As a young fellow, E.G. Baker enjoyed many physical fitness activities, including boxing, sparring, wrestling - and motorcycling. He worked for the United States Tire Company in his home town in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he rose to the position of superintendent of the motorcycle tire testing department, and it was there that he found an outlet for his remarkable stamina. Baker had an ability to complete fast, long distance rides without experiencing fatigue - a useful skill for testing tires. On weekends, his love for speeding toward the distant horizon was such that his companions often dropped by the wayside or headed home exhausted, unable to sustain his rapid pace.
"Bake" undertook his first big adventure in January 1912. He left Indianapolis on a two-speed Indian and covered 14,000 miles in three months, traveling through Florida, down to Cuba and Jamaica, and then to Panama. He took a steamer up to San Diego where he based himself for a while and from there he competed in several endurance runs in both California and Arizona. It was during this time that Baker decided he would attempt to break the transcontinental record.
During 1913, Baker studied many maps, working out the best route between San Diego and New York. He also consulted an acquaintance, Louis Brant, who worked for the U.S. weather bureau in Phoenix, Arizona. After checking the records for the previous ten years, Brant suggested that the best time for the department would be May 3rd. This would place Baker between the storm fronts which were expected at the that time each year and enable him to avoid the intense summer heat of the Western Deserts.
His 7 hp, two-speed electric model twin was provided by the Hendee company, who arranged for him to be supplied with a machine from the stock of San Diego Indian dealer, C.A. Shepherd. With the exception of fitting heavier 3-inch section tires and a sheet of steel plate under the crankcases to protect them, Baker's mount was stock.
The attempt was officially sanctioned by the F.A.M., who stipulated that Baker had to wire his location to their New York office every day. He also kept a diary which he stamped at Post Offices along the way.
The scorching deserts of Arizona and New Mexico were the toughest sections he encountered. Suffering from exhaustion brought on by the heat, lack of sleep, and dreadful road conditions, he experienced hallucinations. In order to combat thirst, he tried a southwestern Indian remedy - placing a dime-sized pebble under the tongue - a trick that proved to be effective. Despite carrying a specially made one-gallon water container, Baker was still very cautious in his water consumption as desert temperatures were well above 100 degrees and help was often a great distance away. He also carried a Smith and Wesson 38-caliber long barrel revolver, which he used to shoot wild dogs that attempted to bring him down when he rode through remote Indian reservations.
Newspapers along the route notified their readers as to when Baker would be passing through their towns, and many people turned out to cheer him on. He had agreed at the outset of his ride to abide by all local speed limits, but many towns and cities along the route waived their restrictions and on several occasions he was given police escorts. He made good time through the central states, but then encountered heavy rain in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the muddy condition of the roads slowed his progress. Baker arrived in New York on May 14th, having covered 3,378.9 miles in 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes. His ride earned him the new nickname of "Cannonball."
From Stephen Wright's book The American Motorcycle 1869-1914 Vol 1, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.