The Flying Merkel: Minneapolis Park Police Motorcycles
Filed under: Minneapolis Parks: General | Tags: Flying Merkel, Minneapolis Park Police |
When the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners decided to purchase motorcycles they went with the best. On March 20, 1911 the park board approved the purchase of four “Flying Merkel” motorcycles. The specifications included “four horsepower with magneto and belt drive” at a cost of $238.50 each.
The Merkel Company was established in Milwaukee, Wisc. in 1902 by Joseph Merkel, a bicycle maker. His company was purchased by the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Co. in 1911. An interesting history of the motorcycle is here, including the stories of Margaret Gast, early motorcycle racer and stunt driver, and Maldwyn Jones, a national champion racer who helped establish the Flying Merkel as a premiere speed machine. The Flying Merkel was apparently known for its bright orange color.
How did the park board use the Flying Merkels? We know the first recreation director, Clifford Booth, had used a motorcycle in previous years to speed from one playground to another, so he may have gotten one. Also in April 1910 the park board approved the purchase of a motorcycle or a horse — with a “recommendation” for the horse — for the park board’s forester. Perhaps the forester got the horse in 1910 and it was upgraded in 1911. But this photo from the 1912 annual report of the park board shows how at least two of the Flying Merkels were used.
Park police chief Burton Kingsley, seated at the center of the photo, who later was elected as a park commissioner, asked to have the motorcycles replaced by horses. He argued that horses could be used in any weather, but motorcycles were useless in Minnesota for much of the year. He also claimed that police officers got more respect on horses. Perhaps orange wasn’t the best color for police work. But no horse could have had a cooler name.
Despite Kingsley’s preference for horses he reported that the police force logged 50,000 miles on their Flying Merkels in 1912. That’s a lot of oats.
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com