OLD NEWS: One hand on the throttle, the other on his weapon


Police officers “on motorcycles” were already present in the streets of Little Rock 100 years ago. It had been a decade.

They were no longer the “pop-pop group” that an Arkansas Gazette headline laughed at in 1908, but by May 1921 they were simply “the motorcycle cops.” The word moto was part of the official title: it was “Motorcycle Patrolman” or, less often, “Motorcycleman”.

Burwell patroller Conrad Rotenberry was Little Rock’s pioneer motorcyclist. In May 1911, he learned to drive the first Indian brand machine at $ 275, 5 horsepower, Indian brand twin. The oldest patroller, Rotenberry was effective, according to the newspaper’s town hall column:

“The role of the Rotenberry patroller will be to prohibit speeding tickets for local motorists. The purchase of the motorcycle is the result of the large number of complaints that have been registered almost daily at police headquarters due to speeding. committed by automobile owners in Little Rock. “

It was also a result of Police Chief Frank McMahon having wanted one for years. Unfortunately for McMahon, it was replaced a month before the city bought the trendy traffic control tool (see arkansasonline.com/531squad).

After 29 days, the newspaper reported the motorcycle had more than paid for itself, grossing $ 410 in fines and forfeitures. Rotenberry and motorcycle patrol officers CF Eby and CC Farmer had traveled 790 miles, using just over 6 gallons of gasoline.

They did a surprising job. The speeders committed carnage in the streets of the city, they really did; but the sight of the cops unzipping the road at 25 mph or 30 mph did not necessarily reassure the public. A week after hearing of all these fines, Farmer encountered a horse and buggy on the wrong side of Main Street. He lectured the driver for almost forcing him to stop. The man berated Farmer for speeding.

Farmer laughed about it with a reporter, because, yes, it was his job to step up.

Motorcycle patrol officers also suffered and inflicted injuries. The streets in blocks of wood or gravel were insanely dangerous: wagons, buggies, trucks, horses, sometimes goat or mad dog, kids, bicycles, disabled pedestrians, trams … and the autists always collided with motorcycles. Most of the many motorcycles that made the news were driven and destroyed by civilians. But the motorcycle police – the few, the armed ones – were celebrities. If you don’t slow down, they might shoot you.

Flash before 1921.

On May 4, the Arkansas Democrat reported that Motorcycle Sgt. AA Wright chased a high-speed Buick through town twice at breakneck speed. Wright chased after him because the car passed him; he had no idea it was loaded with six 16 gallon drums of moonshine.

He tried to get closer to the driver’s door, but each time the car swerved as if to force him onto the curb. He fired his gun in the hope of puncturing the gas tank. He missed the tank but hit the driver’s seat back.

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Let us all dwell on the fact that in 1921 a car seat could stop a bullet.

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The recoil rocked the bike and Wright grabbed the front sight while holding his gun. The latch that held the cylinder in place opened and all but one of the cartridges fell. Later in the chase, he fired this bullet, again missing the gas tank.

This chaos ended on 19th Street Pike when the offending car crashed into a Chevrolet that was pulled to a roadside near the Rock Street Bridge. Inside that innocent car, a visitor, Miss Bessie Griffiths of Tulsa, was seriously injured.

The occupants of the offending car have disappeared. But Wright had the license number.

When the State Highway Commission office opened the next morning, he learned that the Buick was licensed by a Silas E. Wilson of Hot Springs. Wilson had reported the theft of his car, but a grand jury did not believe him. He was charged with driving “the alcohol car”.

Gallery: Motorcycles in motion

In another 100-year-old motorcycle rider news story on May 15, North Little Rock announced it had hired a second motorcycle cop, SL Kerr. Kerr replaced patroller N. Shaver, who resigned on May 12. Kerr joined motorcyclist JW Talley at traffic control.

On May 21, a Pine Bluff patroller was seriously injured when his motorcycle collided with a car near Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street. The patrol boat Wells Bond was on its way to a fire.

On May 24, the Little Rock Police Committee set aside $ 410 for the purchase of a new motorcycle with a sidecar accessory. Just in time, as the city’s fleet was about to suffer two casualties.

Around 3 p.m. on May 28, Motorcycle Sgt. Wright, 519 Wolfe St., and motorcycle patroller Wilmar D. Rhodes, 1616 Barber Ave., were seriously injured when the motorcycles they were riding collided.

Human Interest Note: We know Rhodes was a married man and, in fact, the smallest man in the force. On April 17, 1921, the Gazette published a photo of him posing next to the tallest policeman in town, a detective named TL Hooter. (See in the gallery at arkansasonline.com/531vroom.)

Also married, Hooter was 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 247 pounds. His previous job included three years as a patroller and many years as a hospital warden. He had worked for 13 hospitals in seven states, specifically mental hospitals.

Rhodes was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 152 pounds. Before joining the department in July 1920, he had spent seven years in the United States Army, notably in France, the Philippines and China.

Police Chief Rotenberry (yes, the same Rotenberry who was the first biker) investigated. He said officers were driving along 19th Street Pike in opposite directions. They intended to meet, and both had slowed down their machines when an automobile brushed past them. Wright swerved to miss it, but it hit Rhodes and he shot Wright down.

Both motorcycles were severely damaged. The automobile escaped.


Also on May 28, motorcycle patroller William J. Haynie arrested Claude Bivens, auto repairer, for speeding on 18th Street and Thayer Avenue – on a motorcycle.

Last February, Haynie had spent a day and a half in the Saint-Vincent infirmary, lying in the bed next to the bed of the man he had hit with his motorcycle. Haynie was speeding past a cop car on Capitol Avenue, heading for a domestic disturbance call (battered wife), and Fred Hodges was riding a bike without a lamp. The Cook Drummond-Overman hearse brought Haynie home on February 27. The newspaper did not report what happened to Hodges.

And do you remember North Little Rock’s new man, Kerr? He suffered painful but minor cuts to his head and face on June 4, 1921, when his motorbike struck a wagon as he turned the corner of 17th Street on Broadway. At the time, he and motorcyclist Talley were chasing three cars at high speed. Talley was in the lead and dodged the cart, which was without light and not easily visible.

After the crash, Talley and Police Chief August Ganser attended the scene to retrieve the two machines. Ganser had his first riding lesson.

He admits he’s been remarkably successful. The only thing he did was turn on the gas when he intended to turn it off, just as he was getting ready to park in front of the town hall.

The machine has not parked. Instead, he stood up and made for the pavement.

It takes nerves of steel to ride a metal horse.



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