(Editor’s Note: In this series of reports, we are recounting the daily exploits of a group of enthusiasts is re-creating the ride 100 years ago of Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, who set a trans-continental motorcycle record time from San Diego to New York City of 11 days, May 3-14, 1914. They are on the home stretch.)
“Indianapolis is where Erwin G. Baker was raised and lived throughout his life,” group leader Don Emde, the motorcycle hall of famer, in his instructions to the riders. “Tonight we’ll celebrate our arrival in his hometown!” The group planned to visit the famous Brickyard, where Baker helped make his reputation, and the grave in local Crown Hill Cemetery where he was buried; he died in 1960.
Baker was well known, not only in Indianapolis, but throughout the entire state of Indiana where folks were proud to call him a native son. After all, he had already set a number of pretty unbelievable time, speed and distance records on motorcycles for the day, plus he had won a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 on the first day the track opened for competition.
On his planned trans-continental ride from San Diego to New York City, Baker was already well behind, thanks to storms, extreme heat and cold, horrible roads and attacks by wild dogs he had already encountered along the way. He was also nursing skinned knees, elbows and hands from a crash in Kansas two days earlier.
He entered Indiana on the 10th day of his ride. He intended to go full throttle and make up as much lost time as he could the rest of the way, but he didn’t want to be rude to the Hooisers who showed him a typical dose of local hospitality. (“Hoosier Hospitality is no accident!” is a state motto.)
At Terre Haute, where it always seems to be raining (old speedway joke…) he was informed by law enforcement that he could pass right through, with no worries about the speed limit. The top speed of his seven-horsepower Indian twin, however, was barely 50 m.p.h.
“Being a native of Indiana, everyone was out to welcome me,” he wrote in his logbook, “and the message was sent, ‘Clear the road. I am a-coming.’ As I passed through small towns and villages the natives were standing on the roadsides with umbrellas up, waiting for me.”
At lunchtime, he made Indianapolis.
“At last I was home in my native city, with my folks and ravenouts,” he wrote. A banquet had been prepared for him. Not wishing to be rude, he stayed and enjoyed the feast for two and a half hours. After that he got on his Indian and rode off again at top speed.
It was estimated he might make Dayton, Ohio, in five hours; instead, he got there in three – surprising a group of motorcyclists who had planned to ride out to meet him. They were ready, however, to gas up his bike and top up the oil. And away he went again.
More motorcyclists were waiting for him when he arrived in Columbus. Having ridden 376 miles that day, despite rain, well-wishers and banquets, Baker decided to rest up for the night. He still had over 500 miles to go.
May 11, 2014