Laconia Motorcycle Week History: 100 Years Old

The Weirs, Laconia NH in August 1936 – “Screwball” Motorcycle Club (two years before Bike Week events were moved there). Photograph by B.H. Webster, property of Janice W. Brown.

Laconia Motorcycle Week is quickly approaching [June 10-18, 2017] and once again discussion arises as to how old this event really is. The official commercial web site says that it is 99 years old. In my humble opinion, that’s fake news. On the other hand, the answer “just depends” on what you consider to be the starting point.

My father, Berwin “Webby” Webster was an active participant starting back in the late 1920s. He took multiple photographs to prove it. In 2015 I wrote a comprehensive year-by-year history of the event

What Anniversary Are We Celebrating for Motorcycle Week in 2017?

Answer 1: If you presume that this motorcycle event started with the Gypsy Motorcycle Tours, then this year’s event (1916/1917) is the 100th anniversary of the first one. In February of 1919 the National Motorcycle Gypsy Tour called it the 3rd Annual. Do the math.

Answer 2. If you use 1916 as a starter but subtract the years (1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945) when the event was not held (but think about it, do you get older even if you don’t have a birthday party?), it is the 98th Anniversary.

Answer 3: If you start counting from the year the motorcycle was brought to Laconia (actually Gilford) in 1938 then it is the 80th Anniversary.

Oh I could go on and on but I prefer to stop and just let you enjoy this year’s event [SEE SCHEDULE]. I’ve provided you with the links to all my past stories on this topic.

A 1930ish photo of B.H. Webster and Old Reliable, taken in Reeds Ferry NH with his sister, Margaret.  Margaret would die in 1936 of TB.

My Dad’s Second Love Affair: With his Motorcycle
My Dad’s favorite bike was an Indian that he called “Old Reliable.” He did stunts and drove through a burning wall with it. He hit a german shepherd dog with it (that is when my mom stopped riding with him). He wore a leather helmet and jacket, dungarees and leather riding boots when he rode.

The worst story he would tell in front of his kids was when he went with some of his motorcycle buddies to an R-rated drive-in movie theater (I believe the R meant racey to him more than restricted). When it came to the steamy part, they all turned their headlights on, so the movie-goers saw just a white screen. He would laugh so hard just thinking about it. Those were the innocent days for all of us.

He also took some amazing photographs of the Gypsy Tour races in New Hampshire, including the rare ones held in Keene NH, the Laconia Week Races, and some assorted other TT and half-mile dirt races. By the mid 1950s we kids had come along, and Mom probably insisted that it was time for him to park his motorcycle. Even though I never rode with him, he raised me to love the roaring sound, and I still watch motorcycle races vicariously on television.

I smile and wave at our biker visitors if they pass by, and hope they feel welcome. After all, if you don’t count a couple of side trips to Maine, it pretty much started here in New Hampshire.

Advertisement in the Transportation Problem Solved Ad. March 31, 1918, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle WA) page 39 proclaiming that motorcycles are the best form of transportation.

==IMPORTANT BIKE WEEK HISTORY READING (and PHOTOS)==

99 Years of History: Gypsy Tour Day to New Hampshire Motorcycle Week to Laconia Motorcyle Week (2015)

2014 Laconia (NH) Motorcycle Week with a Bit of History

2008 Father’s Day and Motorcycle Week in New Hampshire

New Hampshire: Motorcyclists Invade Laconia for 83d Year (2006)
(Sorry for the anniversary date on this one, I didn’t research the history back then).

Manchester New Hampshire Shoemaker, Mechanic, Harley Motorcycle Dealer, Motorcycle Club Found: Joseph Exilia Forest (1880-1929)

Francestown New Hampshire Motorcycle Inventor: Sylvester H. Roper (1823-1896)

—MOTORCYCLES IN WORLD WAR I—

My writing for the past has mostly focused on documenting our heroes of World war I.  I should really write a story about the use of motorcycles during that war, for it propelled Harley Davidson to fame. But I don’t own any WWI-era photographs, so I’ve been stalling.  Until I get motivated to write my own, here is one wartime motorcycle site I selected that has photos  for your enjoyment.

Riding Vintage: War Machines, American Motorcycles in WWI

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6 Responses to Laconia Motorcycle Week History: 100 Years Old

  1. Ginny White says:

    Janice, I love your story telling side. I lived in Laconia for a few years and got to see the cycles drive by our house on Cotton Hill. It was an annual barbecue event for family, near and far, just as was the sled dog races every year. When I got old enough to get my own bike, I started with a Yamaha 125 Enduro…on and off road bike. After I crashed that one by avoiding hitting a huge truck that had stopped in front of me, I decided to go bigger, and bought a 400 Kawasaki, strictly for street riding. There is nothing like feeling the freedom of riding the bike, especially leaning into the curves. I took every curvy road I could find, which wasn’t hard living in the northern part of the state. So this article brought back fond memories….maybe I’ll have one again!

  2. Janice, I loved the stories that you have of your father and his motorcycle. A good friend of mine has a photo of her ex-Amish great-grandmother riding a motorcycle in about the same Era (1905-1920’s, I think?). Her two passions were photography and motorcycles. My friend is thankful for that every day!

  3. Love the stories about your dad!

  4. Amy says:

    Were Indian motorcycles a specific brand? If so, they were made in Springfield, MA!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, yes. Indian was a specific ‘brand’ of motorcycle built in Springfield MA. I probably should have been clearer about the motorcycle. When WWI came around the competitor, Harley Davidson won the US Government contract for supply motorcycles to the war effort in Europe. We forget at that time that wagons, mules and horses were still used then to haul things. I tend to think this contract pushed Harley into the front of the pack for popularity.

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