The stratosphere Gondola. The balloon, before inflation. can be seen on the left
I have been riding four years and working in a machine shop for five. Finally the grindstone had worn my nose down to the point where something had to be done about it. A vacation among snow-capped mountains suddenly seemed very desirable.
Accordingly, at six o’clock in the morning of July 5th I mounted my 1934 Harley 45RL and said goodbye to Columbus. All I could afford to spend was $38 so I determined to skimp on everything but gas and oil. My “home” was a pup tent. A simple cooking outfit kept expenses to a minimum and helped make every penny count toward mileage. I traveled fast but never missed anything interesting.
The first four hundred miles landed me on the doorstep of the Harley-Davidson factory for the traditional visit. But-it was 6 P.M., Friday and I was told I would have to wait until Monday to make the factory trip. Two precious days to be lost waiting. Saturday I spent sightseeing around Milwaukee in the sweltering heat. I bought a pair of swimming trunks with visions of standing neck deep in Lake Michigan all day Sunday. The next morning was cold and foggy, so after wading knee-deep I promptly returned the trunks to the saddle bags.
The visit to the factory proved worth waiting for and at 3 P.M., Monday I started my westward journey, camping on the banks of the Mississippi at LaCrosse for the night. Being a notoriously poor gravel rider I promptly spilled soon as the hard surface of U.S. 16 ended just across the border in Minnesota. Surveying with dismav what had once been a beautiful headlight I pushed on more slowly, with 200 miles of gravel ahead of me. Overnight camp on the Missouri at Chamberlain, South Dakota, taught me the value of mosquito netting. I seriously advise anyone contemplating a western vacation to stow away an ample supply of netting.
Sunset of the next clay found me at the Harley shop in Rapid City filling up with oil. Suddenly another rider slid to a stop alongside with the surprising information that the National Geographic Society’s stratosphere flight was to take place that night. Motorcycle riders were wanted to run messages all night long between the Strato-Bowl and the Western Union office, a distance of about twelve miles. I rushed out to the Balloon Camp in the Black Hills and landed a job. I had difficulty in getting past the army sentries because I had no arm-band. Upon inquiry I learned that the riders were to report to the telegraph office first. When I got there the arm-bands were all gone so the manager gave me an official pass card to use. The card was to be taken up by the sentry at the gate but by skillful arguing with that gentleman I was able to keep my pass for a souvenir.
The silvery fabric of the balloon was unrolled and inflation started at sunset, lasting until after midnight. Waiting for my trick at 3 A.M. we all heard a terrific, roaring boom and the fully inflated bag came crashing to the ground almost at our feet. The top had ripped across just a half hour before the scheduled ascension. Fortunately nobody was hurt. Morning dawned clear and bright so putting the eventful night behind me, tired and sleepy. I again headed West in search of more adventure.
Yellowstone Park beckoned and two days later I was within her magic portals. Glamorous Yellowstone! Bears, lakes, towering peaks, and waterfalls galore. Four clays spent in this Wonderland will give even the most hardened cynic a treasure house of beautiful memories. The Cody Road leading to the eastern entrance likewise deserves mention for its scenic attractions. It is also very thrilling to awaken at 2 A.M. and find a giant black bear standing in the doorway of the tent. My outstanding recollection of the Park is the exciting climb over Mt. Washburn, 10,317 feet above sea level on a dirt road with no guard rails.