Pan-American Trails Part 2

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta

From the August 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

Last month Jose Porta told of starting his long solo tour to Central America. When we left him he was hard put to find shelter during a desert storm. He had just sighted the faint outlines of a dwelling.

With renewed hope I pushed ahead. There were people at the house but they told me that farther on there was another ranch. Seeing that I wasn’t welcome I went my way. On and on I kept struggling. A few more spills, more mud, sweat dripping from my forehead. The sun was setting somewhere beyond those prairies and nothing in sight, nothing but rain.

It was dark when I finally reached the ranch. I was very warmly received and I made myself comfortable by sitting close to the fire. Together with half a dozen men I enjoyed a supper of beans and coffee. There weren’t such things as tables and chairs. We just sat on the floor and ate out of our plates. After supper, with the lights out, we all sat in a circle and told stories.

One by one the men felt drowsy and just wrapped themselves in their serapes and laid down to sleep. I noticed that everyone was sleeping on the floor, there being no bed to be seen anywhere.

In the morning I had a breakfast of fried eggs and tortillas. Then, after thanking my host for his hospitality, for which he didn’t want to be paid, I took once more to the road.

The ground was still wet and muddy and it was very uncomfortable going. Besides there were so many tracks and paths crossing those deserts that I never knew which one to follow. I was lost most of the time and the best I could do was to go west following cart tracks sometimes and sometimes cutting thru the desert and just trusting to my good luck in getting somewhere. It was hours and hours of lonesome travel without meeting a soul and without seeing a house.

I saw the first sign of human life when I got to General Cepeda, a small village in the desert. I was given a good meal and plenty of water and free gas, then I left again and at dusk I arrived at the Hacienda Segun, a large ranch, where I was well received and properly taken care of. Here I was given a room all to myself, but again I saw no sign of a bed and I had to sleep on the earthen floor, wrapped in my own blankets.

I got up next day ready for an early start. The sky was clear and I was hoping to be able to make up for lost time. I was still going thru those dreary deserts of Northern Mexico. There the country is very thinly populated and the people are very poor, living in the most squalid adobes.

The diet of the natives consists mostly of beans and tortillas. They can live on corn and beans all the year ‘round and they seem to thrive on them. They were very hospitable and kind to strangers and they willingly share their food with a stray traveler when they have enough of it, but unfortunately most of the time they haven’t enough.

I often wondered if those people were really happy. And what did they have to be happy about? I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them when I had to step into one of their adobes to protect myself against the rays of the sun and to ask for a drink of water and a bite of food. I was shown to a corner where I could see a pot of cooked beans and a decanter of water and nothing else. And the father was lying on the ground outside on the shady part of the building and the children were playing inside and the mother was squatting on the floor nursing a child, unmindful of the presence of a stranger.

It was everywhere the same sight. The ranches were hours apart, the sun was hot and the sand was deep. First I got to Rancho Mesteno, then to Rancho Santa Rosa and at noon I stopped in a small village, San Carlos. Again I was well treated and when I left I was generously supplied with gas and oil and water and everything was free in exchange for my cards. It was a sight for those people to see a motorcycle and they were all willing to help.

When I left San Carlos they put me on the road to Madero; from there I had to go to San Pedro and then to Torreon. Madero was only eight miles away and according to directions it was very easy to reach, but after a while I found out different. There were always so many cart tracks leading in so many different directions that I never knew which one to follow. And I never met a soul on the way. It was a long and lonesome trail, made longer by the incredible number of flat tires that I seemed to get every few miles.

That part of the country abounds with a desert plant, called mesquite, which is found everywhere and is full of thorns and these thorns are scattered all over the ground. You can’t miss them, especially as they seem to have a strong attraction for rubber tires.

It was no fun for me to stop under that scorching summer sun in the hottest deserts of Mexico and pump those tires with a tiny hand pump. Every time I stopped it meant at least a half a dozen punctures as I couldn’t afford to stop for just one or two thorns.

It was hot when I was riding but it was hotter when I had to stop and I was cursing those mesquites and the sun and the desert and I wanted to get to Madero to rest and to drink. Madero was supposed to be eight miles away, but I made the eight miles and not a house was in sight. I rode twenty miles and no Madero. I was beginning to despair. I had no more water. The sand was getting deeper and I had to ride in low and push at the same time. I rode thirty miles and it was getting late. Forty miles and the sun dropped beyond that endless desert. And I was thirsty and it seemed to me that I was never going to get anywhere. I met more crossings but I went ahead following any one of them. I didn’t care as I knew that I was lost and I was thirsty.

At last I saw a house ahead of me and at last I could find water! With a sigh of relief and renewed strength, unmindful of the road, I cut through the desert and headed towards that house.

It was more than a house. There was a truck in front of it and a half a dozen young men. And you should have seen the surprise on those young men’s faces when I got there. I couldn’t say a word as my dried tongue was stuck to my mouth. I was given water, all I could drink of it. When they found out where I was coming from they filled my tank with gasoline and then they directed me to their camp, a mile further on. They belonged to a construction gang working on a highway between Matamoros, on the United States border near the Gulf, to Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast.

And a regular bunch of fellows they were, those workers. I found a hundred of them at their camp and they all made me feel like an honored guest. The foremen gave orders to the men to help me in every possible way. Mechanics wanted to fix my motorcycle which indeed looked like a wreck. But it wasn’t that bad. All it needed was a little dusting and everything else was in perfect condition.

They gave me shelter and a cot to sleep on and I was sure thankful for having reached the place because we soon had a heavy storm that lasted late into the night.

In the morning the sky was clear but the ground was muddy and they wanted me to wait another day. I couldn’t afford to lose any more time. Also I couldn’t use the road they were building because it wasn’t going my way and also because it wouldn’t be passable yet for at least two years. I couldn’t wait that long.

After a few miles of riding the mud turned into deep sand and at noon I reached San Pedro. More sand and towards evening I was in Torreon.

Here was a large sized town, more up-to-date and cleaner than Monterrey and I decided to stay for a couple of days.

When I reached the Plaza I was swarmed by a crowd of idlers who told me they heard of my coming through the Prensa, and that was all I needed to know to take advantage of my opportunity. I took out a bunch of cards and passed them around. The cards went out and the centavos came in.

I stayed in Torreon for two days, in the meantime visiting Gomez Palacio and Lerdo, two towns adjoining Torreon. On the third day I left and headed north towards Chihuahua. The roads were very primitive and sandy, going through everlasting deserts. The ranches were always far apart but I was never refused food when I needed it, the natives being very polite and obliging in the extreme.

The Surge of Transcontinentals

Even as the love bug works overtime in the Spring so has the long distance bug been feeding overtime as it nears the season of Indian Summer. Maybe there is a connection and Indian Summer carries with it some of the precedents of that picturesque race after which it is named. In any event, simultaneous with the decision made by Earl Robinson of Michigan to make a long distance run so did Fred Ham, district 37 commissioner, decide to battle against the record recently established by “Steve” Whiting.

Ham is a well known rider on the West Coast and one who has hung up more than one victory where endurance and perseverance play a part. Fred is a Hollander, five years a resident in this country. Like most people from the land of windmills and wooden shoes he is graced with an abundance of good nature. No one ever thinks of Fred without a smile on his face. Backing his smile is a physique of worthy proportions and one capable of great endurance. This he has demonstrated by twice winning the Big Bear Enduro, ridden under the most trying conditions of weather.

Even as this issue speeds through the mails Ham will probably be fighting his way across desert and plain, through the intricacies of metropolitan traffic and against any odds the weather man may have to offer. Hearing that Robinson was likely to be riding against the same record at the same time Ham switched on his brightest smile and said “Good.” No doubt Earl feels the same way about it for it is of that spirit that motorcycle competition is made. And say the brethren, “May the best man win.”

Point Standing National Championship Hillclimb

As of August 1st, 1935

Except Following:

Aero Motorcycle Club (Protest)

Gopher State M/C June 30th

Joliet M/C July 21st

Greater Cincinnati M/C July 28th

45 cu. in. Class A

Ralph Moore 55

Joe Petrali 53

J. Uebelacher 33

H. Reiber 32

R. Carswell 31

H. Mitzell 28

B. Flummerfelt 18

C. Pierce 16

C. Eichner 13

T. Paradise 13

E. Usalis 12

A. Erlenbaugh 11

AI Dilliott 9

W. Castonguay 8

W. Altman 7

45 cu. in. Class B

Pete Uebelacher 42

Earl Buck 39

S. Polacek 36

W. Wolfe 29

A. W. French 25

Bert Baisden 20

H . Seamans 20

H. Dilliott 20

E. Workman 17

Wm. Castleman 16

Elmer Turner 14

Pat Ronco 12

45 cu. in. Expert Class

Ralph Moore 46

J. Petrali 39

H. Reiber 37

H. Mitzell 27

C. Pierce 25

R. Carswell 24

E. Usalis 23

P. Uebelacher 20

J. Uebelacher 19

W. Bryan 13

W. Altman 13

C. Eichner 11

AI Dilliott 11

Tom Paradise 10

E. Buck 10

W. Castonguay 10

80 cu. in. Class B

Earl Buck 51

P. Uebelacher 40

S. Polacek 38

A. W. French 25

W. Wolfe 16

Elmer Turner 16

Pat Ronco 15

Wm. Castleman 14

H. Zegier 14

Harry Dilliott 11

A. W. Munson 11

Point Standing National Championship Dirt Tracks As of August 1,1935:

Milwaukee July 28, 1935

Joe Petrali 300

Louis Balinski 90

J.L. Gustafson 90

Fred Toscani 80

Griffin Kathcart 20

George Toth 20

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By Jose Porta
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