Edison Dye – The father of American Motocross

Biography of M. Edison Dye
By Edison Dye

I was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa on May 10, 1918. My father was a cameraman who took pictures; my mother was a telephone operator. She did a lot of business with the railroad. I moved to St. Joseph, MO and then my mother worked for a big tile factory. By then my father was an insurance man. I still remember going to Kansas City and seeing Eddie Peabody on the banjo – he was the best. By then my father was a schoolteacher.

My uncle Joe and family had moved to Los Angeles, CA. My uncle Joe was the biggest foreman and he was in charge of building the sewer system for Los Angeles. He came to St. Joseph and brought my mother and I out west to Los Angeles. My father went to Denver. I still remember going over the wooden road across the desert between Yuma and El Centro.

I graduated from Hoover High School in San Diego and then started college at San Diego State in 1937. I studied Aeronautical Engineering. Soon it became apparent that builders were becoming more in demand. I worked for Doug Corrigan – “Wrongway Corrigon” at Ryan School of Aeronautics. He used to fly my friend Jim Fowble and I to Mojave Dry Lake where they had hot rod races. My roadster once made the speed of 137 miles per hour. I had a Cragger head with dual wind field carburetors. Later on I went to work for Solar Aircraft and became one of the best fitters in the business. Joel Thorne, who held a world speed record, had equipment better than the Army or the Navy. The whole shell would go on his car with 20 S fasteners. His car was a beautiful sight. Joel Thorne was called “The Gentleman Driver” and has been the only person to start an Indy 500 race and stop in 3 laps to pick up his driving gloves. Art Sparks worked for Joel Thorne. He built an engine that held the track record for 5 years. During the war, Joel got vertigo over Los Angeles and dove straight into the ground. Joe Gonzales also worked for Joel Thorne and was one of the best engine mechanics at the time and one of my best friends. Joel Thorne and Howard Hughes were both Texas millionaires, whose fathers; made their money in oil. Claude Adams was the world’s finest aluminum body builder. He had me go to start a factory like Solar with a special manifold that I could build. American tanks could run under water as long as the exhaust and intake was above the water. The manifolds were waterproof. So I duplicated the Solar Factory in Texas for Gulberson Diesel Engine. The first week I was in Texas, World War II started, Sunday, December 7th, 1941. My wife’s uncle won the Dole Pineapple Race to be the first plane to make it to Hawaii. His name was Colonel Art Goebel. He was married to a Jergens lotion heir. He won $25,000 prize money – in those days that was a lot of money.

The Vice President of Solar became a personnel director at the new Consolidated Vultee plant in Fort Worth, TX. He was after me to help him build B-24 bombers for the Army. I still remember a concrete slab 2 miles long in the middle of Texas as they asked me if I could build a pilots floor. At that time, I would try anything! I said yes I could. Well, the floors turned out to be 1 _” too narrow so the first B24 flew was built 1 _” too narrow. At top production we build a bomber an hour. I had 1500 planes in yard and flight waiting for me to perfect the making and installment of the front turret. The sheet alum could only be .20 thousandth out of round; otherwise the turret would not spin that easy. I was General Foreman of fuselage nose and Bombay. At the wars end I had 7,500 employees.

So I was General Forman of Dept. 43, B-24 nose and General Foreman Dept 63 Fuselage B-32 that was built to the end of the war.

Shortly after the end of the war, I quit my job and went home to help my mother. She was a very aggressive and hard worker. I take after her. I got the idea to have a tour in Europe, to see the world. My first tour was with English bikes – BSA Matchless and Triumph ending on the Isle of Man for the big TT races. The races impressed me so much I had to go again. In the meantime I had bought a BMW R695 – the fastest bike they had at the time. On a Harley if I rode from Indio to El Centro my hands would be numb, with the BMW’s, no vibration. It was a comfortable bike to ride so I decided to go the BMW route, so when I was in Germany I looked for something to take back to pay some of my expenses.

I tried Zundapp – they were a co-op during the war. They built a massive 3-wheel machine gun and cannon mounted big sidecar rig. They also built small motorcycles – 50cc, 75cc, 100 & 125cc. The 125 was very good. Sometimes with a light rider they would beat a Husky 250 in moto-cross. They were a good company.

I had heard some about the Husqvarna in Sweden, so I called the factory and made an appointment with them in Copenhagen, Denmark. We had a meeting and they agreed to sell me two bikes – one to ride in competition and one to show. I took them back to the states. I had seen Malcolm Smith ride at the track, a circular one in El Cajon. So I went to see him in Riverside. He me with me, I told him about Husqvarna, he said fine, but he rode a Greeves. I won’t back out, but I will try your bike out and let you know how good it is. WE went up in the hills. Malcolm was gone a long time, when he came back he had a funny little smile that only Malcolm has. He said, great bike, I want to try it Sunday at a desert race. He came in 1st – 22 minutes ahead of the 2nd place man. After that Malcolm became one of my best riders. He rode for me: I think 6 years at least. Malcolm is the best long distance rider in the world.

The first year, I sold 100 bikes. The second year, I sold 500 bikes, then a thousand. I only sold my 500 bikes to selected riders. I thought about how I could make my sales better. I had seen motocross in Europe. The 2nd year I brought Lars Larsson over from Sweden. The plan I had was Lars would race the bike and demonstrate the bike. I would have trailer full of Husky’s to sell. If this worked, fine. I had three pick-ups around the country. I would fly from one to the other; 1 for the East, 1 for the Mid-West and I for the West. Lars was a great rider. He had a great personality and helped me a lot. He tried very hard. I was traveling in Europe with Torsten Hallman. We spent the week in Praque, Czechoslovakia and the week racing in Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. I got the idea; why not bring the top riders to America after their season ended. I would pay them all good, but have little prize money – only enough to make it interesting. So I paid their airfare, good appearance money, and a little prize money. The first year, I brought over Torsten Hallman for a nine race series and he won all 23 motos. The second year, 1967, I brought six riders: Joel Robert, Torsten Hallman, Roger DeCoster, Dave Bickers, Arne Kring, and Ake Johnson. There was no competition. When they passed the first turn, you could throw a blanket and cover all 6. Roger DeCoster was my favorite rider. He always had so much style and fancy jumps. The next year we brought 20 riders including the Husqvarna Racing Team. We were on our way. The date of our first Trans Am moto-cross at Pepperell, Mass. was 1967 in the fall. The last lap Torsten rode the whole lap on one wheel to show the guys how it was done. They Torsten went on to Kennewick, WA to ride in a special cross-country race that he won. The first race started in Massachusetts and the last in Hawaii at the Naval Air base. One year we went to Tahiti, one in Canada near Hamilton, my daughter ran that one.

In 1967 the Husqvarna factory and I started a company to take over the import and promotion of the bikes. At that time I started International Accessories and came up with several products that would provide better protection for the riders – such as chest pads, knee and elbow pads which I bought from Jofa in Sweden. They are a big company that provided protective wear to hockey players. I looked at it and saw the usefulness for the motocross riders.

After several years of International Accessories I woke up one day and decided to lock up my business and stop racing and not have anything to do. I had spent the biggest part of my life racing on the weekends, selling bikes during the week and pushing my products during the week and Holidays. I had had enough. I would retire now. I have been everywhere, done everything and as I look back on my life, I wouldn’t change a thing. I did the best I could under the conditions for moto-cross.

This bio was written for Edison by Edison’s long-time employee and friend Heather Brigham in late October of 1999 for publishing at the White Brothers World Veteran Motocross Championship were Edison would receive the Lifetime Motocross Achievement Award.

Images are property of The Early Years of Motocross Museum