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Charles Lindbergh

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  • Charles Lindbergh

    100 years ago, June 19, 1921, an unknown farm boy from Minnesota departed Madison Wisconsin for the first leg of what would become a 3500 mile motorcycle trip. That young man was Charles Lindbergh and he was riding a 1920 Excelsior, "Series 20" machine. Lindbergh had just completed his first year of college at the University of Minnesota, which he very much disliked! He met up with friends in Chicago who had a model T speedster. They made the trip together, the first leg being to Camp Knox KY for 6 weeks or ROTC training.

    Lindbergh #36.jpgLindbergh #31.jpgLindbergh #300.jpg

    Here is the text of a letter he wrote to his mother while stationed at Camp Knox describing the first leg of that trip. I have transcribed this from copies of his hand written letters of the day. I transcribed the text verbatim which reflects the slang of the day and a few misspellings. While reading this, remember that their route took them through Indianapolis, a total distance of about 350 miles. They made this trip in roughly 34 hours total travel time. Notice also the entirety of his riding gear is a light coat and goggles, that's all! What an exciting time!

    Letter dated June 25, 1921 from Camp Knox to Mom:
    June 25, 1921
    Dear M,
    I just got the suit case today as I didn’t know where to get it before.
    I have nothing to do this afternoon and expect to go to Lincoln’s home to-morrow.
    When I left Madison I went to Milwaukee via Lake Hills. Since it was Sunday, The X agency was closed and I went on to Chicago by the lake road. Also went through Zion City. It became dark when I was 25 miles from Chi. And the XX! Small towns had no hotel. I followed a car on to a large town and passed a cop on a corner. I was behind the car so I didn’t see him till opposite. It was so dark I couldn’t see 5 feet. He yelled but was out of luck. I got a hotel all right but no eats.
    The next morning I reached Chi. I spent the rest of the forenoon putting the machine in shape.
    Later I drove around the city. It is some fun in the congested districts. On the Boulevards the speed limit would make a WI country cop faint. Forty miles per does not worry a cop and they get sore if you don’t go 30.
    That day I saw one man badly hurt on Michigan Ave. and four minor smash ups besides getting my own machine knocked over while standing at the curb. It was not hurt.
    I passed O’connor on Wabash ave about 4 pm. We put the machines in. Went to a fake show, made the manager of a rifle range look foolish and stayed at the Y over night, besides going thru the dock dock section and the new pier at night.
    We started the next morning a little after 5 and went to Indianapolis with minor difficulties. O Connors car caught fire a few times, I got a puncture etc. We arrived in Indianapolis at dusk. The roads are very good gravel in Indiana, and we good going most of the way. Drewary went with OC and was trail guide. He had a free map and when the map went like this (squiggly lines drawn) he tried to make the roads correspond without worrying about signs (Mech. Eng.) Even the farm roads good so we got off comparatively easy.
    We were afraid it would rain that night so did not stay in Indianapolis.
    I rode 50 ft in front of O Connors car and could see with his lights better than with my own if I had them. The roads were mostly cement and they slipped by faster than in day time. The driving was better in the night air. The only trouble we had was from not seeing a detour sign. We got off about 3 mi. on that.
    When we came to a town I went behind the Ford and (told) the cops that we had a brake down.
    We stopped in front of a garage in one town, walked by the tin star and got supper. When we got back he was gone so we filled up the machines and went on.
    About midnight we came to a strip of good cement and started racing. Of course I went ahead pretty fast. So fast that I got outside of the range of his lights. I must have been going about 50 mph and suddenly I saw a horses on the road 25 feet in front with a red lantern unlight. I couldn’t stop so took the line of least resistance and went through everything that was in front. O.C. knocked the rest over and got two wheels in the mud on one side of the road. The detour looked bad so we lifted the flivver back on the road, locked the back wheel of the X to the front wheel of the ford with a chain (we worked this first in Chi and usually found 4 or 5 men standing on the curb looking at the locking device). Made a bed out of some shocks of barley in a field on the road, spread a canvas over them and went to sleep There were a few mosquitos but O.C. and I slept fine. Drewry had quite a time of it.
    Following was stapled to the letter dated June 30 but I believe it should be attached with the letter dated June 25, 1921 as it explains the last leg of the trip to Camp Knox:
    1. From Yale library, penciled in on top of page: {1921 June 30}
    We got up the next morning, reshocked the grain and went on. The roads were not good, but we made fairly good time for quite a way then we struck wet clay roads. The Ford could crawl along but my machine slipped all over.
    I could not walk along beside because the roads were too slippery so I had to slide one shoe on each side like a sleigh. There was only about 10 miles of this so the shoes held out.
    About 6:30, we crawled into a small town and decided to eat. The inhabitants obligingly woke up the restaurant keeper and he had a chunk of ham and some bread in stock. We managed to eat what the flies didn’t get.
    Arrived Louisville (Kentucky) about 11:30 and got a bum dinner. I never saw roads as bad as these in Ky, for bumps. If you go slow, the small rocks b…..h H-out of you, if you go fast, there is aa hole, about two feet deep, every 20 yards.
    Did not stay long in Louisville. The roads to Camp Knox were good and we made good time. (Camp K is about 30 mi S of Louisville.
    Arrived in camp about 3:30.
    Upon arrival at camp, we were given a preliminary medical exam. Then given equipment and bedding , and assigned to barracks -U-33-6 is my no. We were then off duty for the day. Equipment consists of uniform, frock,, 2 blankets, 4 sheets, 2 pillow cases.
    Movies are given free in open air theater, so we attend. The shows are second class (about 4 years old)
    The next day we were given a thorough medical exam, and shot for small px and typhoid. The man in front of me went unconcious2 seconds after being punched. The one behind went faint when he saw this. I thought it must be something real and stood in front of the vet, felt a slight needle prick and was waiting for the shock when I realized the doc was laughing. He told me to move on as it was all over. I heard later that some men are so scared when they go up that the reaction knocks them out.
    After being shot one does not have to do duty for 24 hours. However I started the next morning. We have exercise first, then there is no regular schedule.
    Went out on equitation that morning. Battery F is known as the grey horse battery as it is the only battery having horses of that color. They are intended for much heavier work than riding and jog along at a killing trot. It does us up after riding them an hour. We may have a distinctive name on account of our horses but we would be glad to trade with some other battery if they would take the horses along with the name.
    Saturday we went to Hodgenville (KY) to see the Lincoln memorial. O C did not have his flivver together, so did not go. I went on the X.
    The roads were cobblestone and crushed rock with lots of holes. The front and rear wheels of the machine were over a foot off the road at various times. I never felt so shaken up before at the end of a short ride (30 mi each way).
    The cabin is inside a stone building (see postals) and is in good shape. One cannot go inside the cabin. To the right front is the spring. One of the best I have seen, except that the water here in Ky does not taste so good as up north. The spring comes from a small cave inn a hollow about 20 ft lower than the main level. A small stream of water flows along the floor of the cave and drops about 8 ft into a hole 5 ft diameter and disappears.
    A truck arrived shortly after noon with rations.
    I left about an hour after the first jitneys (for the RR station) and arrived at CK two hrs before the train. So in spite of the roads I save lots of time.
    Carry the watch upside down with you for a day or two and if it still goes, would be glad to have it (insure) can get glove here.
    Last edited by gharper; 06-19-2021, 11:01 AM.

  • #2
    This is fascinating reading. It's very cool to have the first hand account of the trip as well as the "slang of the day". I admit I had to look up "flivver"!
    Thanks for posting that, Gene!



    • #3
      I had to look it up too!


      • #4
        Is Lindberg's Series 20 still on display at Greenfield Village? I also wonder if Ted Hodgdon took any 'before' pictures of Lindberg's X before he - - - restored it? I mean no disrespect to Ted considering the time period of that restoration, but I'll bet it was much more interesting in it's 'before' state. Thanks for the pictures and text, Gene.
        Eric Smith
        AMCA #886


        • #5

          (killing time waiting for a call back and found these....whoops, second one is a duplicate!)
          Pisten Bulley is Harry Roberts in Vermont.


          • #6

            Lindbergh's motorcycle is still at the Henry Ford in Michigan, though I hear it is in storage and not on display. Ted wrote an article for the Antique Automobile Association after he restored it. Charlie Carter reprinted it in the Fall 1974 issue, volume 13, no.3. In that article is a photo of the "before" condition. The motorcycle was on display with the acetylene headlight brackets reversed, so the light stuck up about a foot. Lindbergh did add an acetylene light sometime after the trip he took in 1921. The worst thing of all was that the entire motorcycle had been sandblasted and then clear coated. It was horrible and when Ted saw it in the early 60's he was compelled to do something about that. Look that story up and read it, it's pretty interesting.


            • #7
              Originally posted by gharper View Post
              Look that story up and read it, it's pretty interesting.
              A quick search turned up the following link, where you can read a copy of the story. Looking forward to reading it when I have a few spare minutes.

              Eric Olson
              Membership #18488


              • #8
                I heard from a reliable source that rather than restore the engine he just put another engine in the bike !


                • #9
                  I remember that article in the 'Antique Motorcycle' magazine that Charlie did. I also recall that the X was sandblasted, but I didn't recall that it was that way when Ted started his restoration. It surprises me that any curator at a museum that treasures historical objects would allow sandblasting a motorcycle with such a famous owner. Just looking at the sandblasted condition makes me believe it was probably very presentable in it's original state. That is why I was curious if there were any photos from before it was - - - well, you know
                  Eric Smith
                  AMCA #886


                  • #10
                    You don't have to go too far back and you can see it in the AMCA. A former Chief Judge now deceased in an article that was published in the newsletter made the statement that if an original paint bike had any defect it needed to be restored.

                    Originally posted by exeric View Post
                    I remember that article in the 'Antique Motorcycle' magazine that Charlie did. I also recall that the X was sandblasted, but I didn't recall that it was that way when Ted started his restoration. It surprises me that any curator at a museum that treasures historical objects would allow sandblasting a motorcycle with such a famous owner. Just looking at the sandblasted condition makes me believe it was probably very presentable in it's original state. That is why I was curious if there were any photos from before it was - - - well, you know


                    • #11
                      Restoration of original paint bikes was commonly done in this hobby. I don't want to get into some lengthy debate about the morality of that, but we all know that in the '50s and '60s old bikes, and cars were not expensive and the hobby of collecting, and restoring them was considered the domain of nuts, and weirdoes. Considered even crazier were people who left those cars, and bikes in original condition. Times change, as do opinions, and tastes so I don't like to beat up people from the past who did what they thought was proper at the time. I just thought it was odd that a museum curator (regardless of the era) would have approved of sandblasting the original finish off an object that had so much provenance.
                      Eric Smith
                      AMCA #886


                      • #12
                        Grease Monkey: Regarding your statement: "I heard from a reliable source that rather than restore the engine he just put another engine in the bike !"

                        All due respect, but I would have to call BS on that "reliable source" and here is why. Years ago, I saw the Lindbergh bike in the Henry Ford museum. I used a crayon and piece of paper (from one of the many children's exhibits that were set up to let the kids make rubbings of fun things at the museum) and quickly stepped over the ropes to get a rubbing of the serial number of Lindberghs bike. The number I rubbed was 104083. This falls right in the 1920 range of Excelsior serial numbers. I always wondered if that was actually his motorcycle. Years later when I was researching Lindbergh we went to the Lindbergh Family museum in Little Falls Minnesota. In a display case was a photo of the rear of his motorcycle with him working on it. The photo clearly showed the Wisconsin license plate. Along with that photo was the original license plate and the registration card for the plate which clearly showed the serial number of 104083. So to me, that confirms that the engine in the motorcycle at the Henry Ford is clearly Lindbergh's motor and there is no reason to believe the chassis is not.

                        The exhibit in the museum incorrectly states he purchased his motorcycle in 1918. That was actually in late 1919, as per Lindbergh's personal writings.

                        Lindbergh's registration.jpgLindbergh's license plates.jpg


                        • #13
                          Great information & articles. Restored Lindbergh Excelsior 'Series 20'. Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.


                          Last edited by JoJo357; 06-24-2021, 12:39 PM.


                          • #14
                            Great research! That throws an interesting new light on my "reliable source!" It actually made my day to hear that ! Thanks !


                            • #15
                              What an Awesome story of an amazing man. Thank You