Traveling Short-Coupled on a Single

How two college boys rode away from dull care on a 30.50 single and little money

By Henry Plaisance, Photography by Henry Plaisance

From the May 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

My Pal, Aristide Breaux, and I had been day-dreaming through many a college class in the joys of our anticipated trip, and now, at last, the day had come! Classes were out! The term was ended and accordingly at the end of the week on Saturday August 11th, 1934, I stopped in front of his home at Carencro. Our mount was a 30.50” Single of a standard American make, which although a late model, had already seen many miles. It was loaded with out pup tent, canvas, blankets, cam era and films, spyglass, frying pan, first-aid kit, coil of rope, a few odds and ends including our extra clothing; all essential to a five weeks vacation tour. Our pocketbooks were surprisingly low for such a lengthy ramble ahead, but we were skilled in the art of “skimping,” and our little “peashooter” justly merited our confidence and could rightfully return a snicker to these big gas hogs (74’s) which often do no more than a measly forty miles to the gallon.

So we two husky lads climbed into the Buddy Seat and spanked away the miles out of the realms of dreamland and supposedly away from our South Louisiana mosquitoes. That evening we spread our canvas in a patch of woods near the outskirts of Little Rock, Arkansas (some 450 miles from home), and were ready for the night’s rest. We were heartbroken to find that our little single couldn’t even outrun a mosquito, as these pesky little pests had followed us all the way there and were so busy biting us as to make sleep quite impossible. Upon moving into town, we were relieved to find out that these were Arkansas mosquitoes (another tribe of the same creatures), and had not followed us from Louisiana at all, but resided permanently about Little Rock. We found for a sleeping place, an empty, screened, market-place which seemed to have been set aside especia1ly for our use.

Our first day’s travel was over more or less familiar roads, and sight-seeing was cast aside. Our second day’s travel brought us to Petit Jean State Park, some few miles west of Little Rock. Here we spent a very interesting half-day looking the park over and exploring beautiful wooded trails and climbing steep canyon walls.

After quite a bit of deliberation we decided to make a loop through Russelville, Fayetteville, and back to Harrison, this being chosen in preference to the equally attractive and scenic route directly from Russelville to Harrison. That evening’s ride took us through some of the most beautiful scenery of the Ozark Region, our extra few miles being well repaid. That night Frog Bayou provided a fine camping site with its crystal clear waters for bathing.

This region had been suffering from a severe three months’ drought as was evidenced by much of the foliage of the mountainside being withered and scorched. We heard reports of places only a few miles distant where gasoline was selling for eighteen cents per gallon, and fresh water for twenty. The ride through Fayetteville included a trip to Arkansas State University and a ride up to scenic Mt. Sequoia. A ride through Eureka Springs would prove interesting to anyone as this little mountain resort has a uniqueness all of its own. Its main street winds about and climbs and drops from higher to lower elevations for a distance of several miles and the fact that it has a seven-story hotel with each story a ground floor will give an idea of the ruggedness of the landscape. A short side trip to Onyx Cave proved to be of interest to us. We rode into the town of Harrison which was to the nucleus of an area containing a great number of worthwhile spectacles. Our trip to Jasper took us over steep grades and around sharp curves through a section abounding in cool, spring-fed, fish-abounding mountain streams. The lure of Marble-City Falls was irresistible and in half an hour or so, we were at the bottom of the cataract with spray and mist about us, looking up at our faithful steed parked on a ledge of the highway several hundred feet above patiently awaiting our return. The ascent later provided a nice work-out for us two, and what a contrast we did make with our tongues hanging out after only a few minutes exertion, while our little motor, without hesitation barked with joy at the first crank ready to carry its monstrous load over hill and dale, mile after mile, without complaint, never too weary, never too tired. That night we found a nice secluded spot far from all worldly din, right on the banks of Buffalo River. Here we spent the evening swimming, and laundering our rather dirty travelling clothes and had a nice campfire with a hot supper and later a hot breakfast, after relaxing into a peaceful and comfortable night of rest.

Packing our baggage, we rode the trail to Diamond Cave, the most wonderful and largest cave of the Ozarks. For a comparatively moderate fee of one dollar we were guided through a labyrinth of underground passages which were developed and electrically lighted for a distance of five miles and which had been explored some twenty-four miles beyond the entrance. Although this cave has not as yet received such wide-spread publicity, it is of much greater beauty and is far larger than many of the more famous caverns of other sections. Our four-hour visit was so pleasant and thrilling that we were almost sorry to have to leave.

Back at Harrison, we purchased more supplies, and got my shoes resoled, they having been badly used up in the mountain climbing and we having quite a bit more hiking to look forward to. That evening we rode more rugged roads to Compton. The next morning we were shown through one of the many lead mines in and about Ponca City and the visit proved to be fascinating and informative. A few miles distant was Hemmed-In-Hollow. This is a beautiful gorge surrounded by a perpendicular bluff three hundred feet in height. The descent to the hollow is without a trail, and difficult and somewhat risky; but the energetic climber is well rewarded for his efforts. The stream flowing at the bottom of the hollow is fed by a waterfall having a drop of a sheer two hundred and eighty feet, and presents an inspiring sight to the onlooker. The stream above the falls has cut through the rock some twenty feet and forms a series of pools, one of which is ten feet deep and of just the right size to form a fine swimming-hole. Needless to say we did not let this opportunity go by and gave the “bath tub” a real tryout. The hollow is near the goat-ranch of Mr. I.A. Bruce at Compton, Arkansas, and Mr. Bruce himself was on hand to give us a hearty welcome and I know will do the same for any other tourists interested in visiting Hemmed-In-Hollow.

Our next two days of joy were dimmed by a continuous rain. With no waterproof clothing in our possession, we were at times quite miserable. Our pup tent had been packed away for two years before this trip, and when the test came we found that it leaked like a basket and gave little protection from the elements. On cloudy nights after this, we were always on the lookout for shelter, a handy barn deserted house, covered haystack or the like. Along with fair weather and first class roads we made rapid progress through St. Louis, Springfield. Bloomington, and Joliet. On this night we rodeuntil 10:00 p.m. looking for a good roof along the wayside and were fortunate in finding one, as a heavy shower came down during the early morning hours. The next day which was Sunday, we rode through Aurora, Elgin, and into Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a beautiful resort town.

A trip around the lake included a visit to Yerkes Observatory, which harbors the largest refracting telescope in existence and which is noted for its great amount of astronomical research work. That evening took us into Milwaukee, the home of Harley-Davidsons. Here, in this city, we learned that the Badger Derby Endurance Run had just ended a few hours earlier and enthusiasm was still running high. This road event is an annual affair promoted by the Milwaukee Motorcycle Club and arouses interest for many miles around. Too bad we couldn’t have arrived a day earlier and seen more of the sport or possibly entered the event ourselves.

That night the weather turned real cool, and having taken only light flannel blankets along with our canvas, we were set to shivering so vigorously that we had to be very careful not to rest against the billboard posts for fear of shaking the signboard from its moorings.

The next morning at eight o’clock we were at the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. and soon introduced ourselves.

One of the factory men asked, “Boys, where are you stopping during your visit in Milwaukee?” seemingly expecting us to say, “The Waldorf,” or “Ritzmore” or some such thing.

“Back of a billboard,” was our droll reply, “but will be looking for a warmer spot tonight.”

We soon made friends with the several other guests in the factory visiting room and accordingly set forth exchanging a veritable carload of motorcycle yarns. The factory guide took us through a several hour tour of the plant and showed us the many wonders to be seen.

That evening Aristide and I were the guests of Mr. Carl Knuth who took us visiting to a local park zoo, The Schlitz Brewery, and many other interesting places about the city. We visited the motorcycle shop of Carl’s brother, Mr. Bill Knuth, and here met with a live bunch and indulged in a big heap of some more motorcycle gossip. That same night we witnessed a beautiful display of fireworks at the lake-front. This time our bed was the soft beach sand with newspaper linings under our canvas and the side of a bathhouse for a windbreak. It proved to be a more comfortable night than the previous one.

Another night and we were spectators at the night speedway races at West Allis Speedway, where we saw many brilliant performances. These short-tracks of the Northern and Eastern circuits are different from our Southern and Pacific Coast tracks, the former being all cinder while the latter are dirt. The cinder tracks are somewhat slower than the others, but are in harmony with safer riding, and altogether afford a more spectacular show, action and showmanship being there in full. We two youngsters next steered toward one of our principal objectives-The World’s Fair at Chicago. There in the heart of the metropolis, we could find no babbling brooks, haystacks, or deserted barns, so the two skinflints had to dig out six whole dollars for the three night’s hotel fare-My! What a bite out of our pocketbooks!

Our three day Fair visit was “just crammed” full of enjoyable visits to all of the more important exhibits and several of the side attractions including a motor drome. We were deeply impressed by the Adler Planetarium.

The following Saturday we were back at West Allis Speedway near Milwaukee to witness dirt track races which included the three-mile national championship. We saw some of America’s most prominent racing stars in action. Also, we learned of the results of the Badger Derby Endurance Run and found that both first and second places had been taken by singles. Ours was not the only pea-shooter doing remarkable deeds. We spent some time viewing the exhibits of the Wisconsin State Fair, of which the dirt track races were a part.

The next morning we stopped in at a Fun du Lac motorcycle shop and became acquainted with Ray Tursky, a local dealer, who only one week later was to win the “Jack Pines” national championship endurance run. The champion spent quite a while helping us choose a scenic route through the land of lakes and forests in Northern Wisconsin.

Our route took us right through the Menominee Indian Reservation, where only a short time before the gangster, Dillinger and his gang sought refuge. Keshena Falls proved to be a worthwhile sight. There we met a motorcyclist who was employed in the Forestry Service. He offered to show us around to Smoky Falls. A toll of ten cents per person was collected by an old Indian guard.

“Friends of mine, y’u know-Inspectors from Washington,” said our motorcyclist pal to the guard as introduction for us, and we were admitted before we realized what it meant or caught the humor of the situation. Just a few miles further we visited the Dells of the Wolf River which afforded one of the most pleasant scenes of this section.

Our route took us through Eagle River, Iron Mountain and into Sault Sainte Marie. Meanwhile the weather was getting colder and colder with frost at nights. We had planned to have a few enjoyable swims in the North Wisconsin Lakes, but now the sight of one alone was enough to make us shudder. We were compelled to wear every bit of our clothing and were still shivering. We hit on the idea of tying up our feet in paper bags at night, but somehow this didn’t do nearly as good as a steam radiator would have. I could think of my heavy leather clothing packed away down in Louisiana, and then shiver the harder for it. What creature from the Sunny South would think of having a frost on a night in August even in this latitude? We had to live and learn.

At Sault Sainte Marie are the largest locks in the world. We spent quite a long while watching the large vessels being taken through. We ferried across to Canada and passed through the customs house and were met on the other side by Motorcyclist Ed Young who made us feel at home from the start.

By his directions we started on a scenic side trip to Batchawana, a beautiful spot on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. Because of my negligence, we met our first mishap with our motor-ran out of gas right in the middle of nowheres. I stayed with the motor, and Aristide had a two hour hitch-hiking trip to the nearest station. The normal price of gas here is from thirty to forty cents per gallon. We spent a cozy night in the hayloft of some hospitable Ukrainian farmers. Back at the Sault, Aristide bought a suede jacket, and we window-shopped the whole town looking at some of the matchless woolen wares. We passed by the nickel-smelter plant at Coppercliff and Sudbury and next spent a night in a hayfield where we pitched our tent and thatched it with hay. During the rainy weather the next day, we sought refuge in a friendly box-car and liked it so well, we stayed for the night. Our first and only flat tire we had on this gravel road between Sudbury and North Bay. North Bay was the turning point of our tour, and here we spent an hour writing cards which we mailed home to our families and friends.

We found that Algonquin Provincial Park was not accessible by highway, so gave up thoughts of a visit. That night we parked in a nice, large lot on the outskirts of Toronto. While at our repast, we were informed by the guard that we would not be permitted to remain for the night, later learning that we had been on government property. We asked permission to finish the meal and he consented. A few minutes later, another gent, along with his wife, and a terrier on a leash, came by.

“Boys,” says he, “you’re not planning to spend the night here, are you?” Naturally, we thought he was ready to repeat the summons.

“No, indeed,” we replied.

“Well, I was just going to say, if you were, come on over to our lakefront cottage and I’ll give you a cot to sleep in.”

We were dumbfounded. Naturally, we were the guests of the Forson family that night. The first bed since having left Chicago. Those Ontarians just can’t be beat for hospitality.

Our next morning was spent in paying visits to the many motorcycle shops in Toronto. This is surely one motorcycle town. With the high duties on American made cars and the high prices of gasoline, motorcycling is very popular. There are many dealers in the city handling dozens of foreign makes which are to be seen about the city streets any time of the day.

This entire evening we spent at the Canadian National Exhibition, viewing the many and worthwhile displays. That night we were at Niagara Falls, viewing the cataracts under the colored lights, and paying a visit to one of the power plants. The next morning we were at Horseshoe Falls, and made the fascinating trip under the cataract. We crossed back to the States and rode over to Goat Island to get views and snapshots of the Falls from the American side.

We had planned earlier in our trip to make our loop through Canada in time to see something of the National Air Races at Cleveland and get over to Lansing and Grayling, Michigan in time to see something of the Jack Pines. Our spell of rain and cold weather slowed our progress so much that this was now impossible. The National dirt track championships at Syracuse and the National hillclimb at Bethlehem were only a few days off, beckoning to us. They were hard to resist when so near at hand, but we feared being lured too far off our route with the possibility of going broke and having to walk home. So, we turned our backs on these big events and headed back through Buffalo, Erie and into Columbus where we paid a short visit to the A.M.A. headquarters and learned of the results of the Jack Pines.

That night as dusk approached along with a menacing squall we found just in time to avoid a drenching, a country church which was indeed a sanctuary to us two forlorn creatures and harbored us that night. The next day took us through Hillsboro, with side trips to Fort Hill State Park and Serpent Mound State Park with their most interesting burial and ceremonial mounds built hundreds of years ago by the Indians for religious rites.

We continued right into the heart of the Scenic Blue Grass Region, and now being in warmer country tarried a day near Wilmore, Kentucky, to wash-out our clothes, have a few swims in a spring-fed stream and camp awhile. We paid an interesting visit to Blue Lick Springs State Park and that night found ample shelter under the roof of a schoolhouse porch. Visits next day to My Old Kentucky Home State Park and Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Shrine, proved especially interesting. We bought a few souvenirs which we mailed home. We now entered the renowned Kentucky cave region. Truly the many caverns are very beautiful, but it is our impression that the region is over-rated, for we had seen caves in other sections certainly as beautiful and more developed for a more moderate fee than was asked in this region. However, we indulged in the expensive visit to the cave reputed to be the most beautiful and most colorful of any around, namely-Great Onyx Cave-and greatly enjoyed the trip.

Our funds getting rather low by this time, we rolled steadily through Bowling Green, Nashville and Memphis, where we dropped in at a motorcycle shop and were invited to tarry over the night in a clubhouse of one of the two motorcycle clubs in this town (thanks, Elmer), but it being early in the day yet, we figured we’d better make a few more miles. This Memphis gang is surely a live bunch of sicklers, and we were mighty sorry not to be able to stay over with them. We feared having to replace a worn-out tire before getting home and had to shorten our travelling time and living expenses to make this possible, if necessary.

Early the next morning we rolled through Little Rock and turned southward for home on our last day’s travel of some five hundred miles. We surprised our families by popping up after midnight on Friday morning September 15th, after having been gone for more than a month on our unexcelled tour of adventure.

Our little orange and black “Peashooter” seemed almost as unwilling to come home as we, but quieted down at our beckoning, and until yet stands poised, the very symbol of eagerness itself, ready upon a moment’s notice to surge up into action and off onto another trip.

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By Henry Plaisance
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