Friday, November 30, 2012

"What's in store for Elizabeth," continued...

Hi guys,

I'm still feeling under the weather with my sinus infection...but on the bright side I have plenty of good medication to help me get rid of this crud. Hope to get healthy quickly, because we're having some warm weather this weekend and I'd love to go for a ride.

A sight that I'll soon be seeing again- my engine in bits
on the floor of Wedco Machine Shop in Jackson, Wyoming

 Anyway, in my last post I talked about diagnosing the problem with Elizabeth, which was determined to be extreme heat and lack of lubrication to the top end due to a sketchy oil delivery system. Now the question remains; what could be done to improve on this design flaw? While there are several possibilities for the rebuild, I feel that it depends on the intended use. Am I building a high-tech, redesigned race motor that can withstand great endurances, or am I building a reliable, every day machine? For the sake of conversation, let's say that I went with the former; what would a motor like this entail?

My dear friend Mike Wild and his heavily modified
Rudge Four Valve that he named 'The Bastard'
Now that everyone has had a bit of time to sit back and unwind from the race, there has been a small bit of talk on how the machines could have been improved- hindsight is 20-20, after all. I've recently been in touch with my speed demon friend and riding partner, Mike Wild, about how my motor could have been improved. Mike's own bike, a "1925-ish" Rudge combined a 1928 overhead valve engine and gearbox with 1925 frame and front end, and was heavily modified for the event. Mike modified his lubrication system to a direct feed oiler; instead of the crank and big end relying on "splash oiling", the big end is fed a constant supply of oil. Both he and I feel that this would have been a very important feature to have on my motor (considering that my crank seized the day before Yellowstone National Park due to lack of oiling). A direct feed oil set up wouldn't be that difficult to do, and would provide a much larger comfort shield around the big end. When my crank seized, I was able to buy a spare from my pal Jim Crain; designed by Atlas, the new crank pin operates smoothly and uses a sealed bearing cage. It required very little modification to fit in the crankcases (light sanding on the studs).

Fred Ham on his 1937 Harley EL. In a 24 hour period, Ham
rode 1,800 miles on this machine around a 5 mile track at
 Murdoc Lake. This Harley was mostly stock, with the
exception of polished engine internals and air filter snorkel

The next design improvement actually comes from my friends Dale and Matt Walksler at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. In 2007, Dale built a 1937 Harley Davidson EL Knucklehead as a replica of Fred Ham's record breaking machine. For those not familiar with Fred Ham, on April 8, 1937 he took his 61 cubic inch Harley Knucklehead and set a new riding record: 1,800 miles in 24 hours around a 5 mile track in Murdoc Lake. This record stood for 70 years before Dale hooked Wayne Stanfield into riding an exact replica to beat the record. Well, they almost beat it... The thing that stood out to me was that in building the motor, Dale had the crankcase interiors and outer circumference of the flywheels polished to a high sheen. By polishing these internals friction would be reduced, thereby allowing the oil to flow smoothly throughout.

With these ideas swirling around in my head, I contacted my fellow BSA-er Jim Crain to get his two cents on what could be improved upon in the motor. One thing that we both agree on is that there is some valuable space in the combustion chamber that is being wasted; our flathead engines contain a hemispherical combustion chamber---yes boys, it's a hemi. Both of us used newly manufactured pistons from JP in Australia, but like the original, they have a flat top instead of a crowned shape. If you'll recall the new piston was also a bit heavier than the original NOS piece that was removed from my engine. So with all that being said, we both feel that having a piston designed and manufactured in line with the original dimensions and weight would be effective. These new pistons would be designed with more of a crown shape to take advantage of that hemispherical combustion chamber and would include narrower ring groves and provisions for a larger gudgeon pin. I also wonder if some modifications to the length of the piston skirt would be of good use.

In addition to modifying the piston design, another point that Jim brought up was that the connecting rod could be improved as well. Rather than using the steel connecting rods in the motor, Jim proposed that a replacement aluminum or titanium rod would reduce the weight and vibration. For the most part these modifications wouldn't be too costly, however the variances, tolerances, and measurements would need to be pretty much dead on, lest we face higher costs in R&D.
Titanium connecting rods and re-designed pistons....
both of these would probably shed considerable
weight from the inside of the motor.
Just as an overview, if the idea was to build this same motor for the same trip, I would build mine with a redesigned piston, titanium crank, Atlas crank pin, direct feed oil, and highly polished crankcases and flywheels. Okay, so what about for a classic that won't be subjected to such torture? Since I'm not going to push this bike across America again I'll probably rebuild it in this fashion, so I can't say whether or not I will go through with a newly designed piston and con rod. One thing is for certain; I will have a new piston manufactured to the weight of the original, and highly polish the internal cases. Who knows, I may even convert the big end to direct feed oil.

The Texan and his trusty steed
I intend to get Elizabeth back up in running order over the next month, though it will probably feel much different to have a proper workshop and workspace to rebuild it, rather than a parking lot. Recently I received new bronze bushings from the McCaster-Carr Company that will be machined to form the new small end bush. Once I receive a new piston and set of rings, it's down to pressing in the small end bush, balancing the crank, building the lower end, adding the piston/rings, putting on the cylinder, timing it, and viola! Not too much, right?  We will be back on the road shortly...look out everyone, Elizabeth's graceful self will be touring the countryside again soon!


Buck Carson
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's in store for Elizabeth? (Pt. 2 of "Looking towards the future")

Hi all,
The Cannonball Rig has found a new home..sweet memories
The holiday season has arrived, though it doesn't much feel like it here in Texas. Yesterday, temperatures were over 80 degrees Fahrenheit (upwards of 26 C). It's hard to get in the mood for Christmas when you're wearing shorts and a t-shirt just 29 days before the big day. Last week was Thanksgiving, and it was nice to spend time with friends and family. As usual, we gorged ourselves on turkey, stuffing, and all the fixings. My dad and I took a couple days and put in a new driveway at the shop. Now instead of having our giant trailer from the Cannonball in front of the building, it's tucked away on the side. A little thing in retrospect, but it brought back plenty of memories when it moved to its new home. Since returning from the road in September, we've all been pretty focused on finishing up the addition to our shop and getting things re-organized. Right now it's kind of like a bomb went off on the inside; things were a little messy from when we left in August but got progressively messier when we had central air conditioning and heating installed on our return. With everything nearing completion it's time to update you fine folks on what lays in store for our 85 year old beauty, Elizabeth. I suppose that I probably should have broken this part into several posts, and probably will.

A very special thank you to our family in the Confederate
 Chapter of the AMCA for this extremely special award

Our Cannonball bike has enjoyed a warm reception in the several motorcycle shows and events that she's been displayed at. Our very first event was the 2012 Barber Vintage Festival, where our extended family at the Confederate Chapter of the AMCA invited us to display our bike and mobile machine shop for the public to see. We were honored when the club presented my dad and I with the "Atta Boy" award for our service to other teams during the race. Next up on the docket was a local car, truck, and bike show where the BSA won the coveted "Ladies Choice" and first place trophy in its motorcycle class. Finally, my friend Joe Sparrow, who was a roadside savior many times during the Cannonball invited me to bring Elizabeth down for display at the J&P Cycles Storefront during the 2012 Lone Star Bike Rally in Galveston, Texas. Joe and the gang took very special care of her for the duration, and she received plenty of
attention from the crowds. Now that winter has arrived, I can finally give the bike the much-needed rebuild that it deserves.

I knew when I saw this sign that Elizabeth was in good hands....

On display in front of the J&P Cycles storefront during the 2012 Lone
Star Rally in Galveston, Texas. Special thanks to my friend Joe Sparrow
 for the invitation, and for taking such special care of my lady.

With the end of the race, Elizabeth lay pretty torn, tattered, and beaten. Over the course of 2,557 miles we burned through two pistons. The first of these pistons, a NOS original that was sourced in England, was removed in Sturgis, South Dakota. Excessive mountain grades, hard running, and high temperatures in the cylinder melted the oil ring and led to multiple seizures in under three miles. We replaced that piston and rings with the brand new machined setup from JP Pistons in Australia. An interesting note: the second piston was actually quite a bit heavier than the NOS unit, and JP rings haven't had the best reputation. When removed and examined, we discovered that this piston had gotten so hot that the gudgeon pin partially melted to the small end bush and the side of the piston skirt had been badly scored.
  • Motorcycle Mechanics 101- 
    • Question: "What causes a massive failure with the piston and gudgeon pin like this?" 
    • Answer: "Heat, obviously."
Piston number one: Note the melted oil ring...ouch!

Okay, so this kind of extreme heat can come from only three major areas. Firstly, a motor that is incorrectly timed will either detonate the mixture too early or too late, creating vast variances in the heat. A fuel and air mixture that is too weak can easily be a source for major heat, often leading to holing the piston. Finally, and the problem with Elizabeth, lack of lubrication is major no-no. That being said, what caused the oiling to be incorrect? Here's the long and short of it. Part of the blame probably lies on me, but a major reason comes from a design flaw.

And piston number two: Check out the small end bushing
on the gudgeon pin

 Lubrication systems on these 1920's Brit bikes aren't exactly up to snuff for a happy motor, and definitely don't like to be beaten up over 4,000 miles. Most early four stroke motors relied on "splash oiling," where the flywheels dip into the pool of oil at the bottom of the crankcase and splash it up. Not opportune. If you'll recall, the bike has a combination of manual and "automatic" oil pumps. In 1927, BSA recommended that riders utilize the automatic pump as a primary, with the manual oiler as a supplemental. Drip rates on the automatic pump can be set with the top mounted control knob, and I usually varied from one drip every three seconds to one every 6-8 seconds. Used in conjunction with the manual hand injector, the effectiveness on the oiling was minimal to say the least. What I found was that not enough oil was making its way to the top end of the motor and more often than not, the piston and gudgeon pin were under-oiled. Aggravating still was the fact that this condition varied without me even changing the settings; one day would have the motor running at a normal operating temperature with semi-effective oiling, then the next would have it way under-oiled. To try and combat the lack of oil to the piston, I used three different methods.
  • Usually with every fuel stop I would add about an ounce of 2 cycle engine oil in with the petrol. This small amount injects oil directly to the top end of the motor through the carburetor mixture, and also provides an efficient way to keep the slides and jets of your carburetor clean and lubricated)
  • With the small oil can that I carried in my panniers, I would douse my tappets, valve stems, and valve springs with oil at every few stops. This small bit of oil would eventually make its way to the combustion chamber.
  • While riding, I periodically closed the air and fuel levers momentarily. This lapse creates a vacuum that sucks oil from the crankcase and big end to the top of the engine.
Overall, the lubrication system on these old sidevalvers is pretty much "hit or miss." Towards the end of the race, after we installed the newly rebuilt motor, I learned something new about the oiling. At times, the drip rate will actually lie to you. What looks like one drip every 3 seconds will actually be a constant flow of oil. Five minutes after an easy start with no problems, the motor will start oil fouling plugs left and right. Upon further examination, you'll discover that your brand new crankcases will be completely full of oil, and your oil tank empty. It took several times of almost ripping my hair out before we finally figured out the cause of the problem. The exterior oil pump body contains a worm drive towards the bottom of the pump, which is what stops the flow of oil when the tap is turned off. During the rebuild, the drive had somehow worked itself loose and was allowing oil to bypass the pump. Once firmly set into place, it was back to life. It's always something with these old machines...probably why they're so addicting to me- how to solve problems

Overall, the problem was diagnosed...poorly performing lubrication system. Now, how do we go about addressing it? Well, I'm down with a sinus infection, so I'm feeling pretty beat at the moment. That'll just have to wait and be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned, caped crusaders.


Buck Carson
Cannonball Rider #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team

Looking towards the future (Pt. 1)

  Now that the greatest race of a lifetime is over, we Cannonballers must ask ourselves what's next. Like many, the preparations and participation in the event took more than a year. It's hard to believe that after all of the countless hours and late nights in the shop trying to prepare and stock up as best we could, that the whole thing was over in 17 short days. For some the Cannonball was simply another tick in their chapters of motorcycle addiction, while for others, it was the ultimate one-time adventure. Others still are now looking for bigger and better challenges with their two wheeled mistresses. Personally, I think I would fall into the latter....after all, Key West to Anchorage (or vice versa) sounds pretty nutty. That being said, what does the future hold for me?

  Well, firstly, I'm returning to finish up my last semester at Sam Houston State University in January. You may recall that I took the fall session off in order to participate in the Motorcycle Cannonball. Had I not chosen to do that, I would have graduated with my Bachelors degree in Business this December....but would have missed out on the real-world experience of a lifetime. It was a tough decision to take off time from school, but I know a chance like that doesn't come every day. Now that the race is finished, it's time to finish up my education.

  A few posts back I had mentioned that I was in the stages of writing a book about my experience. With the remaining time off from school, I've taken the opportunity to get a good start on documenting the whole adventure, as taken from my days in the saddle and nights in the parking lots. I really don't know if anyone would be interested in reading it, and I'm not really concerned with trying to make money from the endeavour. My main reason for writing a book about the race is to document what happened, so that I can give something to my family and friends. A few folks have expressed interest in reading what I have to say, which is really humbling and means a lot to me. No one has really given me any pointers or advice on how to proceed with writing, so I'm just doing what I do best: going with the flow. It's actually turning into a lot more work than I originally thought....kudos and a ton of respect to novelists and writers who do this for a living. The most important thing is that I'm having fun with it and keeping those awesome memories fresh.

  As of now, I cannot speculate as to a finishing date, or where copies would be available. Heck, there isn't even a title yet. I've had a few people tell me that they have recommendations or connections for a publisher when I get to that point, but any advice or pointers would be welcome. After all, I am a newbie with this sort of thing.

  So, back to school, and writing a new book...what else? Recently, I also mentioned my new involvement in the Antique Motorcycle Club of America's Youth Program. If you haven't figured out by now, I'm really into vintage motorcycles.....actually, addicted is probably a better word. The opportunity to help get other young people involved is a really exciting one for me. Since I was asked, I've been trying to come up with a plan of attack on how to get other youngsters involved. Mrs. Brittney Olsen, Youth Director, has been wrangling kids into the club by raffling off and giving away vintage bicycles and motorcycle parts. Personally I think that's an awesome thing to do, and would like to expand that. If you're interested in donating old motorcycle parts or vintage bicycles to the AMCA Youth Program, please contact Brittney at her email:

   That about covers it for me...stay tuned for the next post about the future of Elizabeth.


Buck Carson

Friday, November 16, 2012

Motorcycle Cannonball Photography

This seems to have become a perpetual pose for me
throughout the race...hammer down at 40 miles per hour
Now that the great endurance race of 2012 is in the books, Cannonball riders and teams have gotten a chance to sit back and unwind from the event a little. Most teams, mine included, spent the greater part of a year to prepare themselves, their machines, and their teams for a 17 day adventure across this great country, so having some downtime takes some getting used to. With almost two months passing since the Grand Finale in San Francisco, we have all turned our eyes and ears to the rest of the motorcycle world to take in the firestorm of publicity surrounding the event.

Hanging out in the Black Hills while my overheated motor ticked and
cooled...ever the gentlemen, Michael Lichter and Dave Przygocki gave
 me a helpful shove to get her started again

A major part of the publicity around the Motorcycle Cannonball relies heavily on photos and videos, as many people probably wouldn't believe that a group of 70 Pre-1930 motorcycles would be capable of crossing a continent by simply reading an article. Luckily our group was fortunate enough to contain some of the most talented photographers and filmographers in the motorcycling world, who have now graciously begun to share their artwork with the world. It is my plan to compile as many of these beautiful photos and videos as possible, to share with my viewers here. So with that being said, be patient, and please keep checking back for more. As of now, two of the photographers have posted most or all of their Cannonball collections online.

Making new friends in Spirit Lake, Iowa with some fellows who
wanted to know "why in the hell anyone would do this."

Michael Lichter, who is well known throughout the motorcycle world for his beautiful work over the decades, was wrangled in by Lonnie Isam, Jr. to be the official event photographer. Michael has worked as one of the principal photographers for Harley Davidson for years and can be found at many of the legendary biker rallies and events here in the United States. What made his photos unique for this event is the platfom from which they were taken; most of his road-going shots were captured as he rode as a backwards-facing passenger on a 2012 Victory piloted by Dave Przygocki. While 19 entrants completed the full 3,956 miles, we riders joked that Michael compiled a -3,956 miles....trophy-worthy for sure. Posted here are a few of the wonderful shots taken by Michael, but for the full collection of more than 2,000 photos check out his website at

Fueling up with my pal Mike Wild outside of Graettinger, Iowa, where
the town closed up to provide us a welcoming paty

A smoky start in Mountain Home, Idaho with my dad giving me the "thumbs up"
Paul d'Orleans was also one of the great photographers on the event, but for a different reason. Paul runs a blog here called The Vintagent, and it is truly one of the masterpieces of vintage motorcycle journalism. His blog is primarily sponsored by Bonhams and Butterfields Auctioneers, and on more than one occasion Paul can be found lending a hand with detailing the history of rare and unique motorcycle marquees. For the 2012 Cannonball, Paul entered his 1928 Velocette 350cc single cylinder; a machine not to be has been performance tuned and has been clocked at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour in the past. Riding the Cannonball was definitely a huge interest, but Paul also was gnawing at the bit for the chance to document the event in a very different kind of way. His all-female support team brought along a vintage 1800s "wet plate camera" and they could be found photographing on a daily basis. His collection of prints is currently being uploaded to his newest website, but I've included a few here that he took on my 21st Birthday in Murdo, South Dakota.

A 21st birthday I'll never gift- a one dollar bill ripped
 in half by my dad..."You get one half now, and the other when
 you get to San Francisco"

Checking out the beautiful countryside in Badlands National Park

Waiting for our police escort to dinner in Sheridan,
 Wyoming...I figured I should fog for mosquitoes
while we waited.
In the coming days, I'll be adding more photos from some of the other great artists who dug in with the rest of us for 17 grueling days across 3,956 miles from coast to coast. To check out some of the excellent video footage, visit

A very cool shot from Paul d'Orleans' vintage "wet plate" camera of me
enjoying a cold (and legal) beer on my 21st birthday in Murdo, South Dakota.
The rear stand on Elizabeth broke, so we leaned her against the nearest thing
we could find: a trailer that carried a pink elephant statue/fountain.

And now for your greasy, oily close up...


Buck Carson
Cannonball Rider #3
Carson Classic Motors Racing Team

Monday, November 12, 2012

Return from the Motorcycle Cannonball, Pt. 1 of......?

Riding through the plains of South Dakota, on my
way to Badlands National Park. Photo Credit: Felicia Morgan
Well folks, I owe you all an apology. First of all, long before the Motorcycle Cannonball, I promised you guys daily video, photo, and written updates. I had no idea how tough the Cannonball would really be. The mountains of time that I thought we would have at the end of the days turned out to be non-existent. Each day turned into a constant battle with mechanical issues, and both road and weather conditions. These long days were followed by marathon sessions of nightly wrenching until the wee hours of the morning, just to grab a few hours sleep to be ready for the next morning. Essentially, there was no spare time, and I was usually so dead tired by the time I made it into the hotel rooms that the only thing on my mind was sleeping.

September 12th, 2012: Spirit Lake, Iowa to Murdo, South Dakota.
Celebrating my 21st birthday with a ride in the rain. This photo showed up on the
 Harley Davidson Facebook page. Photo Credit: Michael Lichter
All of that being said, I apologize to my fans for not keeping you updated. Now that things have quieted down, it is my plan to go back and review the whole event. I'm in the process of writing a book about the Motorcycle Cannonball Run before I go back to finish up my bachelors degree in January, so I have time to really detail things for you guys. To start it off, I wanted to attach a copy of the article that I recently was asked to write for a couple of national motorcycle magazines. I hope this gives an introduction into what we faced day in and day out for 17  wild days across the United States.

"I remember sitting in a pool of sweat and grease on the side of the road in Michigan, trying to re-time my engine. I was two hours and 60 miles behind schedule and that gap was widening every minute. Someone stopped on the side of the road to make sure I was okay and to offer help. The first thing they asked was “What are you doing?” It was at this point that I took a moment to ponder that question myself. Here I was deep in the middle of Michigan on a broken down 85 year old motorcycle up to my elbows in oil and grime, trying like mad to beat the clock for the day’s finish. “Well, I’m racing this 1927 BSA from New York to San Francisco with 70 other old motorcycles. We’re trying to re-create a cross country endurance ride from 1913,” I said. “You guys must be crazy….” was the response. Yeah, that’s closer to the truth than you might believe….
In September of 2012, 78 riders from 15 different countries congregated in Newburgh, New York with an amazing group of motorcycles, all of which were built before 1930. Our mission was simple enough: Over 17 days we would jockey our machines across 11 states through any and all weather conditions, headed west to San Francisco. Our route would take us through the Great Lakes, the plains of Iowa and lonely roads of South Dakota, the Rocky Mountains and Grand Tetons of Wyoming, and finally through the legendary Redwood forest on our path to the Pacific Coast Highway. All in all, our journey was set to cover 3,956 miles from coast to coast, with an average mileage count of 300 miles per day. This can be a long day on a modern bike, but on a machine that is 83+ years old it makes for a battle to beat the setting of the sun. Constant repairs and adjustments on the roadside, 50 mile an hour (that was the hope anyway) average speeds, and nightly parking lot rebuilds to be ready for the next day. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be that simple.
The idea behind this crazy cross-country run came from the history books. In 1913, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker set out on his brand new two-speed Indian Motorcycle to attempt a record for the fastest trans-continental journey by motorcycle. Baker and his machine faced incredibly difficult conditions and many problems along the way, but made the journey from California to New York in a record 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes. In 2010 Lonnie Isam, Jr, a renowned restorer of early motorcycles, announced his plans to conduct a similar commemorative run from coast to coast. This Cannonball was open to machines manufactured prior to 1916, and a field of 45 entries soon joined. Due to the success of this race (more than 30 machines completed the journey from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to Santa Monica, California), Lonnie opened up the competition again for 2012. This second race would allow motorcycles built before 1930; however the race was longer and crossed much more difficult terrain. By no means would Cannonball II be easier.
Entrants into the race were divided into three separate classes, determined by the engine displacement. Class I was for motors under 750cc and subsequently turned into the hardest class, as most competitors, including myself, were riding single cylinder motors capable of 45 miles per hour. Class II allowed bikes that displaced 750-1000cc; Class III, unlimited displacement. Competitors were allowed to modify and update the safety of their motorcycles by fitting new brakes and installing modern tires and rims, but the engines and frames had to remain mostly original. All entrants had to be licensed motorcyclists and all bikes had to be registered and insured with working lighting systems. While commonly referred to as a race, the event was actually an endurance run. For each mile completed riders receive one point, with a total of 3,956 points possible. Older bikes were placed above newer bikes in the classes, and tie breakers were determined by the age of the machine, then age of the rider. During the day, riders were unable to be helped by their support crews in the event of a breakdown. The only help entrants could receive was from passersby, other competitors, and official Cannonball staff acting as “sweepers.”
The 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance run has already been named as the “hardest race in the world.” (Bike UK, October 2012) 17 days of adhering to the mantra of “Ride, Wrench, Repeat” can take its toll. There are also the dangers of motorcycling itself; along the route, we had three accidents which resulted in twisted machines and visits to the emergency room. You may be asking yourself, “Why in the world would anyone want to subject themselves to a ride like this?” The answer is simple: we were time travelers, coaxing our antiques along the route in a journey to discover the back roads of this great country, as well as to discover a little bit more about ourselves. We set out to prove that antique motorcycles are still a very feasible mode of transportation. Plus, it was for the glory. As Buzz Kanter, editor of American Iron Magazine, said: “We are doing something that 99.9% of motorcyclists will never attempt or think about accomplishing.” It did help that we all were minus a few grams of sanity at the start…
Representing the great state of Texas, I entered into the Cannonball run with the rest of my team. My dad, Mike Carson, has been right beside me for years restoring and preserving classic motorcycles, and jumped on board immediately after hearing of the race. Like me, he is a little bit crazy too. The team crew chief, Shawn McGarry II, has been my best friend for years and has a passion for vintage bikes too. Our last team member was a close friend from England who was looking to see the USA…little did he know that a leisurely holiday was not in store. Looking to extend our famous Texas hospitality, our team offered to host two other international teams; the “Roaring Rudges” from Derbyshire, England, and “Southern Cross” from Melbourne, Australia. Our rig was elaborately set up to be a 30 foot rolling machine shop with a full complement of heavy manufacturing and welding equipment, air tools, and a few luxuries such as air conditioning, 12 bottle wine cooler, and refrigerated beer tap. Of course we had to glorify our Texas roots, so our truck soon sported a six foot set of steer horns and a giant Texas flag flying from the bed.
Entrants from all over the world brought out a variety of early American, German and British motorcycles in all kinds of conditions, from museum-quality to “barn fresh.” Marquees such as Harley Davidson, BMW, Indian, Henderson, and BSA were represented by a vast group of riders and teams of all different walks of life. Multiple-time inductees to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame could be found sharing wrenches and the same patch of ground with riders who had never ridden or worked on old motorcycles. High dollar semi truck RVs shared space with riders sleeping next to their bikes. Our group was a travelling circus that left a flurry of valuable parts, tools, and oil stains in its wake. However, we were a family; everyone helped everyone. Although it was a race, we all pushed each other (literally and figuratively) to make the finish line.
Our group raced through all conditions imaginable. Stage Two of the race in Pennsylvania saw freezing rain, flooding roads, and 40 mile an hour winds that nearly blew us off the road. Riding through the plains of Iowa and Wisconsin, we encountered blazing temperatures and blinding sun. Roads in Yellowstone National Park were blocked by 2000 pound buffalo, and freezing rain overnight dropped the temperature to a cool 21 degrees for the next morning. We crossed lakes, farmlands, deserted country roads, and 10,000 foot mountain passes. Along the route riders were treated to the landmarks of America; we passed through Badlands National Park, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, and Yellowstone National Park. The race just didn’t stop rolling, and neither did us Cannonballers.  All throughout our journey, small towns welcomed us in with open arms. Businesses and schools shut early, just so folks could see the traveling motorcycle show. Mayors and Chambers of Commerce toasted us and treated us to homecooked lunches and gifts. Several prominent motorcycle museums and shops, including Orange County Choppers, Harley Davidson and the National Motorcycle Museum, opened their workshops and borrowed parts from bikes on display to keep us going.
I joined the race with two goals in mind; I wanted to make the trip of a lifetime, but more importantly, I wanted to get younger people interested in vintage motorcycles. It’s a good, clean hobby that is just as addictive as any drug or alcohol out there. Plus, the skills and knowledge to keep these old bikes alive won’t always be there unless younger people get involved and learn from the legends of motorcycling. As it turned out, I was the youngest to ever attempt a journey such as this; halfway through the race I turned 21 years old, celebrating by rebuilding my engine in a Sturgis, South Dakota parking lot. Happily, a ton of youngsters from all around the country have contacted me asking for help in getting their first old motorcycle. Additionally, I was honored to be asked by the Antique Motorcycle Club of America to join Mrs. Britney Olsen as an assistant coordinator for the club Youth Program. Now it is my hope that I can use an experience like this to promote the club and old motorcycles to the younger generations for years to come.
In retrospect, the race really can be considered the “hardest in the world.” No one was without problems. While some teams had multiple spare engines, other groups had few to no spares. My own motorcycle, a 1927 BSA S27 that I named “Elizabeth” was completely rebuilt from the ground up on two separate occasions with a small selection of spare parts. Night after night my team and I wrenched on the bike until 1 or 2 in the morning to be ready for the next morning. Memorable moments include seizing the engine four times in less than two miles in the Black Hills, losing my magneto points cover in the middle of a rainstorm, riding with one hand while holding loose parts on the bike with the other hand, and constantly being covered in black engine oil from the “total loss” oil system. Although I retained a smile through most of these setbacks, there were moments of complete and utter despair, to be followed by heartbreak.

Having been off the road for several days to rebuild the motor, I was disqualified in Fortuna, California, two days from the end. Even with this setback, I was determined to continue riding. Alas, it was not to be; my motor blew again on the night before the end. Our team had no more spare parts, and we put out an emergency distress call to all collectors on the west coast to no avail. With as much pride as I could muster, I put on my cowboy hat, attached the biggest Texas flag we had to the back of the bike, and pushed my mount 3 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge with my crew behind me and my fellow Cannonballers riding next to us. Our team finished the race, one way or another. In case you didn’t know, Texans don’t give up.
The conclusion of the event was an emotional one for our team. Unbeknownst to us, a secret vote had taken place amongst teams and riders to see who helped out others the most, and with more than a dozen documented cases of us loaning equipment, time, or other types of assistance, we were selected to receive the “Spirit of the Cannonball” award. During the closing banquet, we were called up to the front of the room to a standing ovation by the rest of the entrants and their teams.  Our prize was a handmade wicker sidecar body, crafted by Australian Chris Knoop. Looking back, I don’t think there was a dry eye on our team at receiving this honor.

The overall winner was Brad Wilmarth, who actually won the first event on the exact same motorcycle; his 1913 Excelsior 61 cubic inch twin purred all the way across the country for the second time. Coming in second place was Joe Gardella on his 1914 Harley Davidson that also completed the first Motorcycle Cannonball. In Class I, our very own Mike Wild from the Roaring Rudges race team grabbed a well-deserved third place on his 1925 Rudge Four. Regardless, everyone attained their own victory in reaching the destination; the ultimate bragging rights had been achieved. Happily, even the three riders who had been involved in accidents were at the closing banquet, casts, crutches and all! Everyone was extremely vocal at the idea of bringing the race back in two years, and there have been rumors of a run from Key West, Florida to Anchorage, Alaska. You’d have to be crazy to do that one…..but it’s a good thing there are others like us who consider sanity to be overrated. The show must go on."

Elizabeth and I have our own "Close Encounters" moment at Devil's Tower,
Wyoming alongside fellow Cannonballer Art Farley
Until next time,
Buck Carson
Cannonball Rider #3
Carson Classic Motors Race Team