Ninety years ago, this November, 24-year-old motorcycle messenger and Capitol Hill resident Clifford Amsbury made a heroic and dangerous ride over Snoqualmie Pass during a major storm to save a life of an injured gold miner. His ride captured attention far and wide. (this story was originally featured Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts news)
The Call Came In
On November 6, 1929, the phone rang at the Rubenstein’s pharmacy in Seattle’s Cobb Building. On the line was Dr. W. A. Taylor of Ellensburg forlornly calling for three tubes of poly-anaerobic antitoxin in hopes of treating 53-year old gold miner Frank Walter Sagar. Sagar’s left leg had been crushed in a mine cave-in near Blewett Pass and the town of Liberty, WA. His condition was made worse by
not being able to reach the hospital until 12 hours later, and a severe gangrene infection had developed in Frank’s body. Physicians had telephoned dispensaries throughout the state for the proper lifesaving serum. His life hung in the balance and Dr. Taylor at Ellensburg General Hospital was holding constant watch over the dying man. The weather prohibited any airplane from take-off and in the pass a violent storm was raging. At one o'clock the call came in that messenger Clifford Amsbury was holding in his hand the only hope for saving Sagar’s life--a small package of the needed serum. Amsbury mounted his motorcycle sidecar and left Seattle’s downtown Rubenstein Pharmacy at the Cobb Building on 4th Avenue and began what the Seattle Star newspaper described as “CYCLIST IN DEATH DASH...Rider Speeds Over Cascades with Serum.”
At 12:30 PM He Started the Ride
Amsbury rode up the tree-fringed highway of the rugged Snoqualmie Pass, across the western slope of the Cascades through snow lined roads, and down the rock-edged eastern side. The motorcycle rider rode his machine as fast as it would go at speeds estimated at 50-70 miles per hour. Helped by a message sent from the highway patrol about the mission and a deputy's badge obtained from Capt. Owen and Sheriff Bannick who telephoned ahead, Amsbury defied life in his wild ride to save the life of another, a patient who was hovering near death. Dr Taylor and others had virtually abandoned all hope as Clifford’s sidecar slid up to the hospital and he leapt off and climbed the dozen or so steps and swung open the hospital door with the serum in hand. The time was 3:15 only two- and three-quarter hours had passed by and over 100 miles of mother earth had passed under his motorcycle.
Sagar improved over the next ten days after being given the serum following the amputation of his leg. But his gallant fight would end when at dawn’s light at seven o’clock in the morning on November 20, 1929 he passed away.
Clifford Amsbury returned over Snoqualmie Pass that night and rode home to his 19-year-old wife Mary Jane and their apartment at 1427 East Pike Street on Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA. He still worked at the Rubenstein’s Pharmacy when he died less than two years later from Lobar Pneumonia, an infection in his right middle finger knuckle and acute appendicitis for which he was operated on. He was just 27 years old. Like miner Frank Sagar, Amsbury does not have any marker over his burial plot in the Madrona Section of Acacia Memorial Park, 14951 Bothell Way NE, Seattle. This will change as his remarkable ride for life will be remembered and commemorated with our ride and the support of our local motorcycling community.
Become part of Northwest Motorcycling History
Join us in a “Re-creation of a Motorcycle Messenger's Ride for Life, 1929-2019"
The sponsors are from groups associated with the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling, the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiast (VME), and the Kittitas County Historical Museum.
On November 9, 2019, we hope to raise enough funds to place a grave marker for both the gold miner and the motorcyclist, both of whom have no grave stone, just grass covering their resting places. Our goal is about $4500 to cover the cost. We propose to have a GoFundMe page and a drawing at the end of the event in Ellensburg.
We will start the day at 9am with registration in Snoqualmie, WA at the Black Dog Café with breakfast, orientation and safety talk. No later than 10:15-10:30 we will start our ride over the pass using as many of the original roads as possible. In 1929 it was Highway 10 and dirt sections still remain though very unimproved. Around 1:15 the riders will gather on Dry Creek Road at the Holy Cross Cemetery off Old Highway 10 for the dedication at Frank Sagar’s grave. The engraving on the headstone has been prepared by Rick Oswald at his Cutting-Edge Glass Studio. At 2:15 pm we arrive at Cornerstone Pie in Ellensburg and will enter the restaurant through the same doors of the General Hospital that swung open ninety years ago with the precious serum. Cornerstone has the original doors and some interior furnishings from the General Hospital from that time. At 3:15 the exact time of Clifford Amsbury’s entrance we will have a toast to his ride. Come and join us for the celebration. Remember to pre-register with us so we can be prepared.
For all you have done Thank You
Many thanks to Sadie Thayer and the staff of the Kittitas County Historical Museum and members of the Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling for their vision and guidance. Tom Samuelsen, Jack Mackey, Doug Earle, Jeff Earle, Rick Oswald, Pete Sorenson and Ellensburg motorcyclist Beryl Kelly. The encouragement from everyone in the genealogy staff at the main branch of the Seattle Public Library is greatly appreciated.
Thank You and ride safe,
Pacific Northwest Museum of Motorcycling
* Look for updates at: https://www.facebook.com/events/2935871499762883/ *
** Details of the GoFundMe campaing are at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/majfx9-epic-motorcycle-delivery-of-serum-headstones **