C. K Shepherd.

Across America by motor-cycle online

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C. K.











All rights reserved

Printed in Great Britain
by Butler & Tanner, Frome and London



A few months after the Armistice of 1918 was signed,
when the talk of everyone concerned was either WHEN
they would be demobilized or what they would do when
they WERE demobilized, two young men were exchanging
views on this same subject in the heavy atmosphere
of a very ordinary hotel somewhere in London.

One was wondering how near, or how far, were the
days when he would see the old home-folks once again
" way back in Dixieland."

The other was wondering what form of dissipation
would be best suited to remove that haunting feeling
of unrest, which as a result of three or four years of
active service was so common amongst the youth of
England at that time.

" How about getting married ? " suggested the one.

Then followed a long pause, wherein the other was
evidently considering the pros and cons of such a unique

" Nothing doing," he replied eventually " not excit-
ing enough, old man." Another pause " And when I
come to think, I don't know of any girl who'd want to
marry me even if I wanted to marry her." And as if
to give a final decision to any proposal of that nature,
he added" Besides, I couldn't afford it ! "

" But I tell you what I will do, Steve," said he, " I'll
go back with you across yon herring-pond and have a
trot round America."


So that was how it happened.

Two or three months later, when I arrived at New
York from Canada, I purchased a motor-cycle and set
out to cross the continent to the Pacific, and I have it
on the best authority that this was the first time an
Englishman had ever accomplished the trip on a motor-
cycle. If it is so, I don't wonder at it !

The whole trip, which covered just fifty miles short
of 5,000, was undertaken quite alone, and although
spread over about three months, constituted a day or
two short of a month's actual riding. For the benefit
of brother motor-cyclists who may be interested in such
details I may add that I dispensed entirely with the
use of goggles from beginning to end, and except at stops
in large towns on the way I wore no hat. I think that
when the motor-cyclist gets accustomed to doing without
these encumbrances he will find the joys of motor-cycling
considerably enhanced.

The total number of replacements to the engine alone
comprised the following : Five new cylinders ; three
pistons ; five gudgeon pins ; three complete sets of
bearings ; two connecting rods, and eleven sparking plugs.

The machine was entirely overhauled on four occasions
between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and on three of
these by the recognized agents of the manufacturers.
The engine cut-out switch was the only part of the machine
that did not break, come loose, or go wrong sooner or
later. I was thrown off 142 times, and after that I stopped
counting ! Apart from that I had no trouble.

Contrary to what the reader may think, I paid con-
siderable care to the machine, particularly in the early
stages. For the first three hundred miles I barely ex-
ceeded twenty to twenty-five miles per hour in order


to give the machine a good " running-in " before submitting
it to harder work. At the end of the trip I had spent
more in repairs and replacements than the original cost
of the machine, and I sold it at San Francisco for just
over a quarter of the amount I paid for it three months

And I am still as keen a motor-cyclist as ever !

The machine was of the four-cylinder, air-cooled type,
and I have nothing but praise for the smooth running
that this type affords. I have ridden scores of machines
at one time and another, but never have I driven any
motor-cycle that for luxurious travel could I even com-
pare with the one mentioned in this narrative. As
regards reliability, however, I must leave the reader to
form his own opinion from the facts, which occurred
exactly as I have stated them. Nothing in this book
is set down in malice, and I can only hope that my case
was exceptional so far as the frequent breakdowns were
concerned. I must admit that the conditions were
exceptional and that anyone crossing the United States
on a motor-cycle might expect trouble sooner or later.

The reader may observe that I say little of tyre trouble
throughout the story. That is for two reasons : the
first is that there is nothing at all interesting in the
narrative of repairing a puncture, for instance; the
second is that I had very little trouble indeed to com-
plain of. With the smooth, even torque that is so char-
acteristic of four-cylinder engines, tyre trouble is easily
halved, and practically all that one has to fear is the
terrible condition of most of the roads. I arrived in San
Francisco with the same tyres as I had when I started, and
they were still good for several hundreds of miles more.

Petrol consumption, too, was excellent. Those who


have not known high-powered, four-cylinder motor-cycles
would probably think the consumption would be about
forty miles to the gallon. On the contrary, I found
my machine much more economical than the same-
powered V-twin. As far as I know I averaged about
75 m.p.g. " all on."

The journey was comparatively uneventful. I never
had to shoot anybody and nobody shot me ! In spite
of the relative wildness and barrenness of the West,
there were always food and petrol available in plenty.
I spent most nights at the side of the road and experienced
neither rheumatism nor rattlesnakes.

In the following pages I have endeavoured to portray
America and Americans exactly as I found them and as
they appealed to me. If at times I perchance may give
offence to any who are lovers of all and anything
American, I do it without intent. Suffice it to say
that before I went I had the highest opinion of anything
that came from that worthy country, so that it cannot
be claimed that I am one of those " Pro-British-every-
time " individuals who delight in criticizing other coun-
tries and other peoples in order to gratify their own sense
of national or other superiority.

Finally, I will ask the reader to be patient, or at any
rate, not over-critical when he or she may confess to
being bored. For the sake of making this a complete
record of my wanderings I have included that which
may lack interest, and as I can lay claim to no graceful
diction, I may, I am sure, rely on the reader's indulgence
towards the narrative of quite an ordinary, unaspiring,
British motor-cyclist.

C. K. S.




PROLOGUE. . . . . .' . . > 1


My Efforts to Become Americanized Reflections on New York
Traffic Dissertation on American Roads Coney Island Equip-
ment for the Journey . . . . . . . 5


Companions in Distress " The Playground of the World "
American Proclivities towards the Superlative A Lapse into
Philosophy Introduction to the " Detour " The Good Samaritan
Rewarded Philadelphia Adventures with a Garage Proprietor . 12


Prosperity in New England Villages Motor-cycling de Luxe
Peregrinations of a "Tin Lizzie" Insights into the Inner Life
of an American Highway Humouring a Negro Self-conscious
Scruples Illuminated Signs Hotel Life in Washington . . 22


Experiences of Brick Roads Approaching the Alleghanies The
Lust for Speed And Its Consequences^Queer Methods of Enforc-
ing the Law Stranded . " . . . . . . 32


Soliloquies of the Humble Poor The Subtleties of Advertise-
ment Hoardings Corn in Egypt The Peregrinations of an English
Sovereign A Whiff of Good Old London Appreciation of Nature
in America Lizzie Reports Sick Lead, kindly Light Auto-
suggestion as an Aid to Sleep . . . ., .42


I Make the Acquaintance of the Ohio River Lizzie develops
Acute Indigestion The Irony of Henry Ford I administer First-




aid Hero-worship to a Rag-and-bone Merchant A New Use for
an Old Tree The Ubiquitous Columbus The Friendly Tram
The Dixie Highway Eulogy to the City of Dayton My Extra-
vagant Taste for Cake An alfresco Meal A Final Burst of
Extravagance Home Once More . . . . . . . 51


Cincinnati A Memorable Day Aspersions on an American
Repair Shop Chess-board Roads The Humour of Decorated
Telegraph Poles Soliloquy on the Pike's Peak Highway Effects
of State Boundary Lines Indian Corn A Luxurious Bathe
Indianapolis The 3A Club What Constitutes a Good Road . 60


How Dirt Roads are Cultivated A Brush with a Road-plough
How Flivvers " get through " A Bad Patch and a Good
Samaritan The Subtleties of General Merchandise I attract a
Crowd in Springfield Taken for a Movie Actor Future Cities
of Illinois Illinois River The Mississippi at Last I sleep on a
Railway Embankment , . . . . . .70


Hannibal Infantile Automobilation Rain in Missouri I get
Annoyed Railroads v. Highways Kansas City ... 83


Kansas City I visit Lizzie on her Sick-bed I visit an Editor
in his Lair Kansas City gets My Story . . . .89


Westward Again The Santa F6 Trail Mosquito Nets Into the
Great Prairies I sleep in a River Pie Prairie Towns In a
Thunderstorm Colorado Reached The Map proves not Infallible
A Detour to the Heart of the Rockies Rain Again ... 94


A Strange Dwelling I am Taken for an American Supper
in Style Sleep in Style Breakfast and Lunch in Style The Sun
Once Again Housebuilding at Speed An Appreciation The
Rockies Pueblo Pike's Peak The Royal Gorge The Lust for
Taking Pictures Picturesque Names The Worst Road in America
A Mud Bath The End of a Perfect Day . . . .106


Strange Mountain Forms Trinidad A Flivver to the Rescue
The Raton Pass A Wonderful View At the Feet of the Rockies
A Phantom Road Prairie-dogs Companions Lizzie sheds a
Sprocket A Tiring Search The Biggest Thing in Mud Lakes
Wagonmound Argument with a Linemaster . . . .118




Adventures with a Railway Stuck Once Again Assistance
from California House-hunting by Caravan Las Vegas A
Wonderful Ford A Mexican Village Lizzie Clean Again The
Travelling Tinsmith Santa Fe" at Last . . . . .132


Santa F< Adobe Architecture The Art Museum Where
Americans Hustle Not In the Limelight Again . . . 148


Departure from Santa F< La Bajada Hill Albuquerque The
Bio Grande Indians The Morals of Mountains Socorro Camp-
ing in the Mountains : A Farmyard Episode . . .165


Magdalena A Strange Metamorphosis I Sport a Camp Fire
A Strange Sight The Petrified Forest of Arizona Holbrook Lost
in the Arizona Desert Mosquitoes Again Winslow An Ingenious
Anti -speeding Stunt That Cylinder Again ! A New Use for Old
Sign-posts Meteor Mountain The San Francisco Peaks Fairy-
land Flagstaff . '. . . . . . .163


The Lowell Observatory Wonders of Mars Hill Ptomaine
Poisoning Flagstaff Dwellings Towards the Grand Canyon A
Wonderful Bide The First Approach of Loneliness The End of
the World The Greatest of all Natural Wonders . . .178


Lizzie Comes to Grief Etiquette of the Boad The Tragedy
of Peach Springs Kingman Desert Vegetation Yucca The Art
of But-riding The Tomb of a Town The Colorado Needles A
Marvellous View Oiled Boads Ludlow . . . . .192


Comrades in Arms Lizzie begins to Complain Death Valley
An Unfortunate Caravan The End of the Desert The Cajon
Pass Los Angeles is Startled , , . . . . .210


Los Angeles Friendly California Towards 'Frisco by Night
I Dream a Dream The California^ Missions The Salinas
Valley The Last Sleep Lizzie gives it up Again The Struggle
for 'Frisco 4,950 at last ! . . . . . . . 224





Portrait of the Author . . . Frontispiece

A Common Occurrence v , . . . . 26

An Awkward Stretch of Road in Indiana . ... . 74

The Midnight Couch . ' .. , * * , . 74

The Oldest House in America, at Santa Fe . .150

The Art Museum at Santa Fe . . . .. . 150

Pueblo of Taos . . ...... 158

The Rio Grande, New Mexico . * > . 162

A Petrified Leviathan . . * \ . . 170

Lizzie in the Petrified Forest, Arizona . . . 170

The Trail to the Grand Canyon . . . . 178

The Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff . . . , 178

San Francisco Peaks from Flagstaff . . . .178

The Bottom of the Grand Canyon . . . . 188

Cactus Trees near San Bernardino . ' , f . 206

In the Mohave Desert * . 206



One bright morning in June to be exact, the thirteenth
(the significance of that number will be apparent later),
in the year of Our Lord 1919 and in the year of American
Prohibition 1, a small assembly of mechanics, passers-by,
and urchins witnessed my departure from a well-known
Motor Cycle Agency in New York.

The machine, a perfectly new and very powerful motor-
cycle, was dazzling in her pristine beauty. No spot or
blemish could be seen on her enamel of khaki hue. No
ungainly scratch or speck of rust marred her virgin form.
Her four little cylinders, gaily murmuring as the engine
joyfully sprang into life, seemed to hide a world of romance
as if they were whispering to each other of the days that
were to come, the adventures and experiences they were
to encounter, and the strange lands they were to see.
The purr of her exhaust, healthy though muffled, smooth
and even in its rhythm, was music in my ears. A thing
of beauty is a joy for ever, and to those who know the call
of the open road and who love to feel the rush of the
wind and the glamour of speed, such was this machine.
Although she was in reality but an organized combination
of various pieces of unfeeling, soulless metal, without
even a name, and known only by a sordid number em-
bossed on a tinplate provided by the Law, she was soon
to develop a character and personality of her own. She
was to play the role of sole companion in the weeks and
months to follow. There would be times when I should

1 B


curse her profanely and at the same time love her passion-
ately. I pictured vast prairies and deserts where we should
be alone together, far from the haunts of man or animal
or perhaps of any living thing times when it would
depend upon HER to bear me on to civilization. So I
trust, reader, that you will not think I was waxing too
sentimental on that memorable day in June.

The mileage indicator just flicked to 4,422.

I was hungry, hungry as a dog. I was thirsty too, and
tired oh, so tired ! The skin on my face was tanned
dark with the desert sun and bore the dirt of many days'
accumulation. The growth of the previous week was
upon my chin. My hair was bleached and dishevelled,
my clothes and boots laden with the sand and dust of
Arizona and California. With a bandaged, broken finger,
and the rest skin-cracked and bloodstained with the alkali
sand, I held the handles with the palms of my hands.
The sole was missing altogether from my right boot, and
the left contained many a piece of stone or gravel from
far away. A couple of empty water-bags flapped up and
down on the handlebar, and as the old bus dragged her
weary way on three cylinders through the crowded
streets of Los Angeles her hideous clatter told many a
tale of woe. I decided at that moment that the best
thing in all the world was to get something to eat and drink.

" What's the day of the month ? " I asked, when with
a final " clank " of the engine we drove into the Agency

" The seventh."

" The month ? "

" August."


44 And what's the year ? '!

" Nineteen nineteen."

44 The seventh of August nineteen nineteen," I mused,
and relapsed into contemplative silence. . . .

Some one spotted the registration plate 44 N.Y.8844 "
and 44 rumbled " that I had come from New York.

44 When did you start ? " they asked in curious tones.
The question pulled me up with a jerk and brought me
back to normal existence, so inadequately measured by

44 Oh, seems like ten years ago ! " I replied, and re-
lapsed once more into reverie.


I spent the better part of two days in the survey of
New York City from all points of view. In the Pullman
from Niagara I had decided that America would probably
be just as bad as any European country for robbing the
alien. I would therefore simulate the gentle habits and
customs of these (hitherto) worthy people. Having some
slight knowledge of their language I would endeavour to
acquire perfection in the art of American self-expression.
I would cultivate the correct pose of the hat and wear
boots with knobbly toes. Only a little practice would
be required before I should be able to gyrate a cigar at
the accepted velocity from one corner of my mouth to
the other. In a little while, methought, I should feel
much more at ease in tight-fitting clothes with ridiculously
small sleeves and three inches of projecting shirt-cuffs.
Maybe I should improve my outlook on the world if I
viewed it through a pair of large, round, ebony-rimmed
spectacles. There was just a possibility that I should
some day appreciate the soothing charm of a much-
overworked morsel of chewing-gum. With all these
splendid accomplishments I could no doubt dispense
with the less attractive habits of Modern America.

Let me say at the outset that I proved a dismal failure.
I would sooner master the Chinese than the American
lingo. The infinite variations of nasal accomplishment


outnumber by far the tribal dialects of India and leave
the poor student to wonder and despair. Why ! the
number of orthodox ways of translating the plain English
word " Yes " is probably beyond the scope of mathema-
tical deduction ! The shades and blends between u Yep "
and " Ye-oh " alone are sufficient to put a spectrograph
of the sun to shame.

For four months I travelled through the wilds of New
York, Ohio, and Illinois, and even into the civilized states
of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, in a vain search
for the man who pronounced " Yes " with a final " s."
In the end I found him, lurking in a little restaurant in
Los Angeles. I gazed in wonderment intense and rap-
turous when I heard it. I have his pedigree. He said he
came from Boston. Boston, according to all well-informed
Bostonians,. represents the acme of perfection in all things
relating to education, etiquette, and propriety. As such
it is unassailable by any other city in America.

There was a time early on when I thought I was suc-
ceeding well. I found that I did better by dispensing
with speech altogether. If I dressed in a " Palm Beach "
suit, walked on people's feet, elbowed my way through
passers-by, and continually repeated to myself " The earth
is mine and all that therein is," there was never any
doubt but that I was a " Native Son."

It is superfluous for me to say, however, that after
many trials and more rebuffs, I ultimately abandoned
the idea of becoming Americanized. " After all," thought
I, " what sane Englishman wants to be an American ? "
The project had been but a brain-wave to combat the
" H,C. of L." To the uninitiated, that is the recognized
" Hearst " abbreviation for the " High Cost of Living,"
a topic which so frequently appears in American news-


papers that editors were forced to face the question of
either referring to it in symbols or of cutting out the
" Want- Ads." Finally, therefore, I consoled myself that
it was better for hotel bills, cinemas, ice-cream sodas,
petrol, and other necessities to rise 200 per cent, on my
approach than for me to lose my own soul. Incidentally,
virtue does not always have its own reward. On my
return to England I heard many accusations against me.
" What an awful American accent you have ! " was the
greeting of many one-time friends.

. . . Some have recovered. Others are still in hos-
pital !

It took me some time to get accustomed to the traffic of
New York rather should I say, to its habits and practices.
New York itself consists of a network of streets and
avenues ingeniously arranged on an island which is about
five or six times longer than it is broad. The avenues
run the length of the island and the streets run at right
angles across them. In addition, " Broadway " wobbles
across from one end of the island to the other, cutting the
avenues at a weird angle of anything between nothing and
twenty degrees.

At all the important street crossings was stationed a
" traffic cop " whose duty was apparently to hold up at
the most inconvenient intervals all the traffic going one
way until all the traffic going the other way had passed.
Then he blew his whistle and Hey, presto ! the traffic
in the other street began to move. It was fatal to move
before the whistle was blown. I didn't know that !

I had been sailing down Sixth Avenue, just trying
the machine for the first time, as a matter of fact. Every-


thing went smoothly. I felt at peace with all the world.
Here was I on my iron steed of ten little horses, about to
begin a long holiday wherein I should forget the Kaiser
and his deeds and the four or more years of my existence
that had gone in helping to bring about his everlasting
undoing. But all of a sudden :

" Why the jooce don't yer stop, yer Goldarn young son
of a gun ? " bellowed an irate " cop " who gesticulated
but a few feet from my front wheel.

" Well, why the blankety blank SHOULD I blankety
well stop, anyway ? " I returned, not to be outdone, as
I pulled up in the exact centre of 34th Street, Sixth Avenue,
and Broadway.

I could see a crowd beginning to collect. I don't
like crowds at any time. I have a keen antipathy for
publicity . My friend the " cop " drew nigh. " See here,
young fellar : whar yer from ? " he inquired, evidently
anxious to investigate further the mental condition of
this unique defier of the Law. ... To cut a long story
short, I was finally constrained by good judgment to avoid
further constabulary hostilities and, in accordance with
the somewhat over-ardent desire of the "cop," retired
like a whipped schoolboy to the corner where there was
already a long queue of waiting automobiles and taxis.
In a few seconds the whistle was blown and the procession
sailed across 34th Street, headed by a much-humbled

I should explain at this juncture that a motor-cyclist
is an altogether despised individual in America. Motor-
cycles are not popular over there. With few exceptions
they are owned by delivery men, newspaper boys,
" traffic-cops " and sundry other undesirables. Person-
ally I do not wonder at it. The roads and streets in the


cities are bad enough to ruin the constitution of any but
the most confirmed young " blood " who does not mind
risking a few broken bones. I have seen places in
Broadway where the tram-lines wander six or seven inches
above the surface of the road and where the pot-holes
would accommodate comfortably quite a family of dead
dogs within their depths.

So much for the cities. The roads that traverse the
country are with few exceptions nothing better than our
fifth-rate country roads on which no self-respecting English-
man would ride.

Here and there, in the far East and the far West, are
found stretches of concrete or macadam. Somehow, the
Americans think they are great road-builders. A couple
of inches of concrete laid over a garden-path or a sheep -
track, with the cracks filled in with tar, represents the
zenith of road construction in this country of ninety odd
million inhabitants. I should like to see some of those
concrete roads when they have had a few years' solid
wear with heavy lorries and occasional traction engines.

Ninety-five per cent or more, however, of America's
highways are dirt roads, or what they are pleased to call
" Natural Gravel." In many cases they comprise merely
a much worn trail, and as often as not a pair of ruts worn
in the prairie. Very often, instead of being a single pair
of ruts, there are five or six or perhaps ten, where individual

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Online LibraryC. K ShepherdAcross America by motor-cycle → online text (page 1 of 19)