THE WHITE TRIPLEX | THREE ENGINES, 1500 HP, AND ONE TRAGIC RESULT

March 9th, 1929, Daytona, FL — Original caption: J.W. White, famous American speed king, standing beside his Triplex machine which he will drive in an attempt to break the world’s automobile speed record. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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Jim White was a wealthy Philadelphian who desperately wanted to snatch the land speed record from the hands of British racers Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell. Thus, the White Triplex was born. White decided that no single engine would do to challenge the British Napier Lion, so a straight-forward and solid chassis was built, onto which three war-surplus 27-liter Liberty airplane engines were mounted– giving it a total of 36 cylinders, 81 liter displacement, and a staggering 1,500 bhp in all.

The Triplex’s design was a brutish barebones approach– it had no clutch or gearbox, and only a single fixed ratio. Once started by a push start, it had to keep rolling. Driver comforts were minimal to say the least– the forward engine was sheathed in a modest attempt at streamlining, and the two mounted side-by-side in back were totally exposed. The courageous (or crazy) driver was then perched precariously in the middle.

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Circa 1928-29– White Triplex land speed record car, showing the three engines. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection.  Link

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Ray Keech, an experienced Indianapolis racer, and imposing man with flaming red hair, was paid a handsome sum to drive the White Triplex in the first speed record attempt at Daytona Beach, FL. The first trial runs proved to be dangerous indeed– no one had ever been faced with so much massive power, and in such crude form. Keech suffered burns behind the wheel of both runs– first from a burst radiator hose, then by exhaust flames from the front engine.

The overly simplistic design of the White Triplex posed a particular problem for the officials governing the speed record attempt. The regulations required vehicles to have a “means for reversing”, which the White Triplex definitely didn’t.  White’s Mechanics first jury-rigged an electric motor and roller drive onto a tire, but it was unable to rotate against the force of the three large engines, which could not be un-clutched. An even more elaborate “solution” was tried. An entire separate rear axle was fitted, held above ground until dropped by a release lever and then driven by a separate driveshaft. The device was ridiculous, and isn’t believed to have been utilized during the actual speed record attempt itself– but it was enough to successfully satisfy the official’s needs.

On April 22nd, 1928, Keech set a new speed record in the White Triplex of 207.55 mph at Daytona Beach.

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Circa 1928 — Ray Keech is shown here on the day that he broke the speed record at Daytona Beach, FL. In this image you can clearly see the extra rear axle that was added for record qualification purposes. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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BEST IN CLASS FOR BUILT TO LAST | CHIPPEWA BOOTS

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Circa 1939, Ola, Idaho — Farmers turned Loggers with a load ready to go to their self-help cooperative sawmill, started with a Farm Security Administration loan.

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

The thing about great American design is that, for the most part, function is the driving element.   It’s this functionality that’s ultimately the true spirit of what MADE IN AMERICA stands for.  It ain’t about being pretty; it’s about being tough and working the way it’s supposed to.  A lot of it harkens back to a time when Americans toiled long and hard outside, with their hands, and demanded gear that could hold up to their hard-scrabble lives, and unforgiving the elements.  The gear was simple, honest, and true.  You got your money’s worth.

Our forebears would probably be more than slightly amused by the fact that many of today’s American workwear brand purists are not loggers, miners, and metal workers– however, the quality, core values, and classic designs behind these brands still resonate deeply within us.  I believe down inside, most of us value the dignity of hard work, quality goods, and simpler times.  There’s something honest and pure that’s sadly missing in the daily gadget grind of our increasingly disposable lives.  It’s like some of us have a primal itch that we just can’t scratch– so we gird our loins with garb from days gone by, to pay tribute to a life and times we’ll never know, but long for so badly.

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Circa 1908– Lumberjacks in Northern Minnesota –Image by © Minnesota Historical Society

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Recently I had the honor of sitting down with Clark Perkins, brand manager for legendary Chippewa Boots.  Full disclosure– I am not exactly Charlie Rose, I am a cultural observer and men’s wear guy who gets excited about a lot of different things, especially product I use and love.  I traffic in hyperbole, but in this case everything I pen about Chippewa boots is 100% true!  Ok, maybe a little opinion is thrown in there, but when I interview brand managers, merchants, and design folks I admire, I melt into the form of  a 13 year old girl watching Twilight than an objective observer, but what the hell.  When you’re talking about ‘best in class’ products, respect is due.

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Circa 1930s– Loggers (or Lumberjacks) working every muscle in their body, and living off the land.

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Tell me a little about the Chippewa Story?

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SHE RIPPED AND SHE ROARED | EPIC WOMEN OF DESTINY & DETERMINATION

lillian-lafrance

Circa 1920s– Lillian La France in her early Motordrome riding days. This must be 1924, or so. She looks a little green, and that signature smile and exuberant confidence is not quite present.

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LILLIAN LA FRANCE WALL OF DEATH RIDER

“It was the thrill of risking my life that made me to take to drome riding. I was the girl who flirts with death. From childhood I was inspired by wanderlust. I was always alone, dreaming of adventures– how to ride a pony out West, to follow my calling to fame. This was my secret. I shared it with no one.”

–Lillian LaFrance

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THE WALL OF DEATH DAREDEVILS | LIONS & RIDERS & FAIRS — OH MY!

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Circa 1929, Wall of Death, Revere Beach, MA

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With the quickly improving build quality, speed, and more oil-tight engines, motorcycle racing was able to move from dirt tracks onto the motordromes of the 1910s– large wooden board tracks used for streamlined competition with banked turns of 70-80 degrees.  Riders soon learned a neat trick– that with a little speed, centripetal force made it possible for them to stick their bike sideways in turns on a completely vertical wall.

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Motordrome racer on an Excelsior motorcycle, circa 1914

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Motorcycle companies here and abroad (Indian and BSA, to name a couple) found that the public loved the thrill of peering down just a few feet away from the gunning biker beneath them, and thus it quickly became a highly promoted spectacle as manufacturers used it as a vehicle to advertise their brands, and daredevil riders upped the ante at breakneck speed to make a name for themselves and  solidify their reputations on the infamous Wall of Death.

With roots that can be traced back to New York’s own Coney Island, the Wall of Death attraction morphed into a motordrome on crack.  Motorcycles, carts and yep, even lions— simultaneously racing and criss-crossing in a raucous blur of fumes, fury, and fur inside the equivalent of an over-sized wooden barrel. The sport had a strong run from the 1930s- 1960s (with Indian Scouts being the over-riding bike of choice), but there are still hardcore enthusiasts to be found all over keeping it alive today.

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Dick Monte with two handsome-as-hell Wall of Death riders, circa 1945. The rider on the left is Elias Harris, and  on the right is Tornado Smith.  Photo from the late Carrie Tindale collection.

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INDIAN | AMERICA’S FIRST MOTORCYCLE – THE GOLDEN POWERPLUS ERA

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A rare peak inside the early days of the engineering dept. at Indian– year unknown.

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Charles B. Franklin joined Indian in 1914, and was the first ever formally trained engineer on staff since the motorcycle firm officially opened its doors in 1901. Franklin’s background in engineering, as well as racing, gave Indian someone expertly qualified for the position. Born in Ireland in 1886, Franklin was a graduate of the Dublin College of Science in 1908, then joined the engineering department of Dublin’s municipal government. He was passionate about motorcycling, personally owning several makes and models before finally fixing his sights on Indian in 1910. Franklin entered several local motorcycle competitions where his riding ability and success in the events brought him to the attention to the UK Indian importer, Billy Wells. He was a member of the famous Indian racing team that swept the 1911 Isle of Man TT, gaining second place behind Oliver Godfrey, and in front of Arthur Moorhouse, in the historic first 1-2-3 finish for Indian.

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1916 Indian Powerplus 1000 cc motorcycle

A brief primer on the Indian Powerplus–

1907 was a major milestone year for Indian– for it’s when the iconic American motorcycle company introduced the first of its V-twin engines.  They continued to improve upon the design, and marked themselves as leading innovators when in 1911 Indian introduced the next generation of the Powerplus– OHV (overhead valve), four-valves-per-cylinder racers.   In 1916, Indian ushered in their widely popular 61 cu.in. (998cc) flathead V-twin.  The powerful engine distributed its power through a three-speed, hand-change gearbox, with foot-operated clutch and all-chain drive.

The side-valve engine design of the Indian PowerPlus proved to be a tough-as-nails workhorse, and in the hands of the new generation of motor-heads and speed-demons of the day– it was force to be reckoned with on any road or racetrack.

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1919 Indian Military Powerplus— the motorcycle that helped the US win WWI.

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INDIAN | AMERICA’S FIRST MOTORCYCLE THE EARLY YEARS OF COOL INNOVATION

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Circa 1937– Springfield, Massachusetts. Since the creation of the Indian Motorcycle, the Indian Factory (the Wigwam) has been the greatest of its kind in the world. The tremendous facilities of this factory are laid out over 12 acres of floor space– nothing short of an actual visit will enable you to visualize the manufacture of today’s Indian motorcycles. In making a tour of the 35 departments of the factory, a person would walk a distance of 7 miles. The row upon row of machinery, if placed end to end, would alone stretch out over 1 1/2 miles. Indian leadership has been maintained thru the years by that manufacturing expertness which finds its outlet in making each new Indian better than the best Indian which has gone before it. When you ride on an Indian, you ride on the Best. — Image by © Lake County Museum

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When you think of classic American Iron, two brands typically come to mind– Harley-Davidson & Indian. Well, Harley-Davidson always comes to mind– and if you know a thing or two about bikes, then hopefully you’re familiar with Indian too.  For those of us that came along after the heyday of American manufacturing, it’s easy to overlook that in the early days there were literally dozens (some even say hundreds) of companies producing motorcycles right here in the US.

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Indian co-founder Oscar Hedstrom on left, CA. 1902.  And I suspect that’s him on the right, ca. 1901.

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GREATEST RIVALRY IN ALL OF SPORTS | THE ARMY VS. NAVY FOOTBALL GAME

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

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The first reported kidnapping of "Bill the goat" was perpetrated one week before the Army-Navy football game of '53. West Point cadets snuck onto the Annapolis grounds, assisted by a West Point exchange student living at the Naval Academy. After locating the goat behind the stadium, the cadets stashed "Bill" in the back of a convertible-- however, their cover was blown when the goat's horns shredded the car's top. The cadets successfully made it back to West Point and presented the goat to the entire Corps at a raucous dinnertime pep rally-- however, many Navy midshipmen refused to resume classes until "Bill" was returned. After the goat's return was ordered by officials from West Point (as well as President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, a West Point grad), the Army cadets staged a mass protest which was posted on the front page of several New York papers as "Goat Rebellion at West Point." The Army football team went on to defeat Navy 20-7.

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"Billy" the goat, under the watchful eye of Naval Academy caretakers.

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Every year since 1890, the Navy Midshipmen and Army Cadets meet in the cold of Early December, to play one of the great games in all of American sports.  I’m hard-pressed to think of any other rivalry in all of sports extending that far back, with as much history, sentiment and anticipation as Army-Navy.

While the football fortunes of both service academies have risen and fallen– the grace, tradition, and style of this game endures.

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Original caption, November 1923-- This photo shows the Navy goat and the Army mule wishing each other good luck, in their own peculiar language, before the game. --- Image by © Bettmann. In 1899, at the Army-Navy Game, the Navy football team appeared with a mascot, a handsome if smelly goat. Army fans looked hastily for a mascot of their own. The Army mule was already legendary for its roughness and endurance, so the mule was obvious. A quartermaster in Philadelphia stopped a passing ice truck, and the big white mule pulling it became the first Army mascot. Dolled up in leggings, a collar and a gray blanket, with black gold and gray streamers fluttering from his ears, this mule met the Navy goat and - according to West Point legend - "hoisted that astonished goat toward the Navy stands to the delight of the laughing crowd." Army won the game too, 17-5. --via The Army Football Club.

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1912 -- The Army Mule at Army-Navy Football Game -- Image by © Bettmann.

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THE OAKLAND MOTORCYCLE CLUB | HILL-CLIMB HELLCATS & DIRT DEVILS

EXCELSIOR MOTORCYCLES

The Oakland Motorcycle Club group photo in front of W.P. Williams Excelsior Motorcycles, circa 1910s

Founded in 1907, the Oakland Motorcycle Club has a long history & heritage of turning out hellacious old school hill-climbers, modern-day enduro jockeys, and all-around raucous riders. Checkout the tonnage of awe-inspiring vintage photos documenting their historical group shots, outdoor motor-sports, and runs galore on good ol’classic American iron– Indian & Harley Davidson motorcycles. And if the bike action doesn’t get ya’, their gear-head meets The Great Gatsby style certainly will. Bow ties,  shawl collars & jodphurs– oh my.

Oakland Motorcycle Club 1920s

Oakland Motorcycle Club members, circa 1920s – nice Harley Davidson jersey

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BTC BRISTOL TATTOO CLUB | THE SKUSE FAMILY — GENERATIONS OF KILLER INK

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vintage tattoo postcard Al Schiefley Les Skuse

Dueling tattoo legends & bosom buddies– Al Schiefley (left) & Les Skuse (right)

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Yep.  On a tattoo kick again.  Check out these sick pics and you’ll know why.  This ain’t no Miami Ink — this is Olde School, Hard-Ass Tats.

The legendary tattooist, and founder of the Sandusky Tattoo ClubAl Schiefley lived and worked out of Sandusky, Ohio where he opened his famous Pearl Street shop that dutifully operated for over a quarter of a century.  The photo above was taken back in mid 1950s during Al’s travels abroad, and shows him seemingly double-teaming a well-inked young lady (with a strange sense of humor) alongside his host and fellow tattoo master — Les Skuse, President of the famed Bristol Tattoo Club.  While in Bristol, Al had the honor of being tattooed by Skuse, as well as the respected London tattooist, Rich Mingins.

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Les Skuse tattoo parlor

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HISTORY OF DENIM THROUGH THE AGES | WESTERN WEAR GOES HOLLYWOOD

I was in 5th or 6th grade, 10 years old, when I started making my own money. I’d go with my Mom on the weekends to the restaurant where she was working at the time out at little ol’ Litchfield Airport in Arizona. The place was called Barnstorm Charlies. I’d bus tables there, re-stock, clean-up, help out in the kitchen– whatever they needed. It made me feel independent, and like I had something to offer the world. I worked hard and didn’t complain– I was proud to have a job, and wanted to be the best employee I could be.

With my hard-earned little fistful of cash, the first thing I remember buying was a pair of Levi’s 501s. I still recall heading to the local Smitty’s, going through the stacks of shrink-to-fits looking for my size, doing the shrinkage calculations printed on the Levi’s tag in my head, holding that dark, rigid denim in my hands– and feeling a wonderful inner glow that’s hard to explain. It was the birth of an intense Levi’s ritual that is still a part of my life.

The preamble is meant only to let you know that denim, Levi’s in particular, probably means more to me than it does to most people.  It may sound strange, but denim represents all that I consider to be good and of value in the world. It’s  pure, honest, unpretentious, reliable, hard-working, American tradition that gets better with age. It doesn’t get any better than that in my book. The story of denim is forever entwined with the story of America. It’s part of our heritage, and a genuine American Icon.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby on drums, Shirley Ross.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby (in head-to-toe denim) on drums, Shirley Ross. Tommy Dorsey is just out of sight on the right on the trombone. Amateur swing contest, ca. 1939.

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