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* Updated * Lincoln Beachey’s Early Barnstorming Flights with Oldfield and Rickenbacker

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  • * See the update * below from Robert Rampton covering the October 11, 1914, appearance advertised in a Salt Lake City newspaper above.

This post highlights an important effort to document the life of aerial performer Lincoln Beachey. Ralph Marrero, author of a book about him, has been actively working to try to keep the story of the famous early aviator alive a century later. Part of the pioneer’s flying career involved performing flamboyant demonstrations while circling an oval track in staged races with both Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker. These three larger than life characters put on hundreds of performances across the land entertaining the masses before it ended with Beachey’s tragic last flight and crash.

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  • Lincoln Beachey and two of his airplanes, images – Wikimedia Commons 

A visit with Frank Marrero will reveal the complete story behind the flying marvel and at the same time show you many of the interesting details of the routine Beachey performed with the racers. One of his favorite stunts involved gently knocking Barney’s hat off his head with the front wheel of his airplane while they were both speeding down the front straightaway.

You can also learn more here on The Old Motor about two of Oldfield’s mounts, his Christie and the Fiat Cyclone, (driven by others earlier) both which he used in many of his performances with the aviator. The newspaper ad at the top of this post is of the sort used to announce an engagement by the troupe. It and the photo below are both courtesy of Frank Marrero. A Popular Mechanics article explaining Beachey’s crash.

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  • * Update 2 * Read Ivan Pozgega’s comment below as it appears the motorcyclist  Don Johns raced with the pair on occasion.

* Update 1 * from Robert Rampton: “Love this stuff about Beachey and Oldfield. Here is what I can add about the Lagoon ad. The Lagoon is an amusement park that is located north of Salt Lake City. It came into being in 1886 and continues to this day. From the start, it featured a 1/2 mile dirt track for horse races. During the teens and twenties the track was the scene of many auto and motorcycle races and exhibitions.  On this particular date on October 11, 1914, a crowd of 2,000 spectators watched as Lincoln Beachey staged a full show of stunts. He was the hero of the day. Poor Barney did not fare so well, though. Heavy rains the day before turned the track into a sea of muck and he was unable to race the birdman with his racers.  He did attempt to do an exhibition run in his Christie, but the track was so bad he could barely keep it under control. He backed off the gas in the turns so as not to crash through the fence or into the grandstand. His time for a mile was painfully slow”.

Don’t miss seeing the rare film footage below of a performance held at the Iowa State Fair in August of 1914. In it you will view an actual Lincoln Beachey – Eddie Rickenbacker “race” where Eddie appears to be piloting his Duesenberg racing car. The video is courtesy of the San Diego Air and Space Museum. 

4 responses to “* Updated * Lincoln Beachey’s Early Barnstorming Flights with Oldfield and Rickenbacker

  1. Dave – thanks for posting this story. Beachey was quite the daredevil, doing much of his touring and stunt flying in his modified Curtiss designed pusher, the “Beachey Biplane”. I believe he actually swore off flying twice, after two near-fatal accidents.

    Sadly his attempt to fly upside down in a newly built Beachey-Eaton monoplane ended in death at the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915.

    I believe we have some Beachey materials at the air museum.

    Tom M.

  2. I find it interesting how Barney Oldfield drove a different car every other week. At the Cedar Valley Fairgrounds in Iowa on the 5th of September of 1914, he drove the Christie and a Fiat 120hp{most probably the Cyclone} and then he was at the Beloit Fairgrounds in Illinois on the 13th of that month driving the Cyclone. On both occasions he was racing Beachey.

    Another racing identity of the day, motorcyclist Don Johns also raced against Beachey and Oldfield. The report below was written by Daniel Statnekov.

    The meet at the Phoenix State Fair in November of 1914 is especially interesting. With a great amount of flurry and publicity, the trade papers discussed the upcoming meet in which $1,000.00 was offered for the fastest mile of the day whether by a “horse, airplane, or baby buggy.”

    By virtue of having won the Los Angeles to Phoenix race, Barney Oldfield had been declared the “champion driver of the world.” Oldfield also held the Phoenix track record at 48 seconds and was so sure that no one could beat it that he bet a local man that neither Johns nor anyone else could better 47 seconds. Furthermore, Oldfield wagered, if anyone did beat 47 seconds, then he would beat the new record.

    The pioneer aviator, Lincoln Beachey, flying an airplane powered by a Curtiss V-8 engine, was one entry and Don Johns on his bright yellow, overhead-cam speedster was another. Oldfield watched pop-eyed while Johns hurled the Cyclone around the track in a record shattering 46 seconds. Beachey was far behind at around 50 seconds.

    The “champion driver of the world” was at the wheel of a 300-horsepower front-wheel drive, 4-cylinder Christie, but even with massive amounts of brute horsepower available to him, Oldfield could not match his previous record. His best time turned out to be 48 and 4/5th seconds, and he lost both of his bets. Don Johns was in his glory and the Cyclone had prevailed.

  3. Interesting to see how the Don Johns image has been crudely added to the existing photo of Oldfield and Beachey. Of course today Photoshop would make this process a lot easier, and more convincing!

  4. David,
    Thank you for posting the information on the Lincoln Beachey book as he was one of America’s Greatest Pioneer Aviators and deserves recognition.
    Best Regards,
    Wayne Carroll Petersen
    Barney Oldfield’s Great Great Nephew

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