Traveling With a Troupe

By Putt Mossman, Photography by Unknown

We sailed for Yokohama on the Rio de Janeiro Maru, leaving from Wilmington, California. Eleven people comprised our troupe and we were adventure bound, taking tricks and stunts of American motorcycling to the Orient. A sea voyage was a new experience for all of us. There were seven riders among us-five men and two girls; also two capable mechanics with their wives. We were to perform at the Yokohama Rebuilding Exposition. I had chosen my riders carefully for their ability and also for their congeniality. I was not to be disappointed in the choice. Among the men riders were experts of hillclimbing and motorcycle racing. There were Ray Grant, Bert Lewis, Don Westergard and Bob Diehl. The girl riders were my wife, and Mrs. Ray Grant, both exceptionally good stunt riders. The two mechanics were brothers, John and Jerry Fairchild, who were married shortly before the sailing date, and they were combining business and a honeymoon.

The weather on the day of embarkation certainly was not conducive to peace of mind. It was raining and the streets we had to travel going to the dock were shallow rivers. Our equipment had been packed on the previous night and we were a little concerned about arriving on time because of the weather. However, we made it and had the satisfaction of seeing everything stored away in the hold. So with the well-wishes of our friends and relatives ringing in our ears, the ship slowly wended its way out of the harbor into the open sea.

The afternoon was spent in arranging our cabins and exploring the ship. She wasn’t any luxury liner you read about, with swimming-pool, tennis-court, and ball-room, but she was new and in good condition. She was a motor-ship, and had been built in 1929.

The sea was choppy, and the ship soon commenced to roll and pitch. The motion caused most of us to feel a little peculiar, but we all ate dinner together in the dining-room. About six the clouds started breaking up, and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset as the ship passed near the Santa Barbara Islands. The chill wind on deck drove us into our cabins, and being quite tired after our preparations for departure the previous night, we soon retired.

We awoke quite early, to find the uneasy feeling in the stomach still much in evidence. The sun was shining, and much of the day was spent on deck playing the various games provided and just looking around. Gradually we became more accustomed to the motion of the ship.

For five days the weather continued fair, although the sea was choppy. On the sixth day a storm broke. The wind rose to gale proportions, and shrieked about the superstructure. Rain swept down in torrents, and the sea rose as if to gather us up and dash us to the depths. The little ship shuddered and stuck her nose into the seas, as the storm shook and twisted her groaning girders in every direction. Green waves crashed over her bow, and swept along the scuppers. We watched in awe the play of the elements, and wondered. For five days and nights the storm continued. On the sixth we saw the sun! To our uninitiated minds the storm was over, and we were glad. But she cracked down again the following morning, and the Rio churned into the teeth of a fifty-mile gale. The storm doors were again closed, and we amused ourselves in the narrow confines of our cabins and social rooms.

We spent some time on the bridge where we conversed with the navigators, and learned that the storm was really a typhoon, and quite violent. Any consternation we might have felt was over-shadowed by the fact that we were really seeing something. And so we looked on the disturbance with favor, and knew that our initiation was to be complete. The humdrum monotony of an ordinary crossing was not our lot.

The second storm lasted four days, to be immediately followed by a third, just as severe, but lacking the rain which had kept us indoors or on sheltered parts of the deck. So we spent hours watching the seas churn and boil about us, occasionally crashing over the gunwale. Our mileage was cut down, and we arrived two days later than schedule.

The day before we docked was momentous, as we eagerly watched for signs of Japan. Nineteen days on the water without so much as seeing a single ship or a bit of land! Columbus had nothing on us as we eagerly scanned the horizon for the first faint sign. The sun shone and we hustled around exercising our long dormant muscles. Late in the afternoon we sighted the northeastern coast of Japan. We started and strained our eyes until night when the shore lights sprung up and we stayed up late to view our entrance into the harbor. At last we went to bed for the last time aboard the little ship that had withstood so much and brought us safely to our destination.

Much too early we were awakened. The day was freezing cold. The docks and warehouses had a thin coating of snow which a fine drizzle soon changed into slush. So, through a hectic day of customs, photographs and official greetings, combined with unpleasant weather, our first day was anything but impressive. But the second day the sun shone, and the dripping shrubs and trees were glistening and fragrant. We were amazed at the modernity of a land we had believed so far behind the times.

The first week was spent in supervising the construction of our stadium and getting our equipment into first-class condition. But what little we did see of the Japanese was wonderful to behold.

Perhaps the first thing one notices in Japan are the costumes. The beautiful kimonos and obis worn by the women, and the strange skirts and capes worn by the men. Peculiar flat sandals are in evidence on both sexes, with straps which come up between the large and second toe, and which loop over the instep to be fastened on the sandal again at the arch. The stockings are split like a glove between the toes to accommodate the strap. In wet weather the shoes are made of wood, and are built on stilts two or three inches in height. But it would be wrong to say that all are dressed like this, because at least twenty-five per cent of them wear as stylish and modern dress as any in America. It is all a matter of preference, and the American influence of style and dress is becoming more and more apparent all the time. With this last change, Japan will have lost a great deal of its charm for me.

The opening day ceremony was impressive. City, provincial, and government officials from the farthest regions of Japan were present. The stands were packed to overflowing, and after a series of welcoming and inaugural speeches, the American Rodeo gave its first performance. Although we were handicapped by the poor condition of the track and field, the show did not lag, and we found that we were much appreciated. The Japanese people do not express appreciation through handclapping and cheering, and although we were dismayed at the beginning of the performance, we soon discovered indirectly that our show was liked.

So through the succeeding days the routine of stunt riding, balloon bursting, polo and exhibition racing remained unchanged, and as the track and field conditions improved, our show also was better.

Rain hounded us the first month, but the show had to go on. Our mud-bespattered selves and machines went through many a hectic performance, replete with spills, but fortunately no serious injuries resulted.

The third week in Yokohama a group of Japanese motorcycle racers requested that we enter an All-Japan Championship Race Meet, to be held near Yokohama on a third-of-a-mile track. We accepted, and on the following Sunday, with three shows to give at the Exposition, we divided our events so that neither would interfere with the other. Ray, Don and Bert were unfortunately beset with various motor troubles. Bert took a second in the 500 c.c. event. I managed to get through with no major difficulties, and succeeded in winning the Japanese championship in four classes: the 350 c.c., the 500 c.c., the 750 c.c., and the 1200 c.c.. With three shows, including two board-wall crashes, under my belt and eighty laps of racing against tough competition, I was a tired young man.

We made frequent trips to Tokyo to secure parts and necessary equipment to keep our machines in first-class condition. Like any large city, Tokyo is a beehive of industry. Were it not for the signs and advertisements in Japanese characters one might easily imagine oneself in Los Angeles or San Francisco. You can buy anything you want in Japan at very reasonable figures; about one yen for one dollar, the yen, at the time, being equivalent to twenty-eight cents gold or American money.

It is only on rural trips that one sees the real Japan-coolies laboring in the rice fields, wearing quaint conical hats and straw capes and living in thatched-roofed houses. This is really the interesting and beautiful part of Japan.

During the course of our eight weeks, we were honored by the attendance at our program of many high dignitaries, including the youngest son of His Royal Highness, the Emperor. A curious thing about the prince is the fact that he prefers, in spite of his royal birth, to begin at the bottom as a soldier, a mere private, with the same privileges, or deprivations if you prefer, of the average enlisted man. You can’t help but respect him.

The week before the sailing date was spent in hustle and bustle of packing. On the sailing day, with a certain sadness in our hearts, we watched a beautiful and hospitable land recede from our view over the stern of the S.S. Taiyo Maru. One thing eased our feelings. We are returning to the land of cherry blossoms and take up our interesting experiences where we left off.

The ten days to Honolulu were bright and enjoyable, the ocean being as serene as a mill pond. The Taiyo Maru was a luxury liner compared to the Rio. Beautiful social and dining rooms, and games of every description. Not the least thing for our amusement was a beautiful tile swimming pool on the top deck, where we spent many happy hours.

The islands loomed up on the tenth day at dusk. Cloud-enshrouded they marched along, and quite early the next morning Diamond Head stood out with the sun at its back. My day was spent with relatives, looking over the beauty spots of the Island. Punchbowl Hill and Pearl Harbor, the naval base came first, and of course, the inevitable dip on the beach at Waikiki. Lastly, as a fitting climax, we saw what to me was the most beautiful sight in the world- the gorgeous panorama from the Pali.

The weather remained clear and calm for the balance of our trip into San Francisco. Thus, back to the states and home complimentary as he was in his mention of the San Diego Exposition.

As the lengthening shadows of eucalyptus and palm betokened the approaching end of a most interesting day, sicklers began to forget the intellectual side of things. It was then that Gold Gulch took on a new color with the multishades of many club sweaters. The walls of the small arroyo echoed the laughter of a new and truly hearty crowd of riders, and auxiliarites. Even the wiles of Gold Gulch Goldie were sung in more lusty fashion by the gifted gent with the swinging cane. More than once a bright sweater was seen to dash for the doorway in Goldie’s Place, only to stop, as it were, in mid-progress while the stern face and the strong arm of wife or sweetheart turned attention to the turtle race or the cane ringing counter.

All exhibits closed at 10 o’clock. The Midway continued to blaze until the smaller hours. It was an Aurora of light amid floods which bathed the gorgeous natural scenery of Balboa Park in all the more subdued colors.

Finally, and in most cases regretfully, the fraternity started the homeward trek. Indeed, it had been a fine day, tho’ a different day.

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By Putt Mossman
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