A few lines from the review in the Belfast
Telegraph, 24 July 2003, by motorcycling correspondent David
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...
(the Magazine of the Norton Owners Club) by the editor
Dr. George Cohen, Nov/Dec 2003:-
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are many previously unpublished pictures of McCandless and his brother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
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.
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
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
in letters and e-mails from readers:
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.
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...
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...
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
on the wonderful book you have published on the great Rex McCandless.
It is worthy of the man...
for a really excellent book...
have read the book (borrowed from a friend) and I must have a copy for
my own library....
M.D.R. (Pa. USA)
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...
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)
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.
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)
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
have been absolutely fascinated by your book and all the R.McC [Rex
McCandless] / Ferguson [correspondence]...
MANY THANKS FOR THE EXCELLENT BOOK