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The Ruth Law Flying Circus and a Duesenberg Racing Car

* Updated * Thanks to reader Tom M., the driver of the Duesenberg appears to have been identified as being Larry Stone, who was an I.M.C.A. driver. He won a 10-lap Invitational Handicap race held at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on September 22, 1922 with a Duesenberg, and also placed in forth with the car another race.

Last week we featured the 1909 Christie front wheel drive racing car and recently discovered photos of it with Ruth Law and her Flying Circus circa 1918. While researching Law, another photo was found of her with this early Duesenberg racing car and a Curtis Jenny with a Curtis OX-5 V-8 engine.  

The photo is dated August of 1921 and it is a part of the Missouri State Fair Collection; Ruth Law and her troupe apparently performed there that year at the State Fair. We have the feeling this photo was not taken at the Fair, but was a promotional photo Law supplied to the organization that ran it. This speculation is based on the clothing worn when the image was taken, which is much heavier than would be expect to be used in August; note the heavy coat worn by the crew member behind the Duesenberg.

This early Duesenberg racing car equipped with a double-drop frame is one of the five or six four-cylinder cars that were built by the Duesenberg Brothers. It has all of the markings of one of the later cars that were powered by either eight or sixteen-valve walking-beam engines. This car is of the type that used an aerodynamic rear body section like the 16-Valve Duesenberg racing car we have looked at in an earlier article.

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The Duesenberg has had the back end of its body modified to use in such shows. The tail section was taken off at the seam visible just below the driver’s wrist in the photo below. A new seat has been added and a platform on top of the frame behind the driver was built for use in such shows.

This flat area was used by a member of the crew to stand or kneel on during the act while catching a rope ladder that was hanging from the airplane flying overhead. Once caught, the acrobat would climb it to reach the aircraft, and also use it as a landing spot when descending the ladder from the plane to the car.

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The photo (below) is thought to have originated from one of the shows at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1918, it shows a match held between Gaston Chevrolet and Ruth Law. To get a clear idea of what was involved in most of these performances, take a look at our earlier article covering Lincoln Beachey’s Early Barnstorming Flights with Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker. Ruth Law can also be seen in a short video with one of her Curtis Pusher airplanes here.

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We do not have the time to go into the fascinating story of the Law’s flying career, but we have included an article (below) from the November 20, 1916, Milwaukee Journal Newspaper. It tells the story of a new cross-country distance record she set by flying from Chicago, Illinois, to Hornell, New York in a Curtiss Pusher biplane similar to the one seen above. You can also learn much more about her at the International Organization of Women Pilots.

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4 responses to “The Ruth Law Flying Circus and a Duesenberg Racing Car

  1. Ruth Law was quite a pilot. As I learned from a colleague, Law had first learned to fly a Wright Brothers aircraft, so she had her Curtiss modified to use the (older) Wright system of two control sticks.

    Curtiss’s original aircraft used a “steering wheel” to control altitude and bank.

    Heaven knows what the Wright Brothers – and Glenn Curtiss – felt when they learned of this modification.

    By the way, who is the “Larry St …” in the Duesenberg?

    Tom M.
    New England Air Museum

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