Monday, May 19, 2008

Joe Downey - A Need For Speed

Joe Downey of Jamaica Plain lived at the right time to catch the bug for speed. He began on bicycles, moved on to automobiles, and if the last article below is to be believed, moved on to airplanes. I can't find any more references to Joe online, so we can't be sure for now whether he ever made it into the air. He certainly had the classic daredevil spirit of the time - one can imagine him in a leather jacket, and perhaps a scarf and goggles. If you know anything about Joe Downey, please let me know.

Boston Daily Globe July 16, 1899

Mile in 1.16 2/5. Joe Downey's Wonderful Ride at Norwood. On the State Highway He Makes Two Attacks on Record. First Attempt Results in 1m 25s Flat. Second Pushes the Mark Down Further. Paced by Motor Tandem -- Timed by Three Watches.

One mile in 1 minute 16 2-5s, paced by a motor tandem without wind shields or other contrivences, is the record redden by Joe Downey, the diminutive cyclist, on the mile straightaway course on the state road at Norwood Yesterday.

This is the fastest mile ever ridden by a cyclist except that behind a locomotive by Murphy, who had a shed and a suction strip to protect him from the wind. Since Downey is only 16 years of age, it may be said safely that not only has the limit of pacing machines not been reached, but the limit of riders is certinly some years away.

[cut ride details]

Downey is 16 years old, and lives in Jamaica Plain. He is already a middle-distance rider of prominence, although last year he was only considered a comer in the amateur ranks.

May 31, 1906

Smash At Readville Downey Hurled From Car. It Turns Over and Falls on Him. Next Hurls Him Against Fence, Then He Gets Up. Racing Motorists Make Fast Time.

Joe Downey, driving a 90-horse power Mercedes rcer, furnished the spectators at the Bay State A.A. races at Readville yesterday afternoon with a thrill that will last them for a long while. That he was not killed or seriously injured seemed a marvel to those who witnessed the hair-raising spectacle as his racer crashed into another car, turned upside down and caught fire.

Downey took the care out on the track to tune it up in prepartio for his two special match races. Because of the bad weather of the last few dys he was unable to give it a trial and get it working properly. The big machine had been taken apart when he brought it from Ormond, and it was only a few days ago that he put it together. So he had to give it a warming up.

The track was clear when he sped around shortly after 2, but a few minutes later some cars were sent down to the starting point. When Downey had got to the three-quarter mark he let the car out a bit, and as he swung into the stretch he saw another car on the track, owned by S.W. Boyson. The space between the car and the fence was not very wide, and Downey had to go through it.

His racer skidded, struck the other car, ripped off the forward wheel of that machine and sent it flying. The next moment Downey was flying in the air, landing 15 feet away; his car turned upside down and dropped on him, smashed into the fence, tearing away the stakes for 20 feet, and rolled off Downey onto the track. The gasoline caught fire in a moment, and started to burn.

When the car struck the fence there was a yell from hundreds of spectators as many of them rushed away from the scene. They feared an explosion of the gasoline tank. Others rushed on the trackand ran to Downey's assistance, but he was on his feet before the people realized it. He brushed himself and assured the anxious ones that he was all right. Meanwhile people began throwing sand, dirt and grass on the car to smother the flames, and in a few minutes it was put out and the car taken from the track.

[article continues]

October 18, 1910
Downey Takes Up Aviation. Jamaica Plain man Leaves for Mineola and Plans to Make a Flight in the Near Future.

Joe Downey of Jamaica Plain, who won renown as a bicyclist and later as a driver of racing automobiles, is to take up aviation.

Downey left for New York yesterday afternoon and will go to the aviation field at Mineola. His machine is a monoplane of the Bleriot type, equipped with an Anzini engine.

Downey, while acting as official chauffeur for the contest committee at the Harvard aviation meet, devoted a great deal of time to the study of aeroplanes and motors.

Those who know Downey predict a brilliant future for him in the aviatio game. He plans to make his first flight in the near future.

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