Reviews etc.,
To Make A Better Mousetrap

A few lines from the review in the Belfast Telegraph, 24 July 2003, by motorcycling correspondent David Neely:-

R.L. (Leslie) Jennings who worked with Rex on a number of projects has written a book tracing the Co. Antrim man’s career, warts and all, and for this we are indebted to him.   The book,  "To Make A Better Mousetrap" - a Biography of the Remarkable Rex McCandless, - shows both sides of Rex and documents his tempestuous relationship with Harry Ferguson, the Ulster-born tractor magnate...

Leslie worked on the book as a labour of love and also to set the record straight.  He wrote, designed and had it published himself...


From “Roadholder” (the Magazine of the Norton Owners Club) by the editor
Dr. George Cohen, Nov/Dec 2003:-

‘Genius, eccentric, mercurial, argumentative, bombastic’ are words which have been used to describe Rex McCandless, the designer of the ‘Featherbed’ frame.  But what was he really like?  What of his background and engineering training?

The author, an engineer who worked with McCandless and knew him for forty years has now put down his spanners and taken up the pen to write a superb book.  There are many previously unpublished pictures of McCandless and his brother Cromie, Artie Bell, Joe Craig, Ray Amm and some shots of the prototype featherbed frame which I have never seen before.   The book is essential reading for any Norton enthusiast and I particularly enjoyed the detailed account of how Rex and his team developed ‘The Mule’ (a four wheel drive ‘jeep’ powered by a Dommie engine) in association with the Ulster born tractor magnate, Harry Ferguson.   The correspondence between Rex and Ferguson is so remarkable that it is hard to believe that it is actually fact and not fiction! 

Make sure you ask Father Christmas to put a copy in his bag...


Some extracts from the review in the Vintage Sports Car Bulletin:-

This biography of Rex McCandless can be read for a number of different reasons.  It can be read to try to understand and appreciate a famous, brilliant but flawed human being.  One could also read it to obtain an appreciation and understanding of the way things were made in the time before computers and controlling accountants.  The text also gives an insight into the characters that shaped the motorcycle industry before the Japanese took over.  There are a number of developed references to famous individuals like Freddie Dixon, Artie Bell, Tony Rolt and many others.... It is well researched, and follows a chronological progression through the projects of this remarkable man.  It starts with a background of poverty that was overcome with uncommon intelligence, hard work, determination and self-belief.  The narrative progresses from early modifications to production motorcycles, through the development of original ideas into the famous ‘Featherbed’ frame and new concepts on swinging arm rear suspensions, hydraulic dampers, aerodynamics, the creation of a four-wheel drive 500cc racing car and an all-terrain vehicle.  Rex McCandless invented a controlled way of making bricks.  He also designed and manufactured the McCandless autogyro.

Mr Jennings writes affectionately and from first hand knowledge about a person, who, although flawed, was special.  I was left with the impression that Rex displayed bravado rather than confidence, and felt a deep and sensitive need to be appreciated. I feel there is a little of Rex McCandless in all of us; the only ingredients missing are his determination, energy, selfishness and talent.

I enjoyed reading the book;  it represents good value for money, and can be recommended to anyone who likes mechanical things or can appreciate the struggles of a truly creative individual.

H.I.


Ulsterman Tommy Robb, (one-time works rider for Honda, Yamaha and Bultaco) writing in Classic Racer March/April 2004...

...Last Autumn my friend Noel Orr sent me a copy of a most interesting book.  This book was written by the man who joined Rex McCandless and Artie Bell as their draughtsman, - R.L. Jennings.   The tale relates the life of Rex McCandless and his own days working with Rex and Cromie and Artie in one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.  Called “To Make A Better Mousetrap”, it give a terrific insight into Rex’s thinking and the development of four wheeled drive vehicle(s), plus his wonderful Autogyro... ...This book is definitely worth a place in anyone’s library. Watch Classic Racer for more details on this magnificent publication...

...This book is a must for motorcycle enthusiasts, so go get it....”To Make A Better Mousetrap”


Book Review: - kindly provided by Roger Moss of Moss Engineering.   September 2005

"To Make a Better Mousetrap"

It is a biography of Rex McCandless, best known as the inventor of the motorbike frame that became known as the featherbed.   The story goes from the childhood events that helped to further mould a character that nature had already decreed as difficult.

It tells of racing, of developing frames, the relationship with Joe Craig.   It tells of the rift between Rex and Triumph, without which, Triumph might have had the Featherbed frame rather than Norton.   We read of four wheel drive racing cars and off road vehicles.   The development of a lightweight autogyro.

We read of characters involved such as, Artie Bell, Fred Dixon, Tony Rolt, Joe Craig, Harry Ferguson and many others. The account clearly illustrates the great natural understanding and ability of Rex McCandless to solve difficult and complex engineering problems with simplicity and elegance and yet his difficult character traits tried the patience of even his closest friends until he drove them away and died a bitter and lonely man. Perhaps in today's society he would have been judged as suffering from a form of autism.

I cannot quote the book size as I have loaned out my copy to a good friend who knew the likes of Artie Bell etc.   It is a good size book with pages of about A4 with good hard covers and plenty of unique photos.   It reminded me of the "Proper Books" we used to have, when "Made in England" was a statement of quality.

The author is R L Jennings, who worked with Rex McCandless as a design engineer and thus most of the information and photos are from first hand experience.

The book (reference ISBN 0-9534628-1-1) is published by Jennings Publishing and costs 20.


...and in letters and e-mails from readers:

... I have just finished the book on Rex McCandless and would take this opportunity to congratulate you on providing us with one of the most interesting and informative books on the life and times of a unique Ulsterman as well as an insight into the people who were associated directly or indirectly with Rex during his lifetime.

Your recall of events is amazing and this will enable readers in the future to get a feel for the period and, in particular, to appreciate the work in which Rex and others including yourself were involved and which made such an impact on the world of engineering bearing in mind the limited facilities/equipment etc. available to you...

...Again, please accept my sincere thanks for producing such a beautifully written book.  It is a credit to you. Through it, Rex will be remembered for all time...

J.C.


While on holidays in ------'s Guest House [Co.Mayo] we came across a fascinating book entitled "To Make A Better Mousetrap".   My husband (an engineer) was enthralled with it.   He had time to read halfway through it - but, of course, couldn't take it home with him!... ...I would very much like to buy a copy for my husband's birthday... etc...

I.O'F (Mrs)


...Congratulations on the wonderful book you have published on the great Rex McCandless. It is worthy of the man...

H.H.


...Thanks for a really excellent book...

W.F.


...I have read the book (borrowed from a friend) and I must have a copy for my own library....

M.D.R. (Pa. USA)


...Please accept my sincere congratulations on an excellent book...It was an excellent read, written by someone who had really been there...For history's sake, it was good that it has been recorded...

G.S.


...I am writing to let you know that I received [my] copy some time ago and that I have been steadily enjoying it ever since.  The style, the layout and, of course, the story itself truly make for satisfying reading.  As is the case with books that sometimes rise to this level, I shall "ration" my reading time to extend the pleasure as much as possible.   Thanks very much for your authorship and your kind assistance in providing me with my much-cherished copy!

R.L.P. (VA. USA)


...it was a breath of fresh air reading your beautifully written and compassionate story of our generation of brilliant and strong personalities who shaped the motorcycle and car world in the 50’s both in design and accomplishment.

Rex McCandless and his loyal followers stand head and shoulders in that world of new ideas and engineering skill after the bleak days of W.W.2 and our hearts were with him when the Featherbed Norton arrived and showed the way to us all.  I congratulate you for all the work you’ve put into creating this massive book and bringing the characters together.  The book will always remind me of great days and what it was like to be young then !...

>L.H. (N.Y. USA)


Dear Mr Jennings

I have never written before to an author of any type, but having read and re-read your excellent book “To Make a Better Mousetrap” many times, having recommended it to many friends... etc.,

...I have been absolutely fascinated by your book and all the R.McC [Rex McCandless] / Ferguson [correspondence]...  etc.,  etc.,

AGAIN MANY THANKS FOR THE EXCELLENT BOOK

>Yours

D.C. >


July 2013

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