Who’s Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker? After this blog post you’ll be asking the greater question. Why have I never heard of him? If you’re ahead of the game and know all about Baker, then you’re either really into history, Indiana, or motorcycles.
I got my first taste of Baker from an IndyStar article published a couple weeks ago. I was blown away my this man, and even more so that he slipped under my radar for so long. Here are some facts I found interesting about Baker.
- He lived in Garfield Park just a stone’s throw away from where I used to live when I first got married, and since moving, now only about a mile and a half away.
- He won the first motorized race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, which was a 10-mile motorcycle race. Side note: the first race ever at the IMS was a balloon race.
- He also raced in the Indianapolis 500 in 1922 and finished 11th.
- He made more than 143 attempts at a variety of timed, long-distance records. One of his most noteworthy transcontinental rides was in 1914 when he rode from San Diego to New York City in 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes.
- He rode and drove roughly 5.5 million miles from 1908 to 1933.
- He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
These are just a few facts that sparked my attention. It just so happens that we are in the midst of the 103rd anniversary of his record-setting 1914 ride. He began on May 3, 1914 (today is May 4) and finished May 14, 1914.
I found a website that has Baker’s journal notes from his 1914 trip. It was such a wondrous story, I had to write a song about it. I just finished it today, so I thought I would share the lyrics with you. I typically don’t like to share the lyrics right after finishing a song, but it seemed fitting.
Headed East from San Diego
to the City of New York.
For a record-setting ride,
I filled my canteen to the cork.
The sand pushed me to the limit
as I pushed my two-speed horse.
With only a few paved miles laid out,
I would have to set the course.
Spent the morning in the desert
at triple-digit degrees.
By the time I called it quits,
I rode a mile above the sea.
I worked my way toward the valley
full of bleached-white cattle bones.
Would this machine keep me alive,
or would it become my tombstone?
Took all day to cross the river
that was swollen on all sides.
I looked for a shallow answer,
but learned the depth of my pride.
I had thousands of miles ahead
with no easy route in sight.
I worried about tomorrow
before I made it to tonight.
Tried to not let the storm catch me,
so I mounted my machine.
With no time to stop for breakfast,
the thought of mud was my caffeine.
I rode atop the railroad ties
to escape the tough terrain.
“Clear the road: I am a-coming”
was the native-spread refrain.
Made up my mind I would not stop
till I touched the city streets.
As my journey came to a close,
it all felt so bittersweet.
I came in strong though late at night
upon my seven-horse steed.
Little did I know that I’d be called
the pioneer of speed.