The Fettler

Issue No. 3

The Official Newsletter of the Hurley-Pugh Owners & Enthusiasts Club


Fettler index


Hurley-Pugh's particularly interesting and innovative 1938 steering damper design

Alaric Pugh came up with an interesting steering damper design circa 1938, intended to bestow power steering to his fine but, dare we say it, slightly heavy machines, as well as damp any hint of a tankslapper. Although H-Ps in factory trim never exhibited such careless behaviour, the contemporary habit of owners burdening their machines with any item that required transportation, had led to a small number of accidents that, thanks to the excitable nature of irresponsible journalists, created much bad publicity. The public, it seemed, expected to be able to carry anything from an obese wife to a double wardrobe, in complete safety, at racing speeds, on uneven roads, and whilst piloting over half a ton of classic motorcycle with one hand securing their load to the pillion.

Alaric's solution to this knotty problem consisted of a pair of tubular springs of the exact design used in the earliest Bullworker personal exerciser, tethered to the luggage rack atop the petrol tank at one end, and the handlebars at the other, and both permanently under tension. It was hoped that as the bar was turned, the extension of one spring would be nearly balanced by the relaxation of the other, with a null effect. Though in fact early trials established that the extending spring exerted more force, thereby assisting countersteering - a useful servo effect, in fact, albeit one that was quickly discovered to present its own challenge whilst negotiating hairpins.

However, as always Alaric was not one to settle for a compromise, and embellished the prototype by adding sliding tracks for the spring attachments at the handlebar ends. Whilst this allowed the spring under most tension to move inboard as the bars were turned, thereby reducing its opposition to rider input and making tight corners again possible, there were unwanted side effects. The worst of which was the tendency of the extended spring to snap inwards in a most disconcerting fashion, often pitching the rider into the nearside kerb. This was plainly unsatisfactory, and after a couple of minor skull-fractures to less experienced junior testers, the rails were restored to Sir John's boardroom bay window. Instead, the springs were tethered to spring-loaded bellcranks beneath the bars, with small thumbwheel friction dampers on the pivots - a near-ideal arrangement which gave spring assistance to steering and provided damping too.

Sadly, this promising prototype never made it into production. With Alaric's encouragement, one of the Scunthorpe apprentices, a plucky and muscular if not especially academic lad from the power press shop, decided to show off his "monowheeling" prowess in the proving yard one summer lunchtime. Watched by a small gaggle of upholstery girls enjoying their usual repast of turnip sandwiches, young Ethan Thwitethwaite gunned the motor and lofted the big single on high. It must be borne in mind that "wheelying" an H-P was never easy thanks to the substantial dimensions, and that he managed it at all on greasy cobbles created a frisson of excited attention amongst the attractively bovine audience.

Their delight proved, as so often the case, to be short-lived: as the front wheel crashed back to earth, the two semi-extended steel springs unhooked from the handlebar bellcranks and sliced backward like a giant steel scissor into the youth's groin, a gelding which was to prove beyond the medical assistance which Alaric, a trained Knights of Beladonna Ambulanceman, rushed to offer. Pugh recorded his personal feelings of loss and responsibility for this mutilation "of a beautiful boy with so much to look forward to" in his private memoire.

From that day on, he abandoned the design, believing a device that offered castration as an alternative to crashing would in all probability have little consumer appeal. Furthermore, Pugh was considerably distressed by the harshness of Sir John's refusal to allow the distraught upholstery women to fashion a prosthesis for the lad from saddle leather. Indeed, old JH's "just sack the cripple" remark is believed by some historians to mark a major turning point in the hitherto reciprocal warm cordiality between JH and Alaric Pugh, a falling-out that was to have severe ramifications for all at H-P in the darkest days of industrial unrest that were shortly to blight that once happy company, almost until war broke out in 1939.

by "Tizer"

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