Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Of course,” he went on thoughtfully, “the game is new to me and I’m not at all sure of winning. But I think I have a chance. I’d like to win for the honor of it and because I hate to lose. And then, too, that purse of ten thousand dollars looks awfully good to me.”
The race to which the boys referred had been for some time past a subject of eager interest, and had provoked much discussion in sporting and college circles. The idea had been developing since the preceding winter from a chance remark as to the time it would take a motorcycle to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A guess had been hazarded that it could be done in twenty days. This had been disputed, and, as an outcome of the discussion, a general race had been projected to settle the question. The Good Roads Association of America, in conjunction with a number of motorcycle manufacturers, had offered a purse of five thousand dollars for the competitor who made the journey in the shortest time. If that time came within twenty days, an additional two thousand dollars was to be given to the winner.
One other element entered into the problem. The San Francisco Exposition, designed to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, would be in full swing at the time the survivors of the race reached the coast. One of the great features of the Fair was to be an international carnival of sports. There were to be contests in cavalry riding, in fencing, in auto racing, and the pick of the world were expected to compete. But of special interest to Bert was the international motorcycle race, which for the first time was to be held in America. Two years before, it had taken place in Paris and, a year later, in London. But this year it was America’s turn, and because of the immense crowds expected at the Exposition, San Francisco had been chosen as the city to stage the event. There was to be a first prize of three thousand dollars and lesser purses for those that came in second and third. If, by any chance, the winner of the long distance race should break the twenty day limit and also win the final race at the Fair, his total reward would amount to ten thousand dollars.
With such a possibility in prospect, it was not surprising that Bert should be strongly tempted to enter the race. He was a natural athlete, and in his college course so far had stood head and shoulders above his competitors. As pitcher on the ’Varsity team, he had cinched the pennant by his superb twirling in a most exciting series of diamond battles. He had been chosen as a contender on the American Olympic team, and had carried off the Marathon after a heart-breaking race, in which every ounce of speed and stamina had been tried to the utmost. In an auto race between rival campers, his hand at the wheel had guided the Red Scout to victory over the Gray Ghost, its redoubtable antagonist. He was a splendid physical machine of brawn and sinew and nerve and muscle. Outdoor life, vigorous exercise and clean living, combined with his natural gifts, made him a competitor to be feared and respected in any contest that he chose to enter.
But his lithe, supple body was not his only, or indeed, his chief asset.What made him pre?minent was his quick mind and indomitable will, of which his body was only the servant. His courage and audacity were superb. Again and again he had been confronted with accidents and discouragements that would have caused a weaker fellow to quit and blame the result on fate. He had won the deciding game in the baseball race, after his comrades had virtually thrown it away. In the Marathon, it was with bruised and bleeding feet that he overtook his antagonist at the very tape. The harder bad luck tried to down him, the more fiercely he rose in rebellion. And it was this bulldog grip, this unshaken tenacity, this “never know when you are beaten” spirit that put him in a class by himself and made him the idol of his comrades. They had seen him so often snatch victory from the very jaws of defeat, that they were prepared to back him to the limit. Win or lose, they knew that he would do his best, and, if defeated, go down fighting.
With such a character and record back of him, his enthusiastic friends were inclined to think that it was “all over but the shouting.” Bert, however, had no such delusion. If it had been simply a matter of muscle or swiftness or courage, he would have felt more confident of the outcome. But here the “human equation” was not the only thing involved. The quality and strength of the machine he rode would be a very prominent and perhaps a deciding factor. He felt sure that he was in such prime physical condition that he could endure the gruelling grind. But would his machine be equal to the task? The most dashing horseman would have to halt, if his steed foundered beneath him. The most daring aviator would have to descend to earth, if his motor stopped. So Bert, no matter how strong and plucky, must fail, if his machine should go back on him.
For there could be no substitute. This was one of the conditions of the race. He must finish, if at all, on the same machine with which he started. The contestants were permitted to make repairs to any extent. Tires, forks, springs and any other parts could be replaced, and, at intervals along the route, supplies could be held in readiness, in addition to those that the rider carried. But essentially the identical machine must be used throughout the race. In the event of a hopeless smashup, the luckless rider was, of course, out for good. The racer and the machine were thus indispensable to each other. Neither could win if the other balked. They were like the two blades of a shears – strong when together but useless when separated.
To guard as much as possible against defects, Bert had been especially careful in selecting his motorcycle. He had the eye for a machine that a gipsy has for a horse. Among a host of others, he had chosen one that appealed to him as the acme of what a motorcycle should be. It was a seven horse power, twin cylinder racer, with every appliance and improvement known at the time it left the factory.
The brakes, for instance, were more powerful than those fitted to any previous type. It could be operated by a foot lever on the right side of the machine and also by a grip lever in the left handlebar. The double action was caused by the expansion and contraction of two bands inside and outside a brake drum.
Then, too, there was a foot-starting device that was a marvel of simplicity. A single downward pressure of the foot, and the racer started off at once.
An improved rear hub also aroused Bert’s enthusiasm, because of its extra large size and the fact that it ran on ball bearings that were absolutely frictionless. In both the front and rear hubs there was a knock-out axle, so that the wheels could be removed without interfering with the adjustment of the bearings.
In fact, the more Bert studied what had become his most precious possession the more convinced he grew that he had secured a “gem of the first water.” And now that the first stiffness had worn off, the machine was “running like a watch.”
The ignition was perfect, the transmission left nothing to be desired, and the most critical inspection could find no fault with any detail of the steel charger that was to carry him and his fortunes to victory or defeat.
“What are you going to christen it, Bert?” asked Tom. “Cut out the Pegasus stuff and tell it to us straight.”
“On the level, I think I’ll call it the ‘Blue Streak,’” answered Bert. “That’s the way it covers the ground, as a rule, and I hope it will be prophetic. Besides, blue is our college color and it ought to bring me luck. That’s the color I wore when we took the Grays and Maroons into camp, and I had it at my belt when I collared Dorner in the Stadium. Everything goes in threes, you know, and this will be the third time I’m out to win since I was a Freshie.”
“Bully for you, old top,” exclaimed Drake, with a rousing thump on the shoulder. “The fellows will be tickled to death to know that the good old blue is showing the way across country. And when we hear that you’ve come in first, there’ll be a yell that you’ll hear way off in Frisco.”
“Don’t count your chickens too soon, my boy,” cautioned Bert; but his heart was warmed and elated by the confidence his comrades had in him, and he vowed to himself that he would justify it, if it were humanly possible.
“To judge from the names already entered, it’s going to be a weird color scheme,” laughed Dick. “There’s the Yellow Dragon and the Red Devil and the Brown Antelope and the White Cloud and the Black Knight; and there’ll probably be others before the list is full.”
“Gee,” chortled Tom, “if a hobo should see them coming all at once, he’d think that he had them again, sure.”
“Yes,” agreed Bert, “it would certainly be a crazy quilt effect, if they should all come along together. But there are so many different routes that, ten to one, we won’t catch sight of each other after the bunch scatters at the start.”
“How about the route?” asked Martin. “I should think that would be one of the most important things to take into account.”
“So it would, if it were left to me. But it isn’t. You see, one of the great objects of the Good Roads Association is to plan a great national highway from coast to coast. They want to get all the facts about every possible route, so that they’ll have something to go on, when they put it up to the different States to get legislation on their pet hobby. This race they think will be of great importance for this purpose, because it won’t be based on theory but on actual experience. So they have mapped out a large number of possible lines to be followed – northern, central and southern, – and when they’ve got them all marked out, lots will be drawn and the fellows will have to follow the route that chance gives them. Of course, they can’t be exactly alike in the matter of distance. But it will be as fair for one as the other, and, all things considered, they’ll average up about alike. I expect to get a letter any day now, giving the special trip that luck has picked out for me.
“Of course,” he went on, “it isn’t all absolutely cut and dried. They don’t mark out every highway and byway that you must travel, on pain of being disqualified. But you’re given a chain of important towns and great centers that you must hit one after the other on your trip across the continent. As long as you do that, you are left to your own judgment as to the best and quickest way of getting there.”
“How about any crooked work?” put in Axtell. “Is there any chance of that?”
“I’m not worrying much about that,” answered Bert. “To be sure, where so much is at stake, there’s always a chance of some one trying to turn a trick. But I don’t see where they could ‘put it over.’ At every important place there’ll be timers and checkers to keep tally on the riders. The machines are all registered and numbered and so carefully described that, in case of a smashup, a fellow couldn’t slip in another one without being found out at the next stopping place. Then, too, if they tried to get a lift on a train, there would have to be too many in the secret. Besides, in all the names I’ve seen so far of the racers, there’s only one that might possibly stoop to anything of that kind. His name is Hayward, and from what I’ve heard he’s been mixed up with one or two shady deals. There have only been whispers and suspicions, however, and they’ve never been able actually to prove anything against him. So he is still nominally in good standing and eligible to ride. It may be all conjecture anyway. He probably wouldn’t cheat if he could, and couldn’t if he would.”
“No,” said Dick, “it certainly seems as though the best man and the best machine ought to win.”
“I understand that the race is to start from New York,” remarked Drake.
“Yes,” answered Bert, preparing to mount the machine, “from one of the beaches near the city. It’s to be actually from ocean to ocean. The rear wheel is to be wet in the Atlantic. Then the fight is on in earnest and only ends when the front wheel is dipped in the Pacific.”
“’Twill be some race,” remarked Martin.
“You’ll have to travel like the wind,” warned Hinsdale.
“Yes,” laughed Bert, as he threw in the clutch, “to make it in twenty days, I’ll have to go like a blue streak.”