Fast Digs, and the LA Gatling Gun

The popularity of bicycle racing, within Los Angeles specifically, had hit a peak in the mid-1890s  and by 1898 had begun one of its periodic downward trends. This was due to various reasons including, most notably, increased competition with other sporting (and betting) events and continuing conflict between the California riders, track owners and cycling clubs on the one hand, and the national League of American Wheelmen.

The year 1898 also saw the United States enter into war against Spain. The idea that Spain might be able to invade the west coast states was taken with enough seriousness that cities established defense funds for, among other things, the procurement of armaments. Organized and managed by George Crater, Agricultural Park (now back in favor with the LAW) hosted a two day racing meet with hopes of raising enough funds to allow the city of Los Angeles to purchase a gatling gun, or other materiel as decided upon by the war board committee. In the days leading up the the 27th and 28th of May expectations were high that a large crowd of paying spectators would turn out, after all, the track had been brought up to top condition, many of the Pacific Coast's fastest racers were slated to compete, and special contests such as the race between the Throop School of Pasadena and Los Angeles High School, another between the Postal Telegraph, Western Union, and composite California District teams, and another race between the horse Prince Hooker and riders on a sextuplet were sure to attract widespread interest.

By all accounts the racing was top notch. The racing on the first day included a one-mile novice race won by H. F. Messmore, with Fred Dee second, and Henry Mondon third. A one-mile open race was projected to be won by W. G. Furman, but as he was watching two other riders over his right shoulder, Fred Rowan slipped past him on the inside to win by half a wheel. The Postal Telegraph team captured the coveted silver cup in the relay race, and with it the honor of holding it until the next meeting. A special fire department race was contested by P. H. Sammons, John G. Todd, and G. W. Bright. Sammons, in his white shirt sleeves took the win ahead of Todd in jacket, and Bright, wearing department blues with big pearl buttons. A multicycle race pitted an Orient sextuplet ridden by Brotherton, Ross, Torrey, Pearne, Howard and Florentine, against a Orient tandem of Furman and Tabor, a Rambler quad ridden by Stephenson, Develin, Dean Cromwell, and J. Cowan, and a Rambler tandem manned by Hamlin and McClintock. The sextuplet proved too powerful for the others, though the Orient tandem made it interesting at the end. A two-mile handicap was not handicapped well with only one of the scratch riders (Furman) able to catch the field, and that only after an energy depleting effort, leaving him out of the finish sprint. Betting was to have a part of the day's activities, but as it would have been against LAW rules, Will Knippenberg put an end to it early in the day.

The races on the second day included the five-mile Throop vs. Los Angeles High School race, a mile race for boys, a quarter-mile backward race, a coast record attempt by Furman in the one-mile flying start, and the sextuplet race against Prince Hooker. 

From a racing standpoint, the Agricultural Park war fund meet, was described as the best held since the national circuit races visited Los Angeles a few years previous. From a benefit standpoint they were a dismal failure - proceeds from the first day amounted to $63.50, with a mere 417 spectators in attendance (remember, coursing - dogs chasing hares - at the Park in this same year brought in upwards of 3500 spectators). It was speculated that only half those numbers were reached on the second day. "The races were good and a success from the standpoint of sport, but if the defense of Los Angeles depended upon the gatling gun that the proceeds obtained yesterday are expected to purchase the Spanish invaders would have a softer snap than Dewey encountered in Manila Bay." At the end of the event Crater was compelled to state that cycling in "this town is dead."