Long ago, in those golden days when a man could rise out of the ranks and whup the works boys , the machine on everybodys lips was the 1929 Spagforth FL 500 which, on account of its rapid acceleration, was christened the "Lightning". Edgar Jessop was an early test rider for Spagforth and gained an entry to the 1927 TT to put the new machine through its paces.
It could have won that first time out had it not been for the unfortunate incident reported on the Edgar Jessop page...
It was a very desirable machine with its pressed-stainless-steel tubular rear suspension and girder-style forks.
Classified as a machine easily converted into an over-the-counter racer, it would be owned, in total, by 619 happy riders who took great pleasure in relating their feelings about this spectacular motorcycle.
So when the entry lists opened for the 1929 TT, the governing body received no less than 15 communications of intent from privateers plus three works-supported entries coming in at the very last minute.
These would no doubt be on the 1930 specification test machines, similar
to those being prepared for their launch at the autumn motorcycle show.
So the 1929 TT period arrived and the large crowds piled on to the ferries going over to t'Isle of Man..
All the hotels were full and this was the year when the first of the camping sites was opened just before Ballaugh Bridge.
This site had only two tents, ex First World War circular tents ( "borrowed" from Cunninghams Camp ) each of which could sleep up to twelve men or three women !
In one of these tents was ensconced young Jimmy Mersey and his pal Foliejohn Holmes, nephew of Sir Charles.
Jimmy, who for at that time, unknown reasons was nicknamed "River", and his mechanic Foliejohn decided to live it rough, far away from the madding crowds so they could concentrate on the job in hand.
The aim was to at least finish in the gruelling race.
No smooth roads or slight bends or curves in those days !
Jimmy managed with his slick tongue, to purchase all of their food cheaply from the kindly proprietor of the Ballaugh Stores, an early attempt at gaining sponsorship. Even though his tent was filled with five other flatulance-producing bodies, he was able to get some useful sleep each night after rolling back via the Ballaugh "Raven" Public House.
However, the handsome debonnaire Foliejohn disappeared southward into the darkness each night and returned just in time for a hearty breakfast, with his hair all over the place and with large bags under his bloodshot eyes.
The story of Jimmys attempt on that years TT is well-documented elsewhere and we are all proud of this thin wiry young reprobate who came from the rear and won the Senior at his first attempt.
Only one Spagforth retired in the race, due to a puncture suffered out on the Mountain Section.
The rest almost filled the remaining leaderboard places, seeing only a fourth place taken by a Sunbeam.
It is interesting to note that Sir Charles Spagforth, as a consequence of the result, instructed his marketing people to again promote and sell the 1929 version of the "Lightning" well into 1930.
It took two further years before the shelved 1930 machine was deemed ready for sale.
The 1929 Twin Cylinder 497 cc Spagforth "Lightning" reigned supreme in mainland races, completely unbeaten for three years.
Why they don't feature in the TT Results is another story, but it is based upon the fact that sales that year had fallen short by only one, therefore causing the factory to fail to qualify for official homologation.
The regulations stated that the machine must be part of series run off the production line and that series must total the projected sales run for that year....Unfortunately, in the July after the TT, there was called an Extra-ordinary meeting of the Race Organisers, with the result that the first three Spagforths home were stripped of their titles and awards...............
If you look in the TT Records, you will see that the fourth place Sunbeam, ridden by one Charlie Dodson was eventually declared the winner of the 1929 Senior and while his fastest lap at 73.55 mph was considerably slower than "Rivers" fastest lap, it became the lap record when the Spagforth was disqualified.
The Company never recovered from the shame, even though they enjoyed two years of high sales, and eventually went under in 1934 leaving heavy debts.
Neither "River" (R.A.F.) nor Foliejohn (B.E.F.) returned from the Conflict To End All Conflicts.
Sir Charles died in 1947..