Cross Country Motorcycle Trips in 1949


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I enjoy your articles in Motorcycle Classics very much. I thought that it may be of interest to you and some of your readers to experience a cross country trip on one of those classic motorcycles. 

Your articles in Motorcycle Classics take me back some 63 years ago when I made a couple of cross country motorcycle trips from Laguna Beach, California to Ann Arbor, Michigan and back on one of those classic motorcycles. Some of your readers might be interested in what it was like taking a cross country trip during that era. My motorcycle was a 1948 Indian Chief. 

Protopapas 3 

 I was going to the University of Michigan at that time. The trip to Ann Arbor was in the middle of September and the return trip was in the middle of June. The route traveled across country was on the old 2-lane US 30, which has now been replaced by Interstate 80. It traversed the states of Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. The weather was stormy on one of the trips. Since the times of the trips were in late spring and early fall it was quite cold in the higher elevations, especially in the mornings. In those days there were no freeways. With the exception of when you were in a large city, all roads were two lanes. Making 500 miles in a day took at least 12 hours, if everything went well. However, traveling on those two lane highways was much more enjoyable than on present day freeways. One saw a lot more of the country, towns, and cities in those days. The highways always went through the towns and cities and weren't by-passed as sometimes modern freeways do. It wasn't as monotonous as freeway driving. Gas stops were always a lot more convenient. 

Most of the breaks were taken at gasoline and oil stops. During that era motorcycles were noted for using oil and as a result the oil stops were every 400-600 miles. These stops were either at a Harley or Indian dealer because they were the only ones that carried 50 wt. oil, which is what motorcycles used at that time. There was always much camaraderie at those stops. You'd spend a little time swapping motorcycle yarns with the dealers and their employees. There, you would sometimes meet someone traveling in the same direction and you would travel together for a ways. 

You didn't have all of the different travel bag options that you now have to carry your luggage. All you had were the two standard saddle bags hung on your rear fender and whatever didn't fit in the saddlebags was wrapped in a tarp and attached to the rear fender rack with rope or straps. There were no sissy bars to attach packs to. 

Jerry Roy
6/17/2012 6:15:46 PM

Neat! My Uncle is in his mid 80's, and I'm going to foward this article to him, since he did some cross country back "in the day". I'll pick his brain about it when I ride up there next month. CZ

6/15/2012 3:58:41 PM

My first BIKE was a 1949 Indian CHIEF. I bought it in 1958 . The old bike was all BLACK & CHROME.. I sold it when I went in the Navy in 1960. I ride a 2008 VTX 1300C now. My son's 2006 H - D Fat boy is in my Garage till he return's from Afghanistan

Ray Burns
6/15/2012 2:49:30 PM

Another note, I agree with anonynous that the back roads are the only way to travel. I too dislike the freeways. Too much wind, traffic. As Glenn said how about writing a book of your adventures.

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