“Yesterday’s Memories Tomorrow’s Dreams” by Carmen Tom – National Jack Pine Enduro

National Jack Pine Enduro

Five hundred miles of some of the toughest trails you can find anywhere. This event billed the World’s Toughest Enduro was often called Old Cow Bell. It started in 1926, this event starts at the State Journal Building in Lansing, Michigan. It takes two days to run and ends at the state capital. You have to ride on some roads getting out of town, then come back into town. • Most of the run is trails, dirt roads, many hills, rivers to cross, creeks and if it rains, lots of mud. It is one of the toughest runs anywhere if not the toughest.

It was the summer of 1956, Wilber, Alfred and Albert had wanted to ride this event ever since they read about it. They first read about it in the Enthusiasts motorcycle magazine. This is a wonderful magazine, that is if you love motorcycles as I do. I’ve gotten this Rag since 1946. All three men were having a hard time deciding which bikes to ride, none had ever ran a two day event before. They were really excited about going. After reading more about the event, they decided they would ride the three Harley Davidson’s Army 45”, they had purchased these after they got out of the Army. They purchased these at a large surplus sale, as I have told of in other stories.

The 45” Harelys were super reliable, a good riding bike. It has only one fault, it sits low to the ground. Harley installed 2 1/2 longer forks for the Army, this helped, but still not enough ground clearance. So all three got to work, they came up with special made rockers for the front forks, this gave them 2 1/2 /more inches clearance, this was good for the front. Now the rear end, they came up with many different ideas, but the one they used were plates on the rear axel, it gave another 2 1/2” clearance. This was really good, they had already installed 19” wheels. The bikes looked odd, but boy did they work. They all tried the bikes out on their farms. They went up hills, crossing creeks, into deep water mud, trails, etc. They were very happy with their bikes.

Now, how to get them to Lansing. Wilber had the old Ford 2 1/2 ton truck, which he had also bought surplus. They built a cabin which went on behind the cab, just like those big Kenworth trucks have, they built this one out of aluminum to keep the weight down. They removed the rear window in the truck so they could go between the cabin and truck if necessary. Now, how to get the motorcycles on and off the truck easily. Each bike weighed about 575 lbs., heavy but it would do. They built an old time boom crane, it lifted the bikes on and off with ease. The truck was in real good running condition, like everything Wilber had. All his cars, trucks, motorcycles didn’t have good looks, but boy did they run good, and super reliable.

They were all set, now to figure out a route to Michigan. So they got out their old maps and decided on one route there and on another one back. They decided to drive out of the hills on Highway 18 going east, then on 44 through winner, all the way to Canton, then they go on 18 going east through Iowa. This was the best road they knew of, they would turn north on old 65, go north to Minnesota at Albert Lee, then go northeast on old 6, north to LaCross, Wisconsin. They took many small roads and ended up in Madison, Wisconsin, then old 19 into Milwaukee, take the ferry to Muskegon, Michigan from there it was easy to get to Lansing, Michigan to start the Enduro. So now when should they leave, they also had their farms to tend to. They again called on their old friends, Ruthie and Evelyn. These girls could run a farm by their selves if need be. Old Jumper loved them too, so the farms would be in good hands until they returned.

The run started the 1 Sunday of September, this was only two weeks away, and so they got everything ready. They gave themselves 4 days to get there, as they had never been on most of the roads before and didn’t know if they would run into any road construction or not, summer time is when the roads are worked on. The early August 26th, they left at 6 a.m. The weather was sunny out and the sky was clear, a good day for driving. They stopped in Canton on the very last end of South Dakota and had a good meal there. They left right away after breakfast, no sightseeing on this trip, at least not going. They were making good time, the old Ford was running like new. Wilber had installed his gas saver on the engine a few years ago. They were getting over 20 m.p.g. at 55-.60 m.p.h. You must remember this was in 1956, no freeways, most to land roads. It was not long until they pulled into La Cross, found a good café and ate a good meal. Topped the truck off, gas was only 19 cents a gallon. The found an old park so they pulled in, shot the bull for a while with others in the park, they hit the hay. Those bunk beds were nice, this was one trip they would not sleep in bags and tents. This saved a lot of time in not setting up and tearing down. They had a good night’s sleep, there was a cool breeze blowing all night, this was nice, as it can get really hot in August.

They had made good time, better than they anticipated. They left at 6:30 a.m. another sunny day. Hot, but not too bad. They drove out of La Cross feeling good, everything was going along fine. They drove for 2 hours or so then stopped in Wisconsin Dells, topped off still getting 20 plus m.p.g. not bad for a 2 1/2 ton truck with over 2,000 lbs. Load. Old Wilber, had really turned this truck into a good mileage truck with his gas saver. They ate at a small café, they always ate at small cafes if possible, as you get the best food and prices.

They made it to Madison, enjoying this trip all anxious to get to Lansing. They drove into Milwaukee, no problems; it was only 4:30 so they called the Harley Factory to see if they could go tour the factory the next day. So early the next morning they went through the factory, they got to see the 1957 models come down the assembly line. Lots of new colors, old Wilber got to dreaming of having a new Harley, but he soon forgot all about the new bikes, his mind was on the big Enduro.

The next morning they drove down to the ferry and caught the ferry to Muskegon. This was a big ship, it would take about 8 hours to get there. All three ate, complained of the high price of food. Albert said we could have cooked our own food, but the guard told them no cooking on the ship. All three enjoyed the ride on the U.S.S. Clipper. Alfred said it looked like they were on a big ocean, those Great Lakes are big.

They pulled into Lansing early Friday, now they could get the bikes running, and check everything over. They drove to the local Harley Dealer; saw many riders, talked to many riders that were going to ride the Enduro. They found a park so they could park for the night. Saturday will be a big day. They had plarined on going to the big banquet held at the Masonic Hall. They spent most of Saturday just hanging out with other riders, the city was full of motorcycles. They looked for other riders from South Dakota, but no luck.Soon it was time for the big banquet. There were editors from many newspapers and magazines, even the Mayor showed up. After the big meal, the Lansing Motorcycle Club gave out beautiful jerseys to all the winners of last year; the jerseys had their names on them. After that event, they watched movies of last year’s III it looked really tough. Old Alfred said to Wilbur, look what you’re getting us into. They left after the movies. Everyone knew 5:00 came early so they hit the hay.

They all got up early, 4:00; they knew the first riders would be leaving at 5:31 a.m. They all went down to the State Journal Building where they had signed up on Saturday. They found a good place to park their truck and got the bikes unloaded and running. All 3 bikes ran beautiful, the State Referee was on the microphone, and everything was moving like clockwork. Riders started leaving 3-4 at a time. It would take 10 minutes to get all the riders going. There were over 500 riders, over 17 different makes of motorcycles. Lots of Harleys and Indians but the Triumphs and BSA made up the bulk of riders. Lots of riders on small bikes, 125cc to 250 cc. Wilbur noticed riders from over 30 states and Canada. Wilbur, Alfred and Albert tried riding together, their 45” were really proving to be good dirt bikes. Right out of town you cross the Pine River, then lots of trails, hills, mud holes every kind of condition you expect on an Enduro.

The local Civil Air Patrol was doing a good job of the scoring. All the members of the Lansing Motorcycle Club were keeping busy. Wilbur told Albert, I never expected the run to be this tough. They were getting tired, but made it through the 1st day. The first day the run ended at Sterling. Many riders had dropped out either broke down or just exhausted. They stayed in small cabins, locked all the bikes up good. Monday came fast. The 1St riders out at 6:01 a.m., Wilber, Alfred and Albert rode together, the Harleys ran beautiful. They sure were glad they had made the bikes higher off the ground. Other big bikes had lots of trouble getting through the mud and up some of the steep hills. The smaller bikes were having no problems; they were easy to move around. Albert said, next time we’ll ride some small English bike. The second day took them on all kinds of trails, swamps, logs to cross, deer paths, and big steep hills.

Many of the riders were dropping outs They all stopped at a Lutheran church for lunch, put on by the Ladies Aid. Wilber, Alfred and Albert loved the lunch; they kept teasing the older ladies. However, there were some younger beautiful girls helping with the food. Wilber kept after this one cute little blonde. He asked her to come back to South Dakota with them. He said, wouldn’t you like to live on a real farm? She pops up, I may but what else you going to offer me? The bell rang, time to leave, they all got on their bikes and rode off on the course. All the ladies and younger girls were wishing them good luck.

They only had a few hours left, they were all happy to be back in Lansing, they rode to the State Capitol; a large crowd welcomed all the riders back. Out of 500 some riders, only 112 finished. Wilber was happy, none of them won anything, but they all got the pins, etc. Once again, the Civil Air Patrol had done a wonderful job. Like always the Lansing Motorcycle Club had put on a good Enduro. It was getti.ng late, Monday night came fast. The Enduro was over Tuesday morning they would head home.

Wilbur found a good park, and they spent the night there. Albert said lets sleep in to say 7:00 to 8:00. Alfred said, you’re getting old brother, but we’re in no big hurry to get home, our farms are in good hands. Before hitting the hay, all three looked at maps to see which route to take home. Wilber was reading an old motorcycle paper he had picked up Saturday night. It told of in 1951, Joe Gee, out of Columbus Ohio, rode a Triumph 500cc twin to 1st place. He has ridden in many and has always finished high up on the ladder.

Morning came early; they did sleep until 7:00, packed up, all the motorcycles were in the back of the truck. There really was not much to do, just get in the truck and go. Wilbur said I’ll drive for 200 – 300 miles, that will give Albert a few hours to sleep. They pulled out of Lansing on to old 27 going south. We’ll go south to old highway 6, head west, that is if the road is okay.

They stopped in the small town of Coldwater, like always they found a small café. It had a big sign outside that said ham and eggs for $1.25, so they went in. A beautiful girl came over and waited on them. Old Alfred said, I’d like to take you back to South Dakota with me. She noticed when they pulled up, the three bikes in the truck. She said, I’ll bet you boys been to the Old Bell Enduro before anyone could say anything. Just then, two trucks pulled up, they also had motorcycles in them. Four riders cam in the café, looked around, there was a booth empty just behind Wilber’s booth. So they sat down, the pretty girl came over and took their order. One of the riders had noticed their 45” in the truck, he started talking to Wilber, Alfred and Albert. He said, you boys did good on the Enduro, I passed you the 2nd day going across the creek just where it was all muddy and hard going, those Harleys really did good. Old Wilber said, yes we figured we did ok, being that was our first crack at the big one. We’ve ridden in smaller Endures in South Dakota and Nebraska, but nothing like this one. They all talked while eating. Albert said where you boys from? One fellow said Iowa, near Davenport. That also is a big motorcycle city with lots of races and swap meets every year in September. After they all ate and drank all the coffee they could, Albert pops up, let’s move out. The other guys said they wanted to be home by nightfall. Before leaving one fellow said, maybe we’ll see you in Sturgis next year, we plan on going. Wilber said, yes you may, we only live 150 miles or so from Sturgis. We rode the Enduro the Jack Pine Gypsies put on every year, 2 years ago. We rode our old J.D.’s on that Enduro, they worked really good, a lot lighter and smaller all around.

They all got in their trucks and pulled out. Alfred was driving now, old Wilbur lay down in the cabin. Alfred said he would drive to Joliet, Illinois, then get on old highway 52 going west. They drove into Indiana, the roads were good, but it sure was hot, that’s summers in the mid-west. The truck was running good and getting really good gas mileage. They stopped at a small town just east of South Bend, they didn’t want to drive into any large cities, that’s why they stuck to smaller highways. They topped off the gas tank and 30 feet from an old Phillips 66, was an old Root Beer Café. So, they walked over and ordered big cheeseburgers and real fries. They all drank big root beers and Alfred said boy I wish we had a good café like this in Wounded Knee.

Alfred kept driving for hours, they pulled into Joliet, Illinois, crossing over from Indiana was easy. Wilber now wanted to drive, he had a good rest and was ready to drive. He headed out of town on old 52 going west, he stayed on 52 until Troy Grove, a small place. He asked a man in a Phillips 66 station if he thought taking six west was a good way to go and did he know of any road construction. He said he drove over from Ottawa, a while ago and all roads were good. Albert said it’s getting late, lets drive until we find a good park and get a good night’s sleep. Get up early and maybe we can get home the next day. They got on old six going west, the road was good, you could drive60 M.P.H., make some good time. Wilber noticed a small road sign near Spring Valley, they pulled in and found a nice place to park out in the open. They did not want to park under trees this time of year. Rain and windstorms come up fast, they didn’t want any trees falling on the truck and motorcycles. They fell asleep fast, after they had eaten those big roast beef sandwiches they had bought in Troy Grove. They always took a big icebox along, they would buy ice every 2-3 days, which was easy to come by in the 1950’s. They always carried a lot of beer and good Root Beer with them. Whenever they found a good Root Beer stand they would stock up.

During the night they all woke up, it was raining hard and the wind was blowing too. There were trees down, they noticed this the next morning when they got up. Broken trees all over, one had crashed into a car and tent, no one seemed to be hurt. It was 7:00, they had overslept. It was still raining hard and Albert said good thing we didn’t ride our bikes to Lansing as we talked about.

Albert drove, stayed on highway 6, in 2 hours they should be in Iowa, if all went ok. Albert was able to drive 60 m.p.h., even with the rain. They stayed on six, crossed over near East Moline, pulled into a big Texaco station, well it was large for those days. The sun was trying to come out, if only those clouds would blow east. Albert said you guys want to eat, I sure would, I’m hungry. Albert said you’re always hungry, but I could stand some food myself. Old Wilber played like he didn’t want to eat, but both Albert and Alfred knew him better. So, they drove over to a café, just 50 or so feet from the Texaco station. They like small cafes as they wait on you fast, get in and out fast, you don’t waste much time eating. Sign said, Hot Cakes and Bacon, 75cents. They had hot cakes for a change, boy were they good too, Old Time Buttermilk.

They all got in the truck fast as the rain had started again. Wilber was at the wheel, headed west. At Newton they turned north, worked their way to highway 30 going into Ames. They stopped at an old Standard station, gas was only .25 cents a gallon. They topped off the tank and talked about road conditions going west. One guy seemed to know the roads, he said he would stay on 30 to Carrol, go north on 71, pick p 20, it goes through Sioux City, good road into Nebraska. So that’s what Wilber did, it was now 1:00 and all three were hungry again but didn’t want to waste time in a café. So they pulled into an old root beer stand, just east of Sioux City, boy were they glad they had stopped there. Big cheeseburgers and homemade fries, frozen fries had not been on the market yet. I wish they had never came out in the 1St place. Wilber keep driving said Alfred, I’ll take over in 2 hours, he agreed. They stayed on 20 going west. At Bassett, Alfred drove, all were getting tired. The rain had stopped a few miles back, the going was good. Just out of Bassett, the road was under construction. Roads were really bad, muddy and in really bad shape from all the rain they had gotten. They kept moving west at 15-20 M.P.H., the road was bad for over 20 miles. It was getting late so they agreed to drive to Valentine for a place to park and sleep. It was 9: 30 when they found a place to park the truck, there were no parks so they went over by some big trees and relieved themselves. No out houses here. They ate some cheese and crackers with some good old sausage, they had bought in Wisconsin, drank some good Root Beer and fell off to sleep.

Albert had set the clock for 5:30, that’s early, but they wanted to get home. They stayed on 20 at Rushville then took 87 north, there was a sign on 27 saying the road was out for 5-6 miles, 50 miles more and they should be in South Dakota. The rains had stopped, but it was cloudy and the sky was dark, you all know what that can mean. It was 11:00 when they crossed into South Dakota, soon they would be home. At 12:30 they pulled into Wilber’s farn. The girls were waiting, they had old Jumper with them, they talked for hours. Then Albert and Alfred got into their old car, and said, we’ll see you tomorrow. They drove out onto the old road, just 3-4 miles they would be home.

The next day, they came over to Wilber’s, unloaded the 45”, unpacked their gear, then all sat down and drank some of that home brew. They all agreed they had a wonderful time, they had been gone almost 2 weeks, much too long. There was lots of work to do on the farm, corn had to be picked in a couple of weeks or so. Potatoes needed picking in October, lots of work to do before winter comes, which seems to come early some years.

All three talked of the big Enduro they had rode in. All the wonderful riders they had met and all the pretty girls they met too. Almost at once they started planning for the next year. Little did they know that next year it would be impossible to go. I’ll save that reason for some other story.

The weather was nice, it was the middle of September, nights were getting cool, but the days were beautiful. In October, they got their Motorcycle RAGS. One rag, the Buzz, told of three riders from the hills of South Dakota riding those old Army bikes. They talked of all the modifications they had done to the bikes and how beautiful they had ran. One writer said he would like to buy a Harley like those. Wilber, Alfred, Albert and the girls would spend the winter planning for the next year’s Enduro. Old Jumper would eat his bay, drink his beer and enjoy his days on the farms.

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