Sunday, December 31, 2017

Remembering Theresa Wallach

Back in the day, I was involved with the Canadian Norton Owners Association.  Along the way, I picked up a copy of Theresa Wallach's book, because it had to do with motorcycles and because the cover photo was of a BSA Rocket 3 (in my opinion, the ugly sister of the Triumph Trident.)  The book had originally been published by the Sterling Publishing Company in 1970, but my book was the 1971 Bantam Edition.  Illustrations were by Maggie McGowan.

The author's description of her own background fascinated me. Below, from the book:

Among her impressive accomplishments, in 1939 Wallach won a Gold Star for lapping Brooklands on her 350cc cammy Norton at over 100 mph!

Source:  Motobilia
In 1952 she travelled to the US and road around the country for several years before opening a small motorcycle import business, Chicago Norton Sales and Service, on East 75th Street, apparently in a narrow gray shop. Ultimately it became Imported Motorcycles Inc., selling Ariels, B.S.A.s and Sunbeams.

After she wrote and published Easy Motorcycle Riding, in 1973 she moved to Phoenix, Arizona to focus on motorcycle rider training. The book focused primarily on advice and direction about riding and operating a motorcycle, looking after it, and how to choose proper second-hand ones.  Motorcycles like McGowan's illustration below from the book were not recommended!

(The illustration in Wallach's book reminds me of the cartoon below, coincidentally from the same issue of Motor Cycling as the photo above!  Brits versus the Yanks!)

Theresa Wallach died in 1999 at the ripe old age of 90. Today, there are numerous tributes to Wallach on the Net.  Her account of her 1935 travels on a Panther motorcycle/Watsonian rig with trailer have been published as The Rugged Road, selling today for absolutely silly prices.  More fascinating to me are the silent films of the trip, which you can find on youtube. 

Anyway, back in 1985, on the strength of the Norton motorcycle connection, I wrote her a letter and subsequently phoned her.  She was kind enough to respond, and below is her letter back to me, which I treasure. 

Below, the photos she enclosed, with inscriptions:

The inscription above reads, "King Edward VIII, late Duke of Windsor, was interested in the Norton.  H.R.H. preferred to live his own way by giving up a kingdom.  He liked my chosen way with a motorcycle and inquired about the trek.  New York Trade Convention, May 1950."

Dress:  pocket handkerchief
British M/C Racing Club "Crossed Jacks" and 100 m/h Gold Star.

Below, Chief Big Snake, Sioux, Colorado 1950 on Theresa Wallach's Norton.

With her permission, I subsequently wrote with some of this information to Cycle Canada:

Below, a photo of her last Phoenix address, snagged from Google Maps.  Pretty modest but lots of pavement in front for her motorcycle classes!

The final paragraph in her entry on the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame reads:

Wallach’s love affair with motorcycling is summed up in a quote from a 1977 interview with Road Rider Magazine 

"When I first saw a motorcycle, I got a message from it," she said. "It was a feeling – the kind of thing that makes a person burst into tears hearing a piece of music or standing awestruck in front of a fine work of art. Motorcycling is a tool with which you can accomplish something meaningful in your life. It is an art."

Lastly, a quote from Wallach from her description of her travels in the U.S., courtesy of the excellent (and Canadian!) blog Mostly by Motorcycle:

"When travelling, of course there have to be sacrifices. One cannot have the comfort and security of home. Neither can one enjoy the companionship of one’s own friends. but the Law of Compensation as Emerson says is the Law of Life itself. Every advantage has its disadvantage. Every loss, its gain."


Jeff F. said...

Thank you so much! I've been a fan ever since that 1977 Road Rider appeared in my mailbox....what a grand, graceful lady.

Nina Baker said...

This is the BEST blog about this amazing lady. I am putting together a short note for the Women's Engineering Society, of which she was a member, for their centenary this year and would really like to use one of the photos from your blog. Are they yours or should I ask someone else for permission?

Mister G said...

None of the images are ours, but we try to credit the source where possible. You’re welcome to use any of our text, if you like. Yes, an exceptional person for sure.