Who Stole my Handlebars ?

Look carefully at Walter “Pat” Patterson’s brand new 1925 Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked amid a small crowd at 7th and Pacific. Lately upper Pacific Avenue has been getting a lot of attention due to the Portland based McMenamin’s projects but 90 years ago, in April 1925, there was an attraction of a different kind still involving the big city to the south.  It was a slightly harebrained stunt to ride a new Harley without handlebars from Tacoma to Portland. Just to make it interesting Patterson would ride with his hands cuffed to the saddle and the bike locked in high gear. Needless to say he was not wearing a helmet. The adventure was sponsored by the Hirsch Cycle Company up on Tacoma Avenue and in fact, it went amazing well. With American Motorcycle Association referees and officials observing the whole way, Patterson made the trip with no serious mishaps and soon found himself in newspapers and Harley-Davidson advertisements all over the country. Tacoma has been the launch pad for a number of colorful schemes over the years; George Francis Train’s 1885 race around the world in 67 days, James Ashton’s near death adventure to the “Ice-Bound” Siberian Arctic in 1922, Fay Fuller’s first ascent of Mt. Tacoma by a woman in 1887 and before it all the First American Exploring Expedition’s 1841 mapping of the entire Puget Sound region beginning at a harbor they appropriately named Commencement Bay. With that harbor just behind him you get the feeling from the expression on Pat Patterson’s face that he knows he’s starting at the right place.
Tacoma Public Library Boland-B12231 (unique 37280). From RecapturedCity by Andy Cox
Just around the corner two years earlier…


Two women ride in side-cars as passengers of two daring motorcyclists on February 25, 1923. They are parked close to the City Hall Annex with the Northern Pacific headquarters in the rear. The men are operating Harley-Davidson bikes. It is possible that they were participating in the Tacoma Motorcycle Club’s first reliability race of the season. 30 riders would make the 125-mile run from Tacoma to Olympia and back. They were required to maintain a 20 mph speed throughout the race.

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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