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St. Louis Motordrome & Board Track Motorcycle Photos

St. Louis Motordrome BoardTrack Racer Group

It was all headed to the trash. A sizeable, historic collection of glass plate negatives of early 1900s American life was about to be deleted from existence. But, Thomas Kempland, antiques aficionado and old-stuff guru, gladly accepted ownership of J.R. Eike’s photography and the wooden boxes of incredible St. Louis imagery. Among the images Tom scanned from the negatives is a handful of board track racing motorcycles at the St. Louis Motordrome. Check out these amazing photographs that Mr. Kempland has allowed us to share here.

J.R. Eike and a Smith Motor Wheel
Photographer J.R. Eike and a Smith Motor Wheel powered bicycle.

Eikes Glass Plate Negatives

J.R. Eike (most likely pronounced, eye-keh) had the eye of a journalistic photographer, carefully identifying and documenting daily life and urban progress. His family owned a bicycle shop on Montana Street, so we’re guessing Eike’s affinity for two-wheel travel inspired him to capture these brilliant pics of board track racers.

Eike's Bicycle Shop - St. Louis

During this era of bicycles morphing into motorcycles, race promoters that relocated to America from Europe brought the concept of velodromes with them. Replace velo, which means bicycle in French, with “motor” and you can make the connection. It was a big deal. Tens of thousands of spectators would show up to watch fast and extremely dangerous racing at what would soon be nicknamed “murderdromes” (at a race in Atlantic City, several racers and spectators died in one crash).

St. Louis Motordrome

St. Louis Motordrome Racer

Circa 1914, the St. Louis Motordrome was a circular quarter-mile track located in what was then an amusement park called Priester’s Park (see pic below). It’s insane really; wooden guardrails and catch fences sat atop very steep banking, waiting to collect (and abruptly stop) racers that rode astray. The first motordrome in the USA opened in Los Angeles in 1910, where racers approached 100mph on dusty 2×4 lumber until a fire forced its permanent closure just three years later.

Priester's Park St. Louis Balloon Races

By 1929, a couple dozen board tracks had been built in the U.S., but soon thereafter this form of racing dried up – a victim to the high risks and burdensome maintenance. Not a trace of the St. Louis Motordrome exists today, but, man, what a thrill and shot-in-the-arm these kinds of venues were to motorcycling. Playing a part in the exploding growth of motorcycle manufacturing and racing, this motordrome provided industrial Midwestern civilians an arena for never-before seen speeds and daredevilling mayhem.

St. Louis Motordrome Wells Bennett

Already an accomplished dirt track racer, Wells Bennett (pictured above and below) won his first board track race in 1912 at a Denver motordrome. He had zero experience on the boards and credited luck as the reason he didn’t crash, saying, “I saw many a good boy killed in that same way.” In 1914, he signed with Excelsior, as seen in these photos.

St. Louis Motordrome Wells Bennett 2

St. Louis Motordrome Racer John Hoefeler
Board track racer, John Hoefeler, at the St. Louis Motordrome.

Mungenast Museum Indian BoardTrack Motorcycles

As featured in a previous Good Spark Garage article, we stopped by the Dave Mungenast Classic Motorcycles Museum in St. Louis and saw two amazing Indian motorcycles that raced the boards during the sport’s heyday. Pictured near the bikes was a picture of the St. Louis Motordrome with the stands filled; we zoomed in to one of our photographs to show you (below).

Mungenast Museum in St. Louis - Motordrome

St. Louis Board Track Racer 2
Laid on edge, the two-by-four lumber is a great backdrop for J.R. Eike’s racer portraits.
St. Louis Board Track Racers
We’re not sure what the racer’s shirt means (at right), but perhaps he’s a backwards fella from Houston.
St. Louis Motordrome Excelsior
A motorcyclist is pictured on an Excelsior motorcycle outside the St. Louis Motordrome in Priester’s Park circa 1914.
St. Louis Motordrome Paul Schmidt
No brakes? No guts, no glory.
St. Louis Motordrome Racer 3
Chin and chest pad for comfort. Helmet holes for cooling.

You can view many of Eike’s incredible images from Thomas Kempland’s collection here. And you really should allow plenty of time to click through the wonderfully preserved slices of life in St. Louis, Missouri, just before the USA entered World War I. We’re not sure why the Eike family didn’t want to save the plates, but we’re glad Tom decided to keep, scan and post them for the world to see.

J.R. Eike Bicycles
J.R. Eike’s bicycles (and probably his child).
St. Louis Street Scene
St. Louis street scene: Bygone days when circus wagons would pass through town circa 1916.
Fire In Winter - St. Louis
What happens when you try to fight fire in a cold, midwestern winter circa 1917.
St. Louis Construction
The gritty signs of progress in St. Louis, Missouri during the late 1910s.
St. Louis Steam Engine
Steam and steel in St. Louis.

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This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Do you know who started Priester park? My Priester family was the first Priester in St. Louis, Missouri
    John came with his family in 1834 with son 6 year old George Priester 1828 and he had John Priester 1854 that had Eugene 1898 that had Theodore Priester born 1935

  2. Hello, I enjoy all your photos of the early boardtrackers and of the St. Louis Motordome. I was wondering if any one has any info on a pin/metal/ribbon I recently received. The top is a board tracker rider that looks like knight with a crest. St. Louis to the Front. FAM emblem with a purple and gold ribbon between. On the back is Motorcycle Club of St. Louis 12 th annual Convention and race meet FAM St. Louis, July 15-18 1914. Nice condition. Any info/ Thanks and keep up the good work!

    1. Yes I have had over 100 FAM medals at one time
      Have put together two almost complete collections of Mostly National FAM events from 1904 thru 1919
      I have a 1914 St Louis FAM medal, , check out our Museum page on Facebook Antique Motorcycle Collector/ Appraiser

  3. Love the old pictures. They depict America when it was having an explosion of new technology that very few who are living today know anything about. I just built a board track racer (motorcycle) replica and although it is nowhere as fast as the real deal, it gives me insight to what it must have been like a hundred years ago to love motorcycles like I do today (54 years riding).

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