LIMA — Motorcycles, Lima City Council was told in early June of 1911, spooked horses, weaved recklessly through traffic and, when operated by a young man with his vision blocked and his attention diverted by a young woman perched on the crossbar or handlebars, were potentially lethal.
Gunfire, it turned out, only added to the danger.
For proof, council members needed look no further than the front page of the June 3, 1911, issue of the Lima Daily News, which reported a handful of scofflaws had been nabbed in the first night of a “war on speed fiends,” among them a young man operating a motorcycle with a woman on the handlebars.
“He refused to stop his machine, it is said, and the officers fired several shots. The young lady who was riding in the front was so frightened that she fainted. Burdened by her inanimate form,” the man “lost control of the machine and ran into the curbing, throwing both riders to the pavement. Neither was injured,” reported the News, which had lobbied for the crackdown on speeders and had referred to motorcyclists as “road lice.” Speeding in 1911 meant exceeding 8 mph in the business district or 15 mph in residential districts.
In a separate story on the back page, the News noted Lima City Council was considering an ordinance regulating motorcycles, of which “more … are probably owned in the city of Lima than in any other city of its size in the country.” The proposed ordinance, the newspaper explained, “provides for the licensing of motorcycles and compels them to be equipped with number tags, and horns and to keep their mufflers closed when the machines are in operation. Motorcycle riders are fighting it bitterly, claiming that it discriminates against them.”
The motorcyclists lost and, on July 11, 1911, the News reported that “just an even 100 motor cyclists have been licensed at the office of the city auditor and are now displaying their number tags on their machines. The police department has been furnished with a list of those who have complied with the motorcycle ordinance.” Among the one hundred were Ralph Marshall, S.E. Croushorn and A.J. Gladwell, as well as the motorcyclist police had shot at just over a month earlier.
Motorcycles connected Marshall, Croushorn and Gladwell. Marshall had worked with his mentor Gladwell in Gladwell’s bicycle/motorcycle shop and later partnered with Croushorn in a similar business. All three were involved in motorcycle racing, Croushorn and Marshall mainly as racers and Gladwell as a racer and promoter. Motorcycle racing found an avid following in Lima, particularly in the years before World War I.
“The motorcycle is faster at all times than an auto and owing to the shorter wheel base they are able to hold the curves far better than the long wheel base of an auto,” the News explained on Sept. 4, 1909, in an article promoting upcoming races at the Lima Driving Park. Among the attractions, the News wrote, was “Miss Nano Amo, one of two women who ride motorcycles in this country.”
The Lima Driving Park, which stood roughly where Lima Memorial Health System is today, was a popular venue for motorcycle races, which featured riders on Thors, Excelsiors, Flying Merkles and other long-gone brands as well as Harley-Davidson and Indian models. The driving park, built for horse racing, had a half-mile dirt track.
Ralph Marshall was born in Lima in May 1894, the son of Arthur Elmer and Lydia Alverdie Marshall. Arthur E. Marshall, the News wrote in his August 1950 obituary, was “one of Lima’s most colorful sports figures.” He had competed in bicycle races against Barney Oldfield, who later gained fame as an automobile racer, and appeared in trapshooting contests with sharpshooter Annie Oakley, according to the News.
As a young man, Ralph Marshall went to work as a mechanic for Gladwell. Born in 1873 in Virginia, Andrew Jackson Gladwell had moved to Lima around 1900 and opened a bicycle repair business in the 600 block of South Main Street, where he and his wife, Mary, also lived. The 1910 census shows that Samuel E. Croushorn, a fellow Virginian, born in 1888, was boarding with the Gladwells.
On July 27, 1909, Croushorn finished first in a motorcycle race at the Lima Driving Park, the same day Oldfield set a speed record for an automobile at the track. Another famous driver of the day, Louis Chevrolet, was also at the race that day. In 1911, Chevrolet and William Durant founded the Chevrolet Motor Co.
Gladwell, meanwhile, moved his shop. In December 1909, he announced in a News ad that his shop would “after January 1 occupy the business room at 207 S. Main St., four doors south of Spring Street for the purpose of the sale and repair of motorcycles and bicycles.”
A sales receipt from June 1915 shows Ralph Marshall purchased a used 1911 Thor motorcycle from what was by then known as the Gladwell-Crossley Motor Co. for $50 down and $50 to be paid in August. Gladwell advertised Thor and Excelsior motorcycles along with his line of bicycles.
The Thor purchased by Ralph Marshall, which he used in board track races into the 1930s, was donated to the Allen County Museum in 1980. The vintage motorcycle took another victory lap when it won the People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Amelia Island (Florida) Concours d’Elegance (competition of elegance), an automotive charitable event held annually during the second weekend in March.
Around 1917, Ralph Marshall partnered with Croushorn in a bicycle/motorcycle shop at 119 E. Spring St. By 1917, the shop had moved to 237 S. Main St., just south of the Gladwell-Crossley shop. A News ad from June 1917 promised Marshall & Croushorn sold “everything from a fish hook to a motorcycle.”
Ralph Marshall bowed out of the partnership in 1918. “Ralph Marshall of the firm of Marshall & Croushorn, motorcycle and accessory dealers on South Main Street has sold his interest in the store to S.E. Croushorn, the senior member of the firm,” the News reported July 24, 1918. “Marshall will leave Thursday morning with the city selects for Camp Jackson, South Carolina. The business will continue under the old firm name. Marshall is well known in Lima and was formerly a motorcycle racer.”
Croushorn eventually moved to Wapakoneta and died there in March 1948 at the age of 60. Gladwell died in Lima in June 1955 at the age of 81. In his obituary, the News noted that he had engaged in the automobile repair and paint business after closing his bike shop.
Ralph Marshall was just getting started after selling his interest in Marshall & Croushorn. Following World War I, he opened a sporting goods store which remained in business until he retired in 1965. He was the first sheriff elected in Allen County after Jess Sarber was killed by the John Dillinger gang in 1933. In 1936, Ralph Marshall, who had acquired a lifelong love for guns from his father, was named to the United States pistol team for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Marshall died in Harrod in November 1981 at the age of 87.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.