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The Mystery of the Motorcycle Race

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

Friday mornings at the Museum are usually quiet. There’s time to catch up on the computer and check out the new displays. One morning in 2019 the phone rang and a gentleman asked, “What do you know about the Reliability Race in 1927?”

Me, “Nothing, but we can look for it in our old newspapers. Give me your contact information and I’ll see what I can find.”

The quiet dusty upstairs newspaper room is full to the ceiling with boxes and bound copies of the Fillmore Herald and the Gazette going back to 1903. I pulled the 15” by 21” book of Fillmore Heralds for 1927 down from the shelf and began leafing through the May issues. There it was for May 20, “P. A. Bigsby Wins Hill Climb and Trail Race.” Our gentleman explained that he was doing research for a book on Bigsby who won the race. He has the trophy from the race and was so very happy to get a copy of the newspaper article.

The Herald article describes an exciting event. Sponsored by the LA Motorcycle Club and the Fillmore Chamber of Commerce it brought riders from all over Southern California. The race started at the Fairbank's property which we know as the big white house on Fourth Street, climbed the hill to the Arundell’s up the Sespe, and came down Pole Creek which had been dammed up, crossing it eleven times. The course was 4.7 miles long with some very steep sections zig-zagging up the hills. Riders were given 28 minutes to complete the first lap, 24 minutes for the second, and 21 for the following 11 for a total of 13 laps. Points were deducted for stalling or touching a foot down. That was a lot of excitement for our little town.

P. A. Bigsby the winner was not just a racer; he was an engineer, inventor, and builder. Wikipedia tells us that he was a foreman for Crocker Motorcycles and designed the overhead valve-cylinder head for Crocker engines. He pioneered the solid body guitar. He also built custom guitars for musicians who played on shows in the early days of television. Some appeared with the Spade Cooley Band and on the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. He designed the vibrato foot for electric guitars which it is a system that was used by Fender Guitars, a feature that is still being used today.

The Mystery of the Motorcycle Race

Two years pass and the pandemic closed down the country. Slowly things are beginning to open again including the Museum. The staff and volunteers can begin working on projects. Recently John Nichols of Santa Paula donated a picture of a motorcycle race to the collection. There is no date, no caption, and no label. A close look reveals Mount San Cayetano in the background and tells us the picture was taken in Fillmore. The motorcycles in the picture look old enough to be from 1927. Rereading the May 20, 1927 Fillmore Herald, we found that P. A. Bigsby wore the number 31 and rode a Harley Davidson. There doesn’t seem to be a number 31 in the picture but let’s take a closer look. We zoomed in and there right in the foreground of the picture a rider in white has a faint 31 on his shirt and he is straddling a Harley. That’s got to be him. We passed along our new information to a very happy gentleman who sent us a picture of the beautiful silver trophy won so long ago in our own little town.

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