Hog Wild over Harley-Davidson | The “Hog Boys” of Early H-D History
The term “HOG” has been affectionately associated with Harley-Davidson for decades. It’s a workhorse term for the iconic motorcycle company that serves many purposes. Harley-Davidson is identified as HOG on the NYSE, they coined H.O.G. as an acronym for “Harley Owners Group”, and Harley-Davidson even attempted to trademark “HOG” IN 1999– and lost when it was ruled that “HOG” had become a common generic term used for large motorcycles, and therefore was unprotectable as a trademark.
All that said, the ones originally responsible for the “HOG” handle were a roughneck group of farm boys that rode for the H-D racing team back in the 1910s-1920s who’d take their little pig mascot on a victory lap after every race their team won– giving them the name “Hog Boys.” They deserve a great deal of respect– more than one paid the ultimate price and left it all on the track for the sport that was their life– racing motorcycles. These guys also had their careers interrupted by our great country’s call to serve in WWI. More than likely, many of us today cannot begin to fathom the depth of their personal commitment and sacrifices.
Ray Weishaar was coined the “Kansas Cyclone”– dominating the county fair circuits of Kansas from 1908 to 1910. He was a dominant racer– the Kansas State Championship two years in a row. His second win came even with his handlebars breaking halfway off– although he won the race, he didn’t break his previous year’s record. Ray Weishaar became part of the Harley-Davidson factory racing team in 1916, finishing third at Dodge City that year and winning the FAM 100-Mile Championship in Detroit. Weishaar was also offered a Harley-Davidson dealership and became a dealer for three years. Weishaar was by no means finished with racing though, and returned to the competitive circuit in 1919.
One fateful race, Weishaar was battling Gene Walker for the lead– Johnny Seymour drafted past them both, sending Weishaar’s bike into a high-speed wobble. The bike went into a skid and Weishaar fought hard to save it before hitting the outside fence. Weishaar went through the wooden fence and incredibly was still conscious. He was not thought to be seriously injured in the crash. His wife, Emma, drove him to Los Angeles General Hospital where he tragically died just a few hours later from internal injuries. The motorcycle racing community rallied to support Weishaar’s surviving wife and six-month-old son and generously paid off the mortgage on the family’s home.
Harley-Davidson’s very first factory racer, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst, was somewhat of a celebrity among racing enthusiasts in those days– breaking 23 speed records and winning a slew of top national races for Harley from 1914-1920. He had a brief and unsuccessful stint at Excelsior in 1921, and quickly returned to Harley in 1922 to race for them again. By this time Parkhurst had a family, and his racing career slowed down considerably, with him competing only in select events. “Red” Parkhurst transitioned into a successful sales career for Firestone and Valvoline. He retired in the 1960s and died in 1972 while living in Washington State at 76 years old.
Albert “Shrimp” Burns was known as a gritty and tenacious racer who wouldn’t think twice about racing injured– his fiercely competitive heart made him a legendary crowd favorite. In typical Burns’ style, he once took a hard fall racing in Marysville, CA but was unfettered. Still shook-up he managed to get his bike back in shape and ready for the next race, and hopped back on to won the five mile final, which worked the crowd into a frenzy– all with a fractured collarbone and broken shoulder. In 1920, Burns shocked everyone by switching from Harley-Davidson to Indian. Back in those days, the rivalry between the two companies was so fierce that for a rider to switch from one team to the other was a big deal. Burns felt he wasn’t getting his fair share of the limelight at H-D, and soon proved himself at Indian by taking home the very first national title of the 1920 season– winning the 25-mile national at Ascot Park in Los Angeles. According to reports, the crowd swarmed the track and carried the overwhelmed Burns on their shoulders, cheering until they were hoarse– proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Burns was one of, if not the, most popular rider of his day.
When he was 18 years old, Ralph Hepburn (below) took an offer to travel with a barn-storming group that rode the motordromes (board tracks) and dirt tracks across the Midwest. In 1916, Hepburn bought an ex-factory Excelsior and started earning podium finishes at the nationals. In June of 1919, Hepburn joined Harley-Davidson’s factory racing team, becoming part of what may have been the greatest factory racing team of all time with legendary teammates–Ray Weishaar, Albert “Shrimp” Burns, Maldwyn Jones, “Red” Parkhurst, Fred Ludlow and Otto Walker, all of whom would become Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductees. He won the M&ATA 200 Mile National Championship at Ascot Park in Los Angeles on June 22, and on July 4, 1921, Hepburn won the Dodge City 300, in perhaps the greatest performance of his career. It was the last running of that classic event and all of the factory teams and riders were on hand. Hepburn took the lead early in the race and went on to win the race by 12 minutes over second-place rider Johnny Seymour. Hepburn broke all existing 300-mile records in that race. The next year he signed with Indian. Hepburn tried his hand at sidecar racing in Milwaukee and went on to win one of the 1922 sidecar national titles. That year he also defended his 300-Mile National title. The race had moved from Dodge City to Wichita and was not backed by the factories. The promoters had to pay appearance money to get the top stars of the day to show up. Still, Hepburn turned in another great ride and won by 18 minutes. In 1923, Hepburn won the Pacific Coast Championship. In 1924, he returned to Harley-Davidson and was runner-up to Jim Davis at the national finals in Syracuse. Also in 1924, Hepburn set a new speed record riding a Harley-Davidson.
Ralph Hepburn tragically died in qualifying practice for the Indianapolis 500 on May 16, 1948. He led the world-famous race three times in three different decades (1925, 1937 and 1946). Hepburn set the Indianapolis track record in qualifying for the 1946 race, but didn’t start on the front row since he was not a first weekend qualifier. Hepburn came up just two seconds short of winning the Indy 500 in 1937, which at that point was the closest finish in the history of the race. His second-place finish that year was his best-ever result at that race.
Story Courtsey of http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com