Train-pacing was a dangerous stunt, but trains were the fastest vehicles in the 1890s and racers used their speeds as a benchmark. The most famous was ‘Mile-a-Minute’ Murphy who broke the world cycling record with a death-defying pace on 30th June, 1899, at 57.8 seconds …on a Tribune bicycle.
The success of Murphy’s stunt on a Tribune ‘Blue Streak’ became the most dramatic advertising coup of any cycle manufacturer in history. Obviously the company experienced a welcome boost to their sales. Unfortunately, Murphy’s ride in 1899 coincided with the creation of ‘The Trust’ – a conglomerate comprising nearly all the American cycle companies. So Black Mfg Co, makers of the Tribune, ceased to exist, and the Tribune name was taken over by the new conglomerate company, The American Bicycle Co. As you can see in the 1901 Tribune advert below, sales were now handled by another of The Trust’s member companies, Featherstone.
Model 750 Track Racer with Sloping Top Tube
26″ Front Wheel; 27″ Rear Wheel
New Departure Coaster Brake
The American Tribune is a rare bicycle in Britain, though the company did have an export agency here. This example is a lightweight track racer with wooden rims and Mansfield racing saddle. The paint is worn, but otherwise the machine is in good condition and ready to ride.
A similar Tribune is illustrated in G. Donald Adams’ book, ‘Collecting & Restoring Antique Bicycles’ (below) – it’s on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
1903 TRIBUNE CATALOGUE
Murphy told Sam Booth, driver of locomotive 39, to go as fast as he could and hold it, then put on what he called his ‘racing togs’ before climbing on to his 104-inch gear Tribune.
Fullerton had spread a two-mile carpet of boards between the rails from Babylon to Farmingdale and built 11-foot sidewings and a small roof to the platform on the last carriage.
The train moved away faster up the slight slope than Murphy expected but he stayed in the middle of the 10-inch planks and within two inches of the beam and crossbar that was his bumper on the platform of judges, toffs and timekeepers. He clocked 16.4 seconds for the first quarter-mile, 33.6 for the half, 49.2 for the three-quarters and the mile in 1:08. Murphy dropped back 200 feet into eddies that threw him about ‘as if I were a piece of paper.’ Fullerton was embarrassed to find his locomotive wasn’t up to the job. Six times it failed to get up to 60mph. He called for his heaviest and fastest but its weight made the wooden track sink and rise as it passed over the joints of the rails. Murphy was forced to ride a wave.
Murphy held the pacing compartment until he’d got his gear rolling. Fullerton asked if he was all right and told Booth to open the regulator. The mile-a-minute ride into history had started.
‘With eyes glued upon the vertical strip of white on the back of the car I experienced an entirely different feeling compared with my previous ride,’ Murphy said. ‘The officials knew that there was something wrong, that I was labouring under great difficulties. I could not understand the violent vibration in the track, as though I was riding over an undulation instead of level track; feeling hot missiles striking my face and body. I learned afterwards it was burning rubber from under the car. Within five seconds the rate of speed was terrific; I was riding in a maelstrom of swirling dust, hot cinders, paper and other particles of matter. The whipsaw feeling through a veritable storm of fire became harder every second.’ Then he started losing ground. An official called Fred Burns shouted through a megaphone to ask what was wrong. Murphy looked up to answer and immediately fell back 50 feet. Now he was fighting to stay in touch.
‘I could feel myself getting weaker every second I saw ridicule, contempt, disgrace and a lifetime dream gone up in smoke. I saw the agonised faces, yelling, holding outstretched hands as if they would like to get hold of or assist me somehow.’ The half passed in 29.4 and the ride was rescued.
‘Wobbling to and fro, but still gaining, the dust, the odour of burning rubber…. The car was crowded with men who had been used to seeing any and all things that were dangerous, but the howling and screaming of sturdy officials and newspaper men from all over the United States that stood on the platform put all on edge. Suddenly, three-quarters was passed in 43 4/5 seconds.’ Murphy was still 15 feet back. ‘I expected to go off the track, travelling faster than the train, with the terrible storm of dust, pebbles, hot rubber and cinders. I looked up blankly. It was getting to a point where I could expect anything.’
And then, from the edge of his eye, a waving Stars and Stripes. The finish. But Murphy was riding faster than the train, still catching it. Up in the cab, Booth had also seen the flag and he shut off steam. Murphy crashed into the train. The bike tipped up and officials grabbed in desperation. Murphy let go of the bars and held an upright. Fullerton caught one arm and a man called Joseph H. Cummin the other and they pulled both bike and rider to the platform.
‘I lay motionless, face down, on the platform. I was all in. I was half-carried to a cot at the end of the car; the roar of the train was challenged by hysterical yells. Grown men hugged and kissed each-other. One man fainted and another went into hysterics, while I remained speechless on my back, ashen in colour and sore all over.’ Officials pulled off Murphy’s jersey for Dr McMunn Holly to examine him, not realising hot rubber and cinders had burnt through it and they were taking flesh with them.
But Booth, the driver, was worried. He’d seen Murphy drop back on the first ride and had looked for him to do the same on the second. Seconds after shutting off steam he had reached the end of the wooden track and feared Murphy had piled into unprotected sleepers between the rails and crashed. Seeing him on the cot, he thought he was dead.
Sullivan, the referee, said he would never again take part in an event of that kind, even if it made cycling famous for a century. *
An example of the increased popularity of the Tribune after Murphy’s Mile-a-Minute Run can be seen in the notice below, issued just seventeen days later:
BLACK MANUFACTURING CO
19th & Liberty St, Erie, PA, USA
The Black Mfg Co factory was at 19th and Liberty Street in Erie, Pennsylvania. Their top machine was the Tribune, and the company was featured in Scientific American magazine on January 4, 1896.
The company’s owner, W. T Black, also owned Germer & Black, which had a factory at 16th and German Street.
The Trust took over Black Mfg Co in 1899, retaining the factory. The Trust was liquidated in 1902, and Continental Tyres bought the factory the following year.
THE ANCHOR INN, RIPLEY, SURREY, ENGLAND
I bought this Tribune from my friend John. As we were both going to Ripley Cycle Jumble, he delivered it to me there, and I took these photos of it next to the Anchor Inn nearby. This was the most famous pub in early cycling days, with regular cycle club meetings there.
Black Mfg Co info with thanks to – http://oldtimeerie.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/tribune-bicycle-black-mfg-co-19th-and.html