Testing and Racing

George Dance in 1919, after gaining first place in two of the Weston-Super-Mare Speed Trials.
I remember George Dance, he came from working on farm engines to Marston's as a tester. He was a tester with Ernie Smith on the ground floor at the front of the factory in those days. Tommy de la Hay, he was a tester and a T.T. rider with George Dance. Alec Bennett, he was a tester and a T.T. rider as a kid, and another one, a big fella, Graham Walker.

 They were very well in with Sydney Bowers . In the later years George Dance became involved in development work. Freddy Jenkins was another tester but Ernie Smith did ride in a lot of races, he used to ride in foreign countries every year in the Grand Prix and got second in the Dutch T. T. The testers used to meet at Wombourne Common and have fun there.

They used to meet the A.J.S. testers at a cafe by the canal at Wombourne, and leave the engines running outside. George Dance was an expert at tuning carburettors and he used to tune the other tester's machines. He had an exceptional skill for this and would never tell anyone how he did it.

Whilst on the common, some of the testers used to catch rabbits by gassing them with a rubber pipe. One end of the pipe was inserted into a rabbit hole and the other end was attached to the motorcycle exhaust. Some of them also used to deliberately run over chickens, and gave the dead birds away at the works.

In 1928, that was the last days of the tank nesting in between the frames at the top, the square tank. Charlie Dodson won the T. T. and then we made the first saddle tank that was to fit over the top rail.

In 1929 he won it again. We had his bike on show in front of the Town Hall for about a month. There was a big celebration in the works. For about an hour, or an hour and a half, everybody went berserk and then the works manager came through and everybody went back to their job.

Sunbeamland from the junction of Paul Street and Jeddo Street.
I saw Howard Davies, he used to ride for us at one time. I saw him quite a lot at Marston's, especially when he used to build his HRD machines at the bottom of Fryer Street. He used to come in and out a lot. I suppose he was getting one or two ideas. I remember Howard he was a robust sort of a chap originally, his first bike was a saddle tank, he used to be a good rider. I don't know what happened to him when his company closed, when we finished in 1936, I don't know where he petered off to.

In the early days the antiquated machines used to mill one gear tooth at a time, indexed around. They used special cutters because each tooth was not just square but made up of many different radii. When I was involved with the testers I used to cut and fit cams. When you turned the back wheel by hand, and turned the engine over, there should be no click, so that there was no shake in the rocker. The centres varied slightly so there was a bigger cut cam, or something like that. You couldn't have it too tight. If it was too tight you got a whirring sound when you revved it up. Tommy de la Hay would come and say "That's acceptable". He was a funny guy, a Frenchman who was full of his own self-importance, because he was in with Sidney Bowers. I remember my early days, although I didn't know him too well when he won the T.T. in the 1920's. Bennett won it in 1922, they were at daggers drawn. I remember them having a row and they had to go to Bowers to get it sorted out. Tommy de la Hay won the day and became head of the the Testing Department, and poor old Alec left.

The testing department was originally situated in the main works in Pool Street. When St. Paul's church built a new church hall, Sunbeam purchased the old one, which was convenient as it was opposite the works, on the other side of Paul Street. The testing and development department then moved from Pool Street the the old church hall. The department eventually ended up in the new Elms Works, when it opened in 1928. It was situated at the rear of the repairs department and included Bert Tetsall, George Dance and Albert Collins.

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Elms Works