J. Duffield.

Bert Wilson's Twin Cylinder Racer





Of course, he went on thoughtfully, the game is new to me and Im not at all sure of winning. But I think I have a chance. Id 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 Americas 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 Berts 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 Ill call it the Blue Streak, answered Bert. Thats 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. Thats 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 Im 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 youve come in first, therell be a yell that youll hear way off in Frisco.

Dont 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, its going to be a weird color scheme, laughed Dick. Theres the Yellow Dragon and the Red Devil and the Brown Antelope and the White Cloud and the Black Knight; and therell probably be others before the list is full.

Gee, chortled Tom, if a hobo should see them coming all at once, hed 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 wont 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 isnt. 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 theyll 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 wont 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 theyve 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 cant be exactly alike in the matter of distance. But it will be as fair for one as the other, and, all things considered, theyll 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 isnt all absolutely cut and dried. They dont mark out every highway and byway that you must travel, on pain of being disqualified. But youre 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?

Im not worrying much about that, answered Bert. To be sure, where so much is at stake, theres always a chance of some one trying to turn a trick. But I dont see where they could put it over. At every important place therell 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 couldnt 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 Ive seen so far of the racers, theres only one that might possibly stoop to anything of that kind. His name is Hayward, and from what Ive heard hes been mixed up with one or two shady deals. There have only been whispers and suspicions, however, and theyve 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 wouldnt cheat if he could, and couldnt 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. Its 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.

Youll have to travel like the wind, warned Hinsdale.

Yes, laughed Bert, as he threw in the clutch, to make it in twenty days, Ill have to go like a blue streak.

CHAPTER III
From Coast to Coast

The next few days flew by with magical swiftness. There were a thousand things to be done, and Bert found himself wishing that each day had a hundred hours instead of twenty-four. The term examinations were on, and he buckled down to them manfully. He had never neglected his class work in favor of athletic sports and his standing had always been high. He worked as hard as he played, and in both study and games was up in the front rank.

But when these ordeals were over and he had passed triumphantly, every spare moment was devoted to the coming race. He put into his preparation all his heart and soul. And in this, he was ably aided and abetted by Reddy, the college trainer.

Reddy, as he was called from the flaming mop of hair that adorned his far from classic brow, was a character. For many years he had been in complete control of the football, baseball and general track teams of the college. He had formerly been a crack second baseman in a major league, but an injured ankle had forced his withdrawal from the active playing ranks. He had a shrewd, though uneducated, mind, and his knowledge of sports and ability as a trainer had made him famous in the athletic world. His dry wit and genial disposition made him a great favorite with the boys, though he ruled with an iron hand when discipline was needed.

He was especially proud and fond of Bert for two reasons. In the first place, his trainers soul rejoiced in having such a superb physical specimen to develop into a winner. He had so often been called upon to make bricks without straw, that he exulted in this splendid material ready to his hand. And when his faith had been justified by the great victories that Bert had won, Reddy felt that it was, in part, his own personal triumph.

Then, too, Bert had never shirked or broken training. His sense of honor was high and fine, and he kept as rigidly to his work in the trainers absence as in his presence. Reddy had never had to put detectives on his track or search him out in the poolrooms and saloons of the town. He was true to himself, true to his team, true to his college, and could always be counted on to be in first-class condition.

So that, although this was not a college event, Reddy took a keen personal interest in the coming contest. Every afternoon, he held the watch while Bert circled the track, and he personally superintended the bath and rubdown, after the test was over. He knew the exact weight at which his charge was most effective, and he took off the superfluous flesh just fast enough not to weaken him. And his Irish blue eyes twinkled with satisfaction, as he noted that just now he had never seen him in better shape for the task that lay before him.

Yell do, he said, with an air of finality, two days before the race, as he snapped his split-second chronometer, after a whirlwind sprint. Ill not tell ye jist the time ye made for that last five miles, as I dont want ye to get the swelled head. But, my word for it, yere on edge, and I dont want ye to touch that machine again until ye face the starter. Yere down fine enough and I dont want ye to go stale before the race begins. Ive left jist enough beef on ye to give ye a wee bit of a margin to work off. The rest is solid bone and muscle, and, if the machine is as good as yerself, yell get to the coast first with something to spare.

Well, said Bert warmly, it will be your victory as well as mine if I do. Youre my one best bet when it comes to getting into form. I wouldnt have had half a chance to pull off any of the stunts I have, if it hadnt been for you.

But Reddy tossed this lightly aside.

Not a bit of it, he protested, tis yersilf has done the work, and yersilf should get the credit. And yeve done it too in the face of accident and hard luck. This time Im hoping that luck will be on yer side. And to make sure, he grinned, Im going to give yer a sprig of four-leaved shamrock that came to me from the folks at home, last seventeenth of March. Twill not be hurting ye any to have it along with yer.

Sure thing, laughed Bert. Ill slip it in the tool box and carry it every foot of the way.

And as Reddy had groomed Bert, so Bert groomed his machine. Every nut and bolt, valve and spring was gone over again and again, until even his critical judgment was satisfied. It was to carry not only his fortune but perhaps his life, and he did not rest until he was convinced that nothing could add to its perfection. It had become almost a part of himself, and it was with a feeling of reluctance that at last he had it carefully crated and sent on to the starting point, to await his coming forty-eight hours later.

That evening, as he returned from the post office, he met Tom and Dick at the foot of the steps leading to their dormitory. He waved at them an open letter that he had been reading.

Its from the Committee, he explained. It gives the route and final instructions. Come up to the rooms and well go over it together.

A bond of friendship, far from common, united these three comrades the Three Guardsmen, as they were jokingly called, because they were so constantly together. They had first met at a summer camp, some years before, and a strong similarity of character and tastes had drawn them to each other at once. From that time on, it had been one for three and three for one.

Full to the brim as they were of high spirits and love of adventure, they often got into scrapes from which it required all their nerve and ingenuity to emerge with a whole skin. Their supreme confidence in themselves often led them to take chances from which older and wiser heads would have shrunk. And the various exploits in which they had indulged had taught each how fully and absolutely he might rely on the others. On more than one occasion, death itself had been among the possibilities, but even that supreme test had been met without flinching.

Only a few months before, when, on their journey through Mexico, Dick had fallen into the hands of El Tigre, the dreaded leader of guerillas, Bert and Tom had taken the trail at once, and after a most exciting chase, had rescued him from the bandits clutches. During a trip to the Adirondacks, Tom had been bitten by a rattler and would have perished, had it not been for Berts quickness of mind and swiftness of foot. And Bert himself never expected to come closer to death than that day on the San Francisco wharf, when Dick had grasped the knife hand of the Malay running amuck, just as it was upraised to strike.

Any man or any danger that threatened one would have to count on tackling three. Each knew that in a pinch the others would stick at nothing in the effort to back him up. And this conviction, growing stronger with every new experience, had cemented their friendship beyond all possibility of breaking.

Their early ties had ripened and broadened under the influence of their college life. Dick had entered a year before the other two, and it was this that had moved them to choose the same Alma Mater. Dick and Tom were studying to be civil engineers, while Bert was more strongly drawn toward the field of electricity and wireless telegraphy. Their keen intelligence had won them high honors in scholarship, and their brawn and muscle had achieved an enviable distinction in athletics. On the pennant winning team of the year before, Berts brilliant pitching had been ably supported by the star work of Tom at third, while Dick, beside being the champion slugger of the team, had held down first base like a veteran. All were immensely popular with the student body in general, not only for their prowess, but because of the qualities of mind and heart that would have singled them out anywhere as splendid specimens of young American manhood.

Bert and Dick roomed together, while Toms quarters were on the floor below. Now, as it was nearer, they all piled into Toms sitting-room, eager to discuss the contents of the official letter.

Here it is, said Bert, as he tossed it over to the others. You see, I have the southern route.

O, thunder, groaned Tom, the toughest of the lot. Youll fairly melt down there at this time of year.

It is rough, said Dick. The roads there are something fierce. The northern or central route would have been ten times better.

Yes, agreed Bert, it certainly is a handicap. If Id been left to choose, myself, I wouldnt have dreamed of going that way. Still, its all a matter of lot, and Ive got no kick coming. Somebody would have had to draw it, and I might as well be the victim as any one else.





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