Oshkosh Nebraska and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb

The small town of Oshkosh Nebraska (population 884), has a unique tie to the hill climb race and a local artist Lauren Olson has just finished one of her murals to honor it’s past.

Artist and teacher.

Lauren Olsen is a graduate of the University of Nebraska and Art Educator with the Garden County School District, teaching K-12 students, and has been ushering a new era of  “Art in the Community” around the Oshkosh area. One of her murals finished in June of this year is helping to teach the history of a local family.

Check out Lauren at her website to see more of her other work.


Pikes Peak and King Rhiley Sr.

Yes, “King” was really his first name, but he also was called the “King of the dirt track speed demons” for his domination of the early racing in western Nebraska. His racing career started in 1912 at the Box County Fair after becoming an Oakland automobile dealer in Oshkosh. He would go on to win over 50 races in the next 16 years.

His first trip to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb came in 1921. By the time he was ready for the hill climb, he was a Hudson Motor Company agent and brought a highly modified Hudson Super Six to the Peak. There would be three races called “Events”, in 1921. King was entered in the last event number 3, for the non-stock cars with engine displacements over 300 cubic inches. The largest payout of $500 and the Penrose trophy was given to the winner of this race. During the 5-6 practice runs taken by Rhiley his tires were in dire need of replacement. By a triumph of good sportsmanship, the Lexington Motor Company who was the previous year winning team provided King Rhiley with the tires he would need on race day from there own inventory. Pikes Peak was known to put a year worth of wear on a cars tires during one race run. On race day King would be the fastest of all events, with a time of  19:16 and besting the times of both Lexington team drivers racing in event number 2, on their own tires.


At the finish line at the summit of Pikes Peak in 1921. King Rhiley in his Hudson Super Six
Colorado Springs Hudson dealership advertisement 1921. King Rhiley

 King Rhiley at the 1922 and 1923  PPHC

The word was out, thanks to King Rhiley’s efforts, oval dirt track race cars could be competitive at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The large manufactures with their big heavy cars and large race support teams were in trouble. Another Nebraskan dirt track driver, Noel Bullock would also be racing against King Rhiley in 1922. (Check my other posts for more info on Noel Bullock)  Both drivers had very light weight, stripped down cars, who some would call jalopies or even freak cars.  The facts would show that those lighter cars with better horsepower to weight ratio would lead to faster times climbing Pikes Peak.  King Rhiley was again running in the main event number three and would take first place with a time of 20:05, but Noel Bullock , in event number one with a time of 19:50 would have the fastest time of the day,taking the overall 1922 win. That made it two years in a row that an independent driver with a stripped down car took the glory.

The big teams were screaming after two years of embarrassment, things would have to change in 1923. Rules were added that require cars to meet a MINIMUM weight for each class. That didn’t bother either Nebraskan drivers, they would gladly add additional weights to their cars to complaint with the changes.  When that rule change didn’t keep certain drivers out, last minute efforts were taken to remove them. Just days before the race, the A.A.A. (American Automobile Association), who was the ruling body for the Pikes Peak race, blacklisted both King Rhiley and Noel Bullock for running in unsanctioned racing events. Many of the smaller dirt oval tracks in the Midwest at the time were running without the AAA blessings due to the high membership cost. If drivers wanted into a AAA event, they had to agree not to race in any unsanctioned racing contests. With the last minute barring, and with little time remaining to protest, it effectively kept both drivers out of the 1923 PPHC. Records will show their entries were accepted but later changed to withdrawals. Neither would ever race Pikes Peak again. The politics of racing at Pikes Peak, sadly, will show it’s dark side a few times more over the years.

Back to the Mural !

As you can see the left side is King Rhiley and his Hudson at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the right side is his son King Rhiley II. and his Piper.

Lauren Olson mural in Oshkosh Nebraska

King Rhiley II

King Rhiley Jr was born just a few days before his farther won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race in September 1921. He is known as a daredevil who drove fast cars and was pilot.  Rancher, farmer, real estate broker and appraiser, but mostly known as the manager of the Oshkosh Municipal Airport and aerial crop dusting, logging more than 20,000 hours of flying. The locals knew him as a gifted pilot who known for buzzing his friends with in his airplane and on occasion landing on the nearby dirt roads to take much needed bathroom break while crop dusting. He was also a hot rodder. When not working he could be found working on cars and tinkering with airplane parts. The family building the mural is painted on, had one of the early Clayton Dynamometers used for measuring automotive horsepower, mounted into the floor. A true hot rodder’s tool  (Notice the ” Rhiley’s Dyno Service” sign on the building front on the first photograph). The aircraft in the mural  is King Rhiley Jr’s Piper Pawnee Spray plane.

Thank you !

The idea of recording local history in the form a mural is a wonderful thing to do. It will help develop dialogue between kids, families, neighbors and people passing through town and at the same time honoring the generations of those who have gone before us. Lauren Olson and the Rhiley family have done a great job keeping history alive and Pikes Peak Hill Climb fans from around the world thank you !




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