Tag Archives: Harley-Davidson

Art Smith – The Life and Times of “The Comet”


Art Smith, a pioneer aviator from Fort Wayne, Indiana, began his career in flight after becoming fascinated with it in 1909 while watching a bird in flight. Comparing what he had seen while observing it, with what he had read about flight and the Wright Brothers experiences, he became instantly enamored with the idea that he was going to build his own flying machine and learn to operate it.

After being convinced that he would succeed with constructing his own plane at the age of fifteen, his parents helped him by mortgaging their house for the eighteen-hundred dollars that Smith needed for the materials and the engine required to assemble it. And build it he did — by mid-January of 1910, after three months and much hard work, he had finished it just as he told everyone he would.

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  • Art Smith behind the controls of his Curtiss type airplane at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915

When all was finally ready, under the cover of darkness Smith, his father and a friend pushed the plane into the city of Fort Wayne to an old ball field. There they erected a tent, parked the machine inside to hide his unique design from prying eyes, and returned home. The next morning He took his first flight and crashed shortly after takeoff due to the plane being uncontrollable; during the planning phase Smith had miscalculated the effects of the controls on the flaps and the stabilizer.

After a six month recovery due to back injuries, Smith went on to a very successful career as a stunt pilot and came about his nickname The Comet, after learning the art of nighttime flying using flares attached to his airplane. He performed at The Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, after star aviator Lincoln Beachey’s death. At the same time, it appears that he became involved in the small car racing event, the Baby Vanderbilt that was held at the expo.

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Tom Perkins, third generation owner of the Dudley Perkins Company, a San Francisco Harley-Davidson dealership, has reported that his grandfather Dudley, seen in the center photo above, helped assemble a batch of the cars for Art Smith using Harley-Davidson engines and transmissions. Just how involved in racing them Smith was is unknown at this point, but he can be seen above right at the Panama-Pacific Exposition accepting a trophy.

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  • A baby car race at an unknown track circa 1915 captioned: “Art Smith’s Baby Cars”

It appears that a small fleet of at least five cars were built with Perkins help for Smith’s Baby Boys to run during his flying performances. The cars were constructed to appear like those of the star drivers of the day and included: two variations of the Fiat, a Mercedes, a Peugeot and a Stutz. He would also fly his plane over the Baby Cars in an event and race with them at times much as Oldfield and Beachey had done so previously.

At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, He became friends with a number of Japanese officials who later invited him to Japan in 1916 to put on a series of exhibition flights. Smith sailed on the Chiyo Maru with his airplane and five of the Baby Cars and their drivers. The photo below shows Smith posing for a postcard photo on the ship with one of the Baby Fiats. Once there he and his Baby Boys put on flying and racing demonstrations in front of a crowd of people that was estimated to number sixty-thousand.


The photos below, left to right show: one of the Baby Fiat’s being unloaded from the ship; Smith second from the right posing with My Baby Boys before a race; a group photo of the drivers in their cars that are left to right: A Peugeot, Fiat, Fiat, Stutz and Mercedes.

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Later during World War I Smith worked as a test pilot and flight instructor. After the war, He went to work for the United States Post Office flying the overnight airmail delivery route between New York and Chicago. He died in a crash on February 12, 1926, that has been reported to have been caused by his plane catching on fire. You can read his detailed 1915 autobiography, the Art Smith’s Story here.

Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Auto Racing 1894 - 1942, Motorcycle photos | Tagged , , , , , , |

The Cycletow – Streamlining Automotive Service in Hollywood, California

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  • A 1932 Packard Convertible Coupe and a Harley-Davidson Single with a Cycletow conversion ready for the trip to a service facility

We all know how time consuming it is to get routine maintenance or repairs done on a car and to arrange the details to drop one off and pick it up afterwards. Albert L. Hess knew that if he could come up with an economical way for one man to pick up and deliver a car, it would be feasible for dealerships and garages to contract for its use to save their customers time.

The photos in this post, all date to 1932 and were used for promoting the Cycletow for picking up and delivering cars by Cycletow Service Ltd. in the exclusive Hollywood, California area. Some car dealers and garages may have bought and operated their own units as it appears that did Ziegler Oldsmobile did.

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  • “Cycle and Automotive Trade Journal” February, 1931

Hess filed the first of three patent applications for a Towable Cycle on December 11, 1929, which was granted on August 25, 1931. It used a split and hinged beam axle and wheel and suspension assemblies that folded up and back on an angle. Either forgings or castings were used for the axle halves and the coil sprung wheel spindles. This design would have been quite expensive to manufacture and may have been abandoned for that reason.

On February 10, 1930, Hess filed a second patent application for an Auxiliary wheel attachment for cycles. In this new design a fold-down lower A-arm was used on each side along with a single upper link and the wheel assembly. A second lockable and angled folding link served to locate the assembly on either side when lowered for use. This version was easier to fabricate out of mostly standard dimensional steel shapes.


The photos above and below clearly show the construction of the second version of the Cycletow. The pick up points for the lower A-arm can be seen above in the photo with the wheels in the retracted position. The left-hand photo below shows the attachment folded down, and the machine hitched up to a 1932 Chevrolet Sedan. The right-hand photo below shows a unit at a Ford and Lincoln agency in the Los Angeles area behind a Model “A” Ford Sedan.

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The center photo above shows an article that appeared in the Cycle and Automotive Trade Journal, July 1931 issue showing the Cycletow along with its competitors: Indian had come out with its Dispatch-Tow unit, a trike with a covered box; Harley-Davidson had also added the Servi-Car to its product lineup late in 1931; the American Austin was also being used at the time for the same purpose.

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The patent drawings above are for the Towable motorcycle, the third and final patent filed for on September 1, 1932, by Albert L. Hess, it was granted on August 38, 1933. An example of it can be seen below outside of a Packard agency.

This version could be used in two different configurations. The center drawing above shows it in the position used when it was being towed with the drive wheel off of the ground. The left-hand drawing above and the photo below show it in the riding mode also including an added toolbox.


Unable to find any other details about the Cycletow or Cycletow Corp Ltd. other than what is seen here, we would tend to think that the enterprise may have been short-lived. Both H-D and Indian had also entered this same market, at about the same time with the Servi-Car and the Dispatch-Tow.

The motorcycle companies may have captured this market with machines that did the same thing and more, and at a cost that might have been about the same as Albert L. Hess’s invention. Let us know if you can add anything more to the story. The photos are courtesy of the USC Libraries.

Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942, Garages and Dealerships, Motorcycle photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Oldsmobile Get’s a Straight Eight in 1932 – The Cycletow Conversion

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  • 1932 Oldsmobile, Series L Eight, Deluxe Convertible Roadster and a Harley-Davidson single equipped with a Cycletow conversion kit

The Paul A. Ziegler Oldsmobile Agency was located at 4515 South Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles when this promotional photo was taken for the car dealer in 1932. Shown in the photo is an Oldsmobile Series L Eight, Deluxe Convertible Roadster and a Harley-Davidson single-cylinder motorcycle equipped with a Cycletow conversion kit.

1932 was the first year that Oldsmobile offered its new straight-eight along with the six, which had been the standard fare for quite some time. Even with the addition of the new power plant in one of the most trying years of the Great Depression, Oldsmobile’s sales dropped from forty-eight thousand in 1931 to a low point of only seventeen thousand for the year.

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  • Full 1932 Oldsmobile details, “Automotive Industries”,  January 2, 1932

In addition to the new 82-hp. 240-c.i. eight-cylinder engine, Oldsmobile featured the following new innovations: the Stromberg downdraft carburetor featured an automatic choke; a decarbonizer operated by dash-mounted plunger, injected a chemical into the intake manifold, which then entered into the cylinders when used just before engine shutdown; two other new features were free-wheeling and a Harrison oil cooler.

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  • Chassis details and a Deluxe Convertible Roadster illustration

No further information was found about the Ziegler Oldsmobile dealership, but full details did come-to-light about the Cycletow attachment seen here mounted on a single-cylinder Harley-Davidson. Look a full report with more great photos and the patent drawings of the Albert L. Hess designed motorcycle-towing arrangement tomorrow. The images are courtesy of the USC Libraries. The illustrations above are courtesy of the Old Car Manual Project and Alden Jewell.

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  • Albert L. Hess designed Cycletow motorcycle-towing arrangement

Posted in Auto photos 1921 - 1942, Garages and Dealerships, Motorcycle photos | Tagged , , , , , |