Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: One Man Caravan

Sunday, 20JUL08. A short little ride today left me most of the remaining day to relax at home hiding from the heat of the day, reading another travelogue.

This one was by Robert Edison Fulton Jr, he traveled around the world right after architecture college, on a six horsepower motorcycle made by the Douglas Motor Works. It was a two cylinder horizontally-opposed engine, with same tires as cars of the time, weighing in at 750 pounds! He'd had an extra 4 gallon tank mounted in the rear to supplement the stock 3 gallon tank in the usual spot. Mind you, he undertook this journey in the mid 1930s!

You can buy the book here

He equips the motorcycle to his specifications, adding to the items one expects something quite unexpected....the creation of a secret compartment for his .32 caliber pistol that he felt he wanted along! This along with thousands of feet of film for his camera and he was off.

He starts off his journey from London with some quaint ideas involving parties at embassies along the way, which of course required him packing white tie dinner attire! These illusions fade as he crosses Europe and the items are summarily discarded for the more practical.

His adventures include some lengthy wanderings in what was then British-controlled middle east lands such as Syria and Iraq. I found his description of British army life in the middle east and India, the ride through the Khyber Pass, and all the people he met along the way very interesting in light of today's modern view of the Middle East and its inhabitants. Thing sure have changed in that part of the world now that the Pax Britannica is no more. Border crossings apparently were challenging back then as they are today to modern world riders. His challengers however were somewhat more unique.

I believe a majority of the book is comprised of the rides in this part of the world; managing entrance into forbidden Afghanistan through the failing linguistic memory of the Afghani ambassador in Turkey. He rides into and out of what we'd call war zones today with a goodly amount of luck and fortune, for the middle east has always been a troubled area apparently.

His travels then take him through the Indian sub-continent, Malaysia, Indochina which is now present day Vietnam and onto China's major cities. The book is like a whirlwind tour at this portion of the world but still full of colorful details of the peoples he encounters and the cultures he's exposed to as a motorcycle rider.

He uses water and rail transport when needed and does not feel bad about it, his intent not being to lay claim solely to having ridden a motorcycle all the way. Heck, he even resorts to riding his motorcycle in between railroad tracks when they're the only clear way to his next destination!

His last foreign land is Japan and from there a steamship across the Pacific ocean and the USA which he crosses in a couple of pages on the book. The major event being his motorcycle being stolen in Texas but thankfully soon recovered afterwards so he could ride it home to New York in time for Christmas with his family after three years away.

He covered 40,000 miles on this severely underpowered scooter by today's standards, quite the adventure and accomplishment in my opinion. In today's age of accurate maps, GPS, satellite phones and Internet Cafes he would probably look curiously at today's world travelers and their gadgets and just ride on past with a cheery wave; well perhaps he'd like the maps for he sure wandered a lot due to the maps and roads of the day.

This book is one motorcyclist's view of the world prior to the second world war, quite fascinating to me as a history major in the picture he paints of how the world was before that war.


AtlasRider said...

I'm reading Ten Simon's Dreaming of Jupiter now. He mentioned this book and it stirred some interest. I've seen this book in the Aerostich catalogs too. Sounds like this will be my next read. Your review clinched it.

Charlie6 said...


what a coincidence, Ted Simon's stuff is next on my list!

AtlasRider said...

You won't be disappointed. I couldn't put it down!

Conchscooter said...

May I suggest Two Wheels to Panama by William Carroll, tons of pictures of his BSA ride to the Canal in 1955. And The Rugged Road by Theresa Wallach a story about two women riding trans Africa in 1934 in a Panther sidecar outfit- towing a trailer.

irondad said...

I'm just amazed that so many motorcyclists seem to know how to read! Maybe I should learn how myself.

Just wanted to let you know I'm back terrorizing the blogger world!

SheRidesABeemer said...

Nice review, looks like a good read. Maybe we need to start a lending library.