Reno is an odd city: “The Biggest Little City in the World” after all. I went to college there knowing two things: they had cheap, good school, and I had gotten accepted. Who cares about what the city was like? I had watched Reno 911!, with its dramatized police vs. citizen story lines, and hilariously out of place bicycle police officer, and that was essentially my knowledge of the city. Bear with me, this gets to cars and history.
Anyways, back to Reno. After living there for a little more than four years, I can say with certainty; that show is much more a documentary than the comedy people think it is. Not only do the citizens live up to their character counterparts, within my first five minutes within the city, I realized the bicycle officers are very real. While the officers are real, the muscles and slightly longer shorts differentiate them from the non-scary Lt. Dangle. While more intimidating than the L.T. from Reno 911!, there is no denying that the bicycle helmets and tight pedal shorts detract from their “law-man” vibe.
For years, I walked around downtown—the bike cops domain—with a slightly bemused opinion of the officers. This all changed one night, as I sat in my friends downtown, 12th floor apartment. Hearing a bang, we went to look out the window. While it was probably a fire cracker, the noise had awoken it. The Swarm. Everywhere, left and right, bicycle officers started pumping their way out of alleyways, and from down the street.
Soon, 6-7 officers were circling the area, looking for the source. While I’ll never know if they found the perp, they did accomplish one thing: I certainly had a new-found respect for them. What does this have to do with cars, especially the extra-old one featured in the header? Well, while I may be one of the few drivers with a respect for bicycle officers, I am sure that the first convicted speeder—the driver of that very car, which is the vehicle of his law-breaking—shared this respect. This is because one very dedicated bicycle is the first officer to issue the said ticket.
The story of this speeding infraction is an interesting one. In the very early days of the car—when the years started with 18 instead of 19—Benz Motorcarriages, such as the Velo, were the kings of the road. To help distribution around the world, they would often contract with smaller, local engineering firms to build their cars. In the case of the south of England, this fell to the Arnold Motor Company. Led by a father and double-son team, the AMC (confusing I know, but let’s work with it) offered Benz’s for three years, 1896-1898, albeit with a powerplant of their own design.
The details of this powerplant are sparse, as only 12 Arnold’s were made. Chances are it had a single-cylinder engine producing less than 5hp, likely derived from an agricultural application as that was the Arnold’s background. As the advertisement claims, this still allowed speeds in excess of 15mph. This claim proved to be put to the test by one of the sons, Walter Arnold, who was spotted driving through the roads of England at “speed”.
In 1896, when Walter was tootling around the Isles, the driving laws were very, very, primitive. Speeds were limited at 2mph, with each automobile requiring a man with a red flag to both warn traffic ahead of them, and pace them through traffic.
Walter didn’t have time for any of that it seems, because as he was spotted without a flag bearer, veritably flying through the countryside, at a reported 8mph. Breaking the speed laws to such a degree warranted a pursuit by the local police force. After a local bicycle officer was sent to both attempt an intercept and to measure his speed, Mr. Arnold was stopped. I could not find out exactly how his speed was measured—obviously radar was not invented, and even watches were not common—but he was probably simply paced by the chasing officer.
After Walter was tried and charged, to the princely sum of one shilling plus court costs, he earned the dubious title of the first driver convicted for a speeding infraction. Despite this loss, Walter was more than likely satisfied by the new laws adopted in England one year later—the Locomotives Act raised the speed limit to 12mph and did away with the flag bearer. Hurray!
People of the time also shared my jubilation, and probably felt it 1000x over. To celebrate the newly relaxed laws, a race was held between London and Brighton, involving any car which can drive. Walter Arnold received a Gold medal, which probably made the cost of a shilling easier to swallow. This race continued, and continued, and continued, all the way to the current day, where it is run by the Royal Automobile Club, to start the Concourse de’ Elegance. Only pre-1905 cars are allowed to run, and it has been renamed the Veteran Car Run, but the uninterrupted run of the race makes it the longest continually-run automobile race.
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.