Author Embarks on 4,500 miles Across America on a 100-Year-Old Henderson Motorcycle

  • Author Embarks on 4,500 miles Across America on a 100-Year-Old Henderson Motorcycle Following the Path of British Royal Air Force Captain From Hundred Years Earlier

One hundred years ago, British Royal Air Force Captain Charles Kenilworth “C.K.” Shephard journeyed across America on a 1919 Henderson motorcycle with only a map and very little knowledge about America. This summer, United States Air Force Captain Mark Leslie Hunnibell follows Captain Shephard’s adventure from New York City to San Francisco on his own 1919 Henderson motorcycle. In the book about this hundredyear journey in the making, Across America by Motor-Cycle: Fully Annotated Centennial Edition, co-written by Captains Shephard and Hunnibell, contains C.K.’s original journey and updated with Mark’s annotations along with more than 250 photos and illustrations. This is the ultimate motorcycle travel adventure book.

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We had a nice chat with Captain Mark L. Hunnibell to find out more.

What is your book, Across America by Motor-Cycle about?

The 1922 book, Across America by Motor-Cycle, is the story told by Captain C.K. Shepherd, a Royal Air Force (RAF)veteran of WWI from England who crossed America by motorcycle in 1919 after the war. In mid-June, within two weeks of arriving in Manhattan, C.K. bought a top-of-the-line Henderson four-cylinder motorcycle and was hot on the trail for California. In 1922, C.K.’s book was published, the story of his transcontinental journey in the summer of 1919 through sixteen states covering nearly 5,000 miles. C.K.’s story documents an amazing journey but regretfully did not include many details of the trip and the man who took it. This book answers them all.

Tell us about your own 1919 Henderson Motorcycle.

Near the end of my time at RISD, I saw the parts of an old motorcycle in my father’s machine shop at home.  He told me the he had gotten the motorcycle from a friend who found it in India, heard that it had been bought new by the Nizam of Hyderabad VII. My father’s friend bought the pieces and had them shipped back. I expressed an interest in restoring it and my father gave it to me. Unfortunately, restoration was a huge undertaking that ended up lasting almost 40 years. But in 2018, it was running and back on the road for the first time in 60 years.

What made you so interested in C.K. Shepherd’s original book that you’d want to publish a fully annotated edition?

I discovered C.K.’s book about his 1919 trip some 20 years agoand was inspired by the epic journey on the same kind of motorcycle I owned and was ever-so-slowly restoring. I became consumed with the idea of retracing his journey, but the book lacked a detailed itinerary, leading me to complex research in order to reverse engineer the route. In the process, I discovered many details about C.K.’s ride and life that I thought many would appreciate even if they had never read the original book.

What are some fascinating aspects of C.K. Shepherd’s book?

Beyond the motorcycle riding itself, it is an outsider’s honest impressions of America as he saw it. It is laced with British use of words and terms, often with understated humor, and sometimes with surprising result. For example, he wrote about his inability to get the hotel maid outside his room in Washington DC to tell him where the bathroom was. So, he said, he removed his “life preserver” from his pocket. “Its effect was magical” in that he was immediately shown to the bathroom. I did not understand what “life preserver” was until C.K.’s own son informed me that it was an old British term for revolver; C.K. pulled a gun on a maid so she would show him to the bathroom. Humorous indeed.

Do you suppose that C.K. Shepherd used maps to get across America back in 1919? Why do you think he picked the route he did?

There were not a large number of roadmaps for tourism by car back in 1919. One section of my book discusses the various maps and navigation options of the day, including the Official Automobile Blue Book series consisting of seven volumes each describing hundreds of routes, in turn-by-turn format, how to get from one place to another in various regions of the USA. C.K. did mention a visit to the AAA office on the 9th floor of the Claypool Hotel in Indianapolis where they gave him their advice on the roads.

What do you hope readers will get from reading the annotated version of the book as opposed to C.K. Shepherd’s original book?

First, C.K.’s original book is embedded within mine (or rather my notes are embedded within his). So the reader can read the original text as it was written and observe a note number on a point of interest, flip a few pages to the end of the chapter to read the note, and the come back to continue reading. Second, I discovered many (surely unintentional) discrepancies with the book such as distances travelled, names of people and cities, etc.. Where I found such issues, I have noted them and drawn conclusions as to the nature of the problem and apparent solution. I felt like a bit of a “fact checker” when doing this work, but I was on a quest to be as accurate and thorough as possible.

On your tour of America, where will some of your stops be?

I have 28 days of riding planned, with several multi-day stops, some for planned activity, some to account for delays so the whole schedule does not fall apart in case of mechanical, weather, or other delay. The first multi-day stop is two days in Yellow Springs, Ohio, my adopted “home town” where I have booked all the rooms at the local motel so we can have a reception without disturbing other guests (and provide accommodation for those who would prefer to spend the night rather than drive home). I have two days in Kansas City, three days in Cañon City (Colorado), two days at Flagstaff, two days at Grand Canyon, and three days in Los Angeles. I have some other brief stops planned for social and enthusiast interaction along the way and am trying to keep myself as open as possible if other opportunities arise. My complete itinerary and stops are on my web site.