
One-lunger: Slang (UK), dating back at least as far as 1910, for a single-cylinder motorcycle.
Peach perch: Slang (UK), circa 1925, for pillion seat (qv Flapper bracket).
Pennington, Edward Joel (1858-1911): Entrepreneur, self-publicist, showman, and arguably the greatest conman in the history of powered transport. He has been credited with coining the word ‘motorcycle’ as early as 1893; he crossed the Atlantic to flog some dodgy patents to Britain’s sharpest vehicle entrepreneur for an astonishing amount of money, ducked, weaved, philandered, sued, was sued and, truth be told, did little to advance the evolution of the motor cycle. But just because I enjoy a good yarn as much as the next motor cycle obsessive, here are some random episodes in his life, culled from contemporary press reports. The Chicago Times, for example, urged its readers to “travel back in time to an earlier quainter Milwaukee of rumbling beer wagons, old world accents, and cream brick architecture. To a day in 1895 when the wildly outlandish but visionary American inventor EJ Pennington brought the latest product of his dubious genius to Milwaukee: a gasoline-powered bicycle that ‘moted’ by internal fire…Calling his invention The Motor Cycle, Pennington demonstrated his improbable device in the downtown Milwaukee neighborhood where 14-year-old Bill Harley and Art Davidson were then living in their boyhood homes. Contemporary accounts tell of the street mobbed with spectators as The Motor Cycle blazed up and down Grand Avenue at a peak velocity of 58 miles per hour! While that speed claim was almost certainly spurious and Pennington’s crude machine soon forgotten as Milwaukee settled back into its late 19th century beery slumber, this fantastical but real event may have inspired the ‘dream’ that young Harley and Davidson held fast in their minds to take the work out of bicycling by building a motorcycle of their own…During 1894 he joined Thomas Kane who made kerosene engines widely used in dairies for milk separation. This event is most important. Here, in Racine on the shores of lake Michigan they financed a really large concern for the development of petrol engines. They patented among other things an ‘electric igniter’ for petrol driven engines which was really the first sparking plug, in 1895. In this year Pennington visited England and took some of his vehicles with him. Exercising his well-known assurance and charm he persuaded Henry J Lawson, a successful manufacturer of bicycles to purchase patents to the tune of a half a million dollars. He was still here in 1896 and entered the Brighton Run. After an altercation with M Leon Bollee his claim to have won the event was not disputed. After this he participated in the aerial demonstrations in the USA late in 1896 and during 1897.” The Autocar, launched in November 1895 by Iliffe Press, was the elder sibling of The Motor Cycle: “We have already spoken in these columns of the Pennington engine which is attracting so much attention in America, and a few words concerning its construction will doubtless not be without interest to the readers of The Autocar…the engine was first publicly experimented with about a year ago, and is the outcome of a series of successive developments which have been made in light engines by Thomas Kane and Company, of Chicago, Illinois, USA, who ten years since went into the business of manufacturing light machinery for the propulsion of boats and launches…the Pennington engine, which has been successfully used on motor cycles and light carriages is now built by the firm for all lines of work. Ordinary gasoline or kerosene oil is stored in a galvanised iron tank…A small primary battery is placed in any convenient position out of the way from which a copper wire leads into the interior of the engine. It is a well-known law that rapid evaporation of any fluid produces cold; the more rapid the evaporation the more intense the cold.
Pennington’s engine utilises this principle, and on the motor cycle no water is used for cooling purposes…In all other engines of the gas or vapour type the explosive fluid is compounded and produced in the engine, by means either of a vapouriser or carburetter, and when thus prepared is pumped into the engine and there exploded. This produces only heat, and renders a water jacket necessary, as well as a large quantity of water for cooling purposes. The Pennington engine produces both heat and cold, as above described, and in such proportion that the temperature of the cylinder is never greater than that of an ordinary steam engine, and requires a minimum quantity of water. In a three-quarters horse power engine there is only one cylinder, two horse power two cylinders, and in a four horse power four cylinders. Each cylinder is 2in in diameter, 6in stroke. The engine runs five hundred or more revolutions per minute as desired. The whole mechanism is extremely simple in construction, and is designed to be ignoramus proof. There are said to be fourteen chances for a locomotive engine to get out of order and fail to work. In an electric car motor twenty-two chances. In the Pennington engine there are but two, viz, the flow of fluid, and the electric spark. Both are very easily tested, and when both work properly the machine is bound to go…In the motor bicycle no balance wheel is required, the start being effected by the pedals in the usual manner. As soon as the engine gets to work, it expected to develop fully one horse power, probably more, and over-runs the pedals, which are connected with a ratchet gearing, and the rider can either pedal faster, and so keep ahead of the engine, and do some of the work of propulsion himself, or else put his feet on the rests, and ‘coast’ all the time…By turning a button on the handle-bar, the electric current is shut off, and instantly the cylinders convert themselves into air brakes. The bicycle, which has 4in tyres, thus obtaining the acme of comfort in riding, is, of course, built specially strong to stand the strain, yet with all this, and with engine and attachments complete, it weighs but 65lb, the weight of the
engine and attachments alone being only 12lb. The electric battery will last for months, and is easily recharged or renewed, whilst one charge of petroleum is sufficient for a run of from fifty to one hundred miles. As to speed, the company claim to have done a mile in 58 seconds and put the road speed down at from six to fifty miles per hour…Doubtless practical engineers will be asking about efficiency, and whether the horse power of these little engines is actual or merely nominal. It may, therefore, be interesting if we quote the following extract from a letter received from Mr Kane last week: ‘The invention grows upon us all as we make further trials with larger engines. To illustrate, a few days ago we tested one of our old type of cast iron engines rated two and a half horse power. Under our old system of introducing gas it developed about two horse power in regular running. Putting in one spark and taking the fluid directly into the cylinder, it developed 28 horse power. Substituting an electrode with a double spark it developed 18 horse power.’ We fancy our readers will agree with us that on the face of it the Pennington engine seems to have about solved the motor question for light vehicles, more especially as ordinary petroleum crude oil is used instead of the more expensive and more explosive benzoline. We may add that the English patents have been purchased by an English syndicate for a very large sum, a larger sum, we believe, than has ever been paid for any other petroleum motor patent…No engines are at present in England, but we understand that Mr Pennington leaves America to-day, bringing several specimens of the carriages with him, and that the public will ere long have the opportunity of seeing the vehicles at work…In the columns of The American Machinist, Mr John Randol, who, we understand, is an expert of some standing in American engineering circles, gives the following interesting report on the Pennington engine: ‘I saw, I say, a heat engine of such exquisite simplicity that a child might easily remember all of its few parts and their uses, and all so small and light that a child might use them for playthings; a machine so absurdly lacking in all the parts and appliances which I had been trained by example and theory to believe essential to the effectiveness of motors of its class, that if previous knowledge were not wholly error, this new wonder should not be able to even move itself; yet this incredible machine not only did move itself, but moved with such vigour of action as to drive loads far beyond its apparent possibilities…I know also that all the experts who have been employed by capitalists to examine this engine have been first incredulous and then amazed, and, finally, enthusiastic…No fire, no water, no boiler, no carburetter—only a few pieces of steel, with a few brass-bushed joints, a battery weighing one pound, and a gallon of kerosene; put these with a bicycle, bringing the weight of the whole piece of wizardry up to 581b and a man may be carried by it on a smooth road a mile in fifty-eight seconds, as a man was carried on one of the asphalt-paved streets in the city of Milwaukee a few days since…to give adhesion, and to avoid puncture, the pneumatic
tyres are made four inches diameter, after Pennington’s specifications, and cannot be injured by a hammer and nail in skilled hands; the attempt to drive the nail into the inflated tyre results in a simple rebound of the nail. I was one of the riders on a Pennington tandem weighing 1061b over a poor block pavement, railway tracks, etc; the time was not taken; it was quite sufficiently swift, however, to satisfy all my longings for speed…Mr Pennington informed me that he would not be a competitor in the Times-Herald’s Milwaukee, Chicago, $5,000 prize race, as he preferred some of his customers should take the money…” In December 1896 Pennington moved to England; in the June 1897 issue of the Horseles Age Magazine he issued “A Challenge to the World: I, EJ Pennington, of the Motor Mills, Coventry, issue the following challenge to the world. It was my first intention, as announced a few weeks back, to challenge the makers of the winning vehicle in the Paris-Marseilles race, but from accidents and other causes several good carriages were unable to do their designers and makers full justice in that contest, so I have decided to to throw my challenge open to the world, as I desire to meet the best and most efficient autocars that have yet been produced. I therefore challenge any bona-fide makers of autocars in the world to a speed contest and mechanical trial against one of my machines…each concern entering for the competition (who must be bona-fide builders of motor vehicles) and myself to deposit in Lloyd’s Bank, Ltd, 72 Lombard Street, London, £1,000 sterling, subject to the order of the judges of the competition…The race shall be over a continuous course of 1,200 English miles…The race to take place on a track at least one mile in circumference, or on a properly banked course, and to be within 100 miles of London, England, at a place to be selected by the Motor Car Club, London…” In its October 1897 issue The Horseless Age reported the Pennington’s next gambit: “EJ Pennington is now giving his attention to the Parisian public. He is breathing out challenges to all comers to meet him on a 2,000 mile course for a purse of 5,000 pounds. None of the French manufacturers took up the challenge because they did not feel warranted in risking so large a sum of their stockholder’ money on a mere chance. A
resident of Lyons, however, an amateur, accepted the challenge on condition that the distance be reduced to 600 miles. This Mr Pennington will not accede to. Meanwhile Mr Pennington is reported to have had a brush with the Count de Dion on one of the boulevards, and to have come out second best. It seems hardly probable that he will be more successful in securing a race in France than he was in England.” The Autocar’s launch editor was sacked for “undisclosed financial improprieties” (he took bribes from Pennington). Under new management, the Autocar later confided: “A very entertaining book could be written of Mr Pennington’s brief but lively career in the British automobile industry. His personality was such that not only was be able to inspire confidence in the public, from whom orders for his marvellous cars flowed in at an astonishing rate, but he induced quite a number of old-established firms to lay down plant to manufacture the same. In fact, in July 1899 he announced that no less than eleven firms were engaged in their construction. Whether all or even the majority of these turned out any cars, it is difficult to say…” By the end of 1899 Pennington was back in the US; he and Harry Lawson had formed the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle Company. A well informed Yankee pundit wrote: “All signs point to a resuscitation of the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle promotion in Philadelphia. The Pennington war machine is now getting itself arrested there, as it did in the vicinity of New York some time ago. Gibbs, the well known stock-jobber of the City of Brotherly Love, identified with this scheme in its inception, has been relieved of his official duties in several other watered corporations of which he was the chief promoter, and now has leisure to devote to the automobile project. The widows, the orphans and the omnipresent gudgeon in finance will again be invited to bite.” New century, new scam. The electrically powered Stearns car was built in Syracuse, NY by EC Stearns. In 1900 it switched to steam power; the Stearns Automobile Co had a capital stock of $1,000,000. In its first year 100 cars were sold and the firm had a bright future. Then Mr Stearns met Mr Pennington. The Stearns Automobile Co became a subsidiary of the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle Co; within a year it was broke and sold for $600. Pennington moved on to launch The Tractomobile, described, in 1903, by The Horseless Age: “The American Automobile Company, of London, England (American Works, Racine, Wis), the latest promoting scheme of the notorious EJ Pennington, is sending out and has been distributing at the recent Tri-State Vehicle Show at Cincinnati a circular addressed to the carriage trade, which reads, in part, as follows: ‘Do you want to make money? If so, come and see us. Instead of making less than $100 on each vehicle, why not triple it by buying one of our automobile attachments by which you can realize from $200 to $400 profit? We are not automobile or carriage builders, but we build the automobile horse or locomotive which is applied to the horse drawn vehicle the same as is a horse—viz, we draw and steer with our locomotive attachment applied to any horse drawn vehicle as does the horse. We are the oldest automobile manufacturers in England and amongst the oldest on the Continent, having devoted over twelve years to the business. We have also taken out over 400 patents throughout the world on automobiles, etc. Our shareholders in
England have decided to spend $1,500,000 in putting in more machinery and equipment, so that by next year we hope to be able to turn out 50,000 locomotives. We have now over sixty customers in this country—none of them ordering less than 100 outfits—and shall have over 400 by March 1.’ The scheme of giving exclusive territory—for a cash deposit—has been ‘worked’ before in the automobile line in this country by irresponsible parties, and it is to be hoped that none of the vehicle dealers or vehicle manufacturers may fall into the trap laid for them. Pennington has been exploiting the ignorance of the general public in motor matters for over a decade; he has organized in succession the Pennington Motor Foreign Patents Syndicate, Limited, the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle Company, the Pennsylvania Steam Vehicle Company, the American Automobile Company, etc, with an aggregate capitalization of over a hundred million dollars, but is not known ever to have placed a practical vehicle in the hands of a purchaser. None of his vehicles have ever taken part in any road contest in this country, nor abroad as far as our knowledge goes, and in view of this fact the vehicle men will do well to think twice before they listen to the claims of this combine. If they want any further particulars about the career of Pennington the back volumes of The Horseless Age will be of service to them.” In 1906 The Horseless Age gleefully reported: “Pennington, of whom there is but one although he is of ever so many, which is equivalent to saying that the inventor of places, has bobbed up again. ‘World heaters’ has another revolutionizer by means of which he is going to corral the dollars of those not so worldly wise as he…Since The Motor World devoted so much space to his wonderful vibrationless motor that would run on anything from garbage to condensed milk, and the equally wonderful Standard Oil Automobile Company, of St Louis, which he assisted in exploiting a year or so ago, Pennington has been heard of but little. He cropped up in Ohio and in Michigan. with a sparkling spark plug and a boltless truck but it was only for a day. But a man as irrepressible as he cannot long remain inactive, so it is not surprising that Pennington and a scheme—the two are inseparable—should have bobbed up again, with the same suavity of manner and with the same high silk hat and iron grey hair topping his six feet of noble bearing. This time Pennington’s fancy runs to touring cars, and he is going to have them equipped with his wonderful sixteen horsepower motor and ready for the market early in June. As the car will sell for only $300 very naturally everybody in the country will want to possess one, and, of course, the generous Pennington will almost surely give everybody that has a few loose dollars the chance of their lifetime and permit each of them to get in on the ground floor earl. Just what his new marvel is like, Pennington does not disclose; he realizes the value of mystery. For ‘world beaters’ and multifarious money making schemes, Pennington is probably without an equal an equal and there are few who have had as interesting a career, the complete details of which probably will never become known. Pennington, when he talks to reporters who do not know him, takes upon himself the credit of having in, or invented the first working automobile in this country…Although he displayed his whizzlet in sumptuous offices in New York’s banking district and helped exploit a many
millioned rapid transit company, ‘bites’ were scarce and he failed to interest capital and was practically driven out of the country, taking his patents and machines and going to Europe. Here he succeeded and became a millionaire, it is said…He gave King Edward of England his first ride in an automobile and also other titled Europeans—of course, he did! Over there he even mixed up with another ‘wizard’ who was so foolish as to land in prison. Pennington’s wealth dwindled away and he returned to America practically ‘dead broke’. Since then he has had an up and down career, and tales of his numerous matrimonial tangles and at least some of his other ventures and the ensuing unpleasant features have been published. But Pennington is now ‘wizarding’ again and will probably continue to do so until he finds it desirable to seek pastures new and on which tenderer lambs are given to gamble.” Pennington’s later career was summed up in an obituary in the New York Times of 10 March 1911 under the headlines ‘Thousands Invested Their Money In His Visionary Schemes and Got Nothing in Return’…’His Career Remarkable for the Fact That He Rarely Got into the Toils of the Law’: “Pennington went to Springfield last Fall. He said that he was an inventor of international reputation and was trying to promote an airship school in that city. He also said that a local motor cycle company company [presumably Indian, Springfield being its hometown] owed him $500,000 in royalties…The career of Pennington appears to have been one of wild adventures of the ‘get-rich-quick’ variety. From the day when he founded a wooden pulley company on $5,000 capital advanced–but never recovered–by a truckman, through the period when he peddled the factory from one town to another, always profiting by the change, though the townspeople lost, up to the final venture two years ago, when he came to New York and actually got well-known financiers to subscribe to the incorporation of a $50,000,000 scheme to manufacture airships 1,250 feet in length, capable of making 9,000 miles in a singe voyage, his plans, success, and lavish manner of living made him seem like a character out of the Arabian Nights…” Pennington’s other scams had included a 100mph monorail from Chicago to Cleveland (that cost the people of Fort Wayne $125,000); a plan to build freight elevators (that cost Oswego, Kansas $1,000,000); and a fund raising scheme to thank Passavent Hospital in Pittsburgh for successfully treating one of his three wives (he skipped town with the cash without paying the hospital bill). Referring to his time in England, the obit added: “With his British Aerial War Syndicate he is said to have interested the Government. He was progressing well and had got half a million [from Harry Lawson] when a company organised for £400,000 got him into difficulties with the
head of the Humber Bicycle Company and he was forced into the Bankruptcy Court. A publishing company and even a firm on the Isle of Man appeared against him. He left England suddenly. The head of the bicycle company came to this country, only to find that there was nothing on which he could base a criminal proceeding.” In May 1901 the Vincennes Daily Sun reported that he had been arrested in Philadelphia while testing his latest invention: a ‘war automobile’. Before police could stop him he had caused several runaways, almost killed half a dozen pedestrians and barely escaped several collisions with street cars. The next morning Pennington and his two assistants were fined $7.50 each, which he cheerfully paid, saying that the Russian government had sent agents to see his new invention. The ‘war automobile’ was a skeleton steel frame nine feet long with seats for five soldiers, an engineer, and a ‘speed regulator’. There were places for two machine guns at each end, and the entire upper front could be covered with armour plate. Pennington claimed it would do 30mph over a ploughed field, 75mph on smooth roads and 130mph on rails. Here’s more from his New York Times obit: “It was in Cleveland, on another visit, that his second wife—a divorced woman, on whose account his first wife had divorced him—died. He went to a lithographer he had swindled out of $5,000 who had promised to shoot him on sight and persuaded him to put is wife’s coffin in the latter’s family vault temporarily. Then he ordered an expensive coffin for her and she was buried. Within a few hours he had married another woman. The undertaker got nothing but the silver plates fro the coffin, which he went into the vault and ripped off…On another occasion he went into the office of another man who had also threatened violence after being swindled, and got this man to give him $50,000, for which he never got anything but another chance to breath vengeance. After his wife’s death in Cleveland he went to Pittsburgh with two women known as Katherine Sherman and Mattie Lamar, the latter passing as his wife. They were arrested later in St Louis for defrauding a woman there out of $1,000…” The Chicago Times also took an interest in his career: “The Mount Carmel Aeronautic Navigation Co was organized in Chicago in 1890 with $20 million in capital, on paper. The flying machine was supposed to be all aluminium, 200 feet long, and capable of carrying 40 passengers at 250mph. A scale model of the projected airship was demonstrated at the Chicago Exposition Building to enthusiastic crowds, until an expert revealed in an article in Scientific American that the full-scale version couldn’t fly. Pennington left this country about 1894, leaving his wife and several children in Arlington Place, Cincinnati. For a time his wife received long letters from Pennington, telling of the money he was making in London with his cycle motor and other wonderful schemes. Subsequently, the letters came less frequently, until Mrs Pennington for a long while received no word whatever. In desperation she went to London and found Pennington living with a Mrs Marie Alice Durant, a rich Detroit woman, prominent in New York society until she deserted her husband and eloped with Pennington. They were living in the most elegant apartments in London. Pennington soon identified himself with some of the big automobile companies. He sold some of his inventions and squandered several fortunes. In 1898 he returned to this country, creating a furor in eastern social circles. Mrs Pennington had him arrested, and the courts ordered him to contribute to the support of his family in Cincinnati. While Durant was negotiating the terms of an amicable settlement, Pennington slipped out of the country and returned to England. In 1900 he married Mrs Durant in Milwaukee…” It all came to an inglorious end. In 1911, still scamming, Pennington was back in Indian’s home town, Springfield, Mass, peddling an electric railway plan to the city fathers. He tripped in a puddle, broke his nose, caught a chill and died of pneumonia.
Promenade Percy: Slang (UK), circa 1910, for a noisy, antisocial motor cyclist.
Francois Isaac de Rivaz: In 1806, the year after Admiral Lord Nelson did his stuff off Cape Trafalgar, de Rivaz designed an internal combustion engine. What’s more he built it, made it work and installed it on a cart. It only did 2mph and only covered a few yards but nonetheless this was an automobile, of sorts, and it ran a clear 64 years before Siegfried Marcus made his self-propelled cart and 79 years before Daimler built his first prototype. De Rivaz was born in Paris and earned his crust as a soldier, politician, enrepreneur and inventor. Towards the end of the 18th century he experimented with steam-powered vehicles but after retiring to Switzerland his attention turned to gas engines. First he extracted hydrogen from water and ignited it with a spark using a Volta electric cell. Then he developed an engine fuelled by hydrogen stored in a balloon and fitted it into a cart that was six metres long and weighed almost a ton. It wasn’t what you’d call high revving—the driver had to open a foot-operated valve to fill the cylinder with gas, close it and switch on the current to make the electric spark for each revolution. But it worked.
Alphonse de Rochas: In 1862 de Rochas, a Frenchman, published a booklet in which he established the four prerequisites for an efficient ‘explosion engine’: The greatest possible cylinder volume with the least possible cooling surface; the greatest possible rapidity of explosion; the greatest possible expansion; the greatest possible pressure at the beginning of this expansion. The way to achieve this, he concluded, would be with a ‘suction’ stroke followed by compression, ignition ‘at the dead point’ and ‘expansion during the third stroke’. This amounted to a clear description of the four-stroke internal combustion cycle famously reinvented by Dr Otto 14 years later. However, Otto put the theory into practice while for de Rochas it remained an intellectual exercise.
Sausages: Slang (UK) circa 1920 for padded leather tubes on the side of a cap designed to shelter the rider’s ears from draughts without impeding hearing.
Sidecar combination: First used circa 1915, before which “sidecar” was commonly used to refer to the entire vehicle. Commonly abbreviated to “combo” or “outfit” (“outfit” was in use by 1916), from “sidecar outfit”.
Single: In modern parlance, a single-cylinder motorcycle (qv one-lunger) but in pioneer times a bike with no forecar, sidecar or trailer–which we would now describe as a solo.
Starcher: Slang (UK) circa 1917 for Sturmey-Archer gear,
WL Wright: In 1833 WL Wright patented a gas engine powered by “the explosion of a mixture of inflammable gas and air” acting directly on the piston, which transmitted power via a conrod to a crankshaft, just like a modern engine. The single-cylinder engine was double-acting, with the piston receiving two impulses for every revolution of the crankshaft. Judging by the patent drawing Wright’s engine looked like a high-pressure steam engine with gas and air pumped into each end of the cylinder at a few psi above atmospheric pressure. Ignition, controlled by an external flame and a touch hole, caused alternate explosions at either end of the cylinder. Induction was regulated by a centrifugal governor.
365: Slang (US), circa 1910, for year.