Walter Charles Torode: master builder, master motorcyclist

The Motor Cycle Club of South Australia
An early gathering of members of the M.C.C. of S.A... From the left W.H. Davey, J.H. Gilbert, C.R. Churchward, C.H. Hepworth (in forecar), W. Sampson (driver of forecar), J.H. Linke, J.R. Cope (in car), W.C. Torode, W. Allnutt, H.R. Corpe, J. Bannigan, D.W. Bruce. Exact date unknown, but c1911.

Walter C. Torode (1858 – 1937) was a master builder, responsible for some significant public buildings and a number of fine residences in and around Adelaide. His principal public works included the Elder Conservatorium at Adelaide University, St. Peter's Cathedral Lady Chapel, St. Peter's Cathedral spires, the Adelaide Stock Exchange, the Angas and Campbell buildings of the Children's Hospital, Pulteney Grammar School, Unley Town Hall, and the King Edward VII statue on North Terrace. (Those seeking distraction should head for the State Library of South Australia and browse photos such as B 22255, B 22148 and B 16501 showing the Cathedral before, during and after Torode's spires.)

When the practical motor age arrived in 1902, Torode embraced motorcycling with enthusiasm and in about October 1903 he purchased his first motor cycle. His first machine was made to order at the McHenry Street factory of the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works and was powered by a 2 h.p. Minerva engine; the “big” clip-on (75 x 75 mm) with atmospheric inlet and rear-facing exhaust. By contrast, most Lewis machines of the day were powered by the 2 h.p. (66 x 70 mm) Minerva clip-on with both valves mechanically operated. He was to use this machine almost daily for the next two years. With a keen sense of promotion (whether for himself or for motorcycling is not clear) Torode wrote and had published a number of articles recounting his motoring exploits.

In 1903, Torode’s major project was the construction of the spires on St. Peter’s Cathedral. Living at the time in Aldgate in the Adelaide Hills, he reported that he could reach home from the Cathedral in 50 minutes, travelling by the Eagle-on-the-Hill Road. Anyone familiar with the Adelaide hills would be impressed by the ability of the machine to climb the hill at all, not to mention the commendable speed.

As well as visiting the Cathedral site in North Adelaide, Torode made many visits to his quarry at Burdett just north of Murray Bridge, the source of the stone for the project. On November 17, 1903, Torode reported that he left Aldgate at the same time as the train for the south-east, and managed to beat it into Murray Bridge. The 39 miles was covered in “a trifle under two hours”. On another visit on February 10, 1904, Torode motored from Aldgate to Murray Bridge in two hours, and then boarded the paddle steamer “Tyro” with his machine for the 14-mile trip up river to Burdett. The return trip was north to the Mannum ferry boat, across the river to Mannum, then back to Aldgate. Total distance by motorcycle was over 100 miles, covered in six hours at a cost of 2/-. In 1913 when he recounted this story he added the detail that the bike was loaded onto a dray at Burdett “on account of two miles of sandy soil which had to be crossed” before motoring to Mannum. He also recounted the difficulty of holding the machine upright on the flat-bottomed boat on which he crossed the river at Mannum: “I nearly lost the cycle and myself, too.”

Not content with daily riding as part of his work, Torode also competed in reliability trials and hill climbs. In April 1905, he joined in a two-day reliability trial to Victor Harbor and return on day one, and Mannum and return on the next. Other participants were Tom O’Grady and Murray Aunger in Lewis cars and Vivian Lewis in an 8 h.p. Rover car. Napier Birks (best known for his association with Motors, Limited, but briefly managing director at Vivian Lewis, Limited in 1923) rode a 3 h.p. Rover motor cycle, and Netter and Jackson rode Lewises.

In about September 1905, Torode purchased a 2 h.p. water-cooled Lewis motorcycle. On October 10, he wrote to Lewis pleased with his new machine, which was “the first, I understand, of this type turned out from your factory”. He had already made ten climbs to Mt Lofty station at an average speed of 20 m.p.h., and was suitable impressed with its hill-climbing ability. This machine was later registered number 8 when compulsory registration was introduced in South Australia in September 1906.

Possible the Torode Lewis? This photo, taken inside the Lewis factory in Molton Street in late 1905 or early 1906, shows a 2 1/2 h.p. Minerva of the same type as Torode's first Lewis. Given that Torode took delivery of his new water cooled Lewis in around September 1905, we might speculate that this is indeed his earlier machine.

On December 11, 1905, Torode rode his Lewis to Anlaby Station, home of the well known Dutton family. Leaving Adelaide at 5:40 a.m. he reached Anlaby at 8:45 a.m. and was able the deliver copies of the morning newspaper The Register of the same day. A fortnight earlier, he had travelled Morgan – Adelaide in 6 h 15 m for the 104 miles. Torode completed a number of projects for Henry Dutton at Anlaby, including a slaughterhouse (still standing) and a bridge in reinforced concrete, a novel technique for the time.

On December 16, 1905, Torode rode his Lewis in a hill climb event on Norton Summit. Although the slowest of the five motorcycle competitors, his time was only 2 m 34 s down on the fastest time, set by Norman Jackson on his water-cooled Lewis. If Torode’s machine was the first production model of the water-cooled Lewis, Jackson’s was arguably the prototype, featuring an unusual radiator with round tubes, curved corners, and water entry from the rear. Neither of these machines, however, could claim to be the first water-cooled Lewis. Earlier in 1905, Lewis built two motor cycles – a 3 h.p. and a 3 h.p. – using De Dion Bouton water cooled motors.

In about November 1907, Torode sold his 1905 Lewis for 40 and purchased a 3 h.p. water-cooled Lewis motorcycle. The motor in the new machine – sourced from the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company in Wolverhampton – featured full mechanical operation of the valves, while the frame sported a leaf-spring front fork. Writing to Lewis in May 1909, he again expressed his delight with the machine, and estimated he had now covered 50,000 miles on his three Lewis motorcycles. The registration records suggest that this machine was registered number 622.

When Vivian Lewis, Limited purchased a new factory on Gawler Place South in 1909, it was not surprising that Torode was engaged to do alterations and additions. Adelaide City Council records give the value of the work at 500; Torode later recalled 775. Either way, it was a significant rather than large job: for comparison the contract for the Cathedral spires was valued at 9,000 and Torode later estimated his total contracts to exceed 250,000.

On January 5, 1910, Torode wrote in The Register extolling the “Delights of Early Morning Motoring”. Over seven years, he claimed to have covered over 30,000 miles without serious mechanical failure. He describes long runs, such as Adelaide to Morgan: “…the track from Sutherlands on to Morgan is a straight run over 30 miles”. Morgan to Adelaide via Anlaby Station was accomplished in 5 hours.

When the Motor Cycle Club of South Australia was formed in 1911, Torode became its first President, and around this time acquired his fourth and final Lewis. This machine was again a water-cooled, but by now engines were being sourced from F.E. Baker Ltd in Birmingham. This is the machine that he is standing with in the photograph at the top of the page: although the photo is a little murky, it seems he has managed to keep registration number "8" from his first water-cooled machine. Writing in The Mail, in September 1913, Torode, now Patron of the M.C.C, recounts many of his early experiences. “Vivian Lewis undoubtedly did more than any one else to introduce motor cycles, and the first ones I remember to have them were Messrs. O’Grady, Courtney, Norman Jackson and myself.” Regarding costs, he noted that he “… only dropped 40 on four machines”.

In his memoirs, written in 1931, Torode estimates that he covered 120,000 miles in total on his four Lewis motorcycles. The key to his success? He explains that he rarely exceeded 30 m.p.h..


Footnote: Given that Walter Torode used his Lewis motorcycles almost daily for something like ten years, it's unusual that so few photographs of him with his motorcycles survive. If you have in your collection a photo of a grey-haired gent astride a Lewis motorcycle registration 8 or 622, I'd love to hear from you!

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