125 Miles to Olympia and Back: The Tacoma Motorcycle Club in 1923

We can’t say enough good things about the Tacoma Public Library. Not only are their online archives a wealth of knowledge accessible from anywhere on the web at anytime, their Northwest Room files hold a treasure trove of Tacoma history.

When we shared this photo of theirs on Facebook and Instagram, our keen-eyed fans were quick to notice something unusual in the caption:

In February of 1923 these cool cats posed with their Harleys on Broadway near the City Hall Annex.
According to the Tacoma Public Library 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.”

Sure, on most days traffic might make it feel like it’s 125 miles from here to Olympia and back, but the odometer insists it’s more like 61 miles roundtrip.

What’s the deal with this 1923 calculation, then? We dug out the microfilm for answers. (Full text below.)

Motorcyclists Stage Stiff Run

Thirty Tacoma Enthusiasts Hold Reliability Test From Tacoma to Olympia and Return Sunday; Several Perfect Scores Turned In; Mishaps Galore

Wallowing in gumbo that oozed above the hub-caps, skidding on slippery pavements, nearly carrying their machines at the worst spots in the road, braving mishap after mishap, 30 motorcycle riders, members of the Tacoma Motorcycle Club, covered a course from Tacoma to Olympia and return, a distance a little short of 125 miles, Sunday in the first reliability run of the season.

It was necessary for the drivers to maintain an average speed of 20 miles an hour all the way between Tacoma and Olympia. Checking stations were established at Roy, Yelm, Rainier, Tenino, Centralia, Grand Mound, Little Rock and at Olympia. It was necessary for each driver to check in at each station at a specified time, neither late nor early, in order to make a perfect score.

The full list cannot be given nor the winners announced at this time as the other checking stations will not be heard from until Monday or Tuesday. The following, however, were announced last night by A. Gilmore, captain of the run committee of the club, as having turned in perfect scores: R. H. Norbom, Earl Sason, Oscar Eliason, J. R. Coffman, J. H. Newman, A Bodiger and L. Dennison. All except Norbom rode without side cars. More than $50 in cash and merchandise prizes will be awarded the winners.

Here’s a quick plot of that route as you’d likely drive it today (119 miles):

And, for comparison, this is what Google Maps thinks that looks like while avoiding highways (130 miles):

For the curious, it would take participants who kept the perfect 20mph speed six hours and 15 minutes to drive 125 miles.

The Tacoma Motorcycle Club is still around today, more than a century after this photo was taken of their first annual ride:

Photos courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library

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