The Widowmaker hill was so steep that no one had gotten to the top on a motorcycle, though that would change the year Bruce and Malcolm visited.
Words by Mitch Boehm
Photos courtesy of the Bruce Brown and Malcolm Smith archives
Malcolm’s mother Elizabeth was born and grew up in Provo, Utah, just 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, and while Malcolm grew up in San Bernardino, California, he spent several summers in Utah working for his uncles. All of which made Malcolm and Bruce’s trip to Salt Lake City for the annual Widowmaker hillclimb a comfortable affair – though he didn’t stay long.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy my Widowmaker adventure,” Malcolm told me with a laugh. “I came up the night before, and came back the evening of the next day. Hey, I had to work!”
The Widowmaker hill, which lies at the southern edge of the Salt Lake valley (you can still see grooves in the hillside 50 years later), was so steep that no one had gotten to the top on a motorcycle, though that would change the year Bruce and Malcolm visited. Mike Gibbon from Grants Pass, Oregon, rode a modified 750 Triumph hillclimber with chains on the rear tire and nitro-methane fuel in the tank into the history books with his stirring afternoon run to the top. Which Bruce’s cameraman was there to record.
Malcolm’s day was memorable for several reasons…getting farther up the hill than any other production bike, riding his Husky down the hill when everyone else bulldogged theirs down and, most famously, forgetting to turn the petcock on in his first run, and running out of gas a few hundred feet up the hill. “I really did forget,” he told me. “It wasn’t Bruce telling me to create some drama!”