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Douglas Motorcycles
Robert Fulton

Robert E. Fulton Jnr, Douglas Adventurer

Robert E. Fulton y su travesía con una Douglas

Desde la aparición de la motocicleta la posibilidad de realizar grandes travesías estuvo al alcance de los pioneros de las dos ruedas que tuvieran espíritu aventurero. Fue así que la idea de dar la vuelta al mundo fue ganando cada vez más adeptos.

En 1932 Robert Edison Fulton Junior, un joven estadounidense recién graduado de arquitecto en la Universidad de Viena decide regresar a su casa en motocicleta, siguiendo una ruta que lo llevaría a circunvalar el mundo. Pese a la desaprobación de su acaudalada familia, y luego de la negativa del agente de Harley Davidson en Londres, logra convencer a Eddy Withers, ejecutivo de la fábrica Douglas en Bristol, para que le entregue sin cargo un ejemplar del nuevo modelo T6 de 600cc.y un sidecar.

La máquina fue especialmente preparada para hacer frente a un viaje tan largo. Se colocó un tanque de combustible extra detrás del sillín que llevaba cuatro galones imperiales adicionales para complementar la capacidad de tres galones del tanque de nafta normal de la moto. También se colocaron otros dos contenedores a cada lado de la rueda trasera para llevar un conjunto completo de herramientas. Otra caja unida a la parte posterior del tanque de combustible auxiliar contenía 1.200 metros de película cinematográfica. Un portaequipajes montado sobre la rueda delantera, equipado con una bolsa de cuero, contenía una cámara de cine y algunas prendas de vestir. Encima de esto había un parabrisas con un bolsillo especial de cuero para guardar mapas. Disimulada debajo del cárter del motor una bandeja ocultaba su único medio de protección, un revólver Smith & Wesson. Ambos neumáticos eran de gran tamaño y una rueda de repuesto completa con neumático, tambor de freno y corona dentada se colocó en la parte trasera del sidecar. Sin embargo el sidecar fue abandonado cuando tuvo un accidente de tráfico en Francia, a poco de comenzar la travesía, por lo que continuó con su Douglas en solitario.

Finalmente, un año y medio más tarde, llegó a casa después de cubrir 64.000 kilómetros siguiendo una ruta hemisférica a través de 32 países. Partiendo desde Londres atravesó toda Europa, Turquía, Siria, Líbano, Iraq (parte a través del desierto de Arabia), India, Sudeste Asiático, China y Japón. Desde allí se embarcó hasta San Francisco para arribar a Nueva York a fines de 1933. Sorprendentemente solo había sufrido seis pinchaduras en el neumático trasero, quizás debido a que la máquina con equipo pesaba casi 300 kilos.

Muchos años después Fulton publicó un libro titulado “One Man Caravan” donde relata detalladamente su épico viaje con algunas licencias de autor puesto que no menciona el incidente del sidecar y da la impresión de que siempre fue un paseo en motocicleta.

La Douglas fue restaurada a pedido de Fulton por los miembros del London Douglas MCC en 1993.


Since the appearance of the motorcycle, the possibility of making long journeys was within reach of the pioneers of two wheels with an adventurous spirit and the idea of taking one around the world became increasingly interesting to many.

Robert Edison Fulton Junior was born into an affluent American family which had extensive connections in the transport field. His father, Robert Fulton, was president of Mack Trucks. His grandfather ran a stagecoach company in the Old West - that company became Greyhound Coaches. Somewhere in the family tree is another Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine.

In 1932, now aged 23, the young American had graduated from Harvard as an architect and then spent a year studying at the Bauhaus in Vienna. On a whim he replied to a question at dinner as to what next on his agenda that he was going to ride across the world on his motorcycle. The question was from Kenton Redgrave, one of the new owners of the Douglas motorcycle works, who took great interest in the young Fulton's seemingly spur-of-the-moment idea and offered to supply a motorcycle and sidecar.

The motorcycle, with engine number RF69, was specially prepared to Fulton's specification to cope with such a long journey. An extra fuel tank was fitted behind the saddle which carried an additional four imperial gallons to supplement the three gallon capacity of the machine's normal petrol tank. Pannier boxes were placed on either side of the rear wheel to carry a full set of tools, and another box was attached to the rear of the auxiliary fuel tank - this contained some 4000 feet of 35mm film. A luggage rack mounted above the front mudguard carried a leather suitcase containing cameras, clothing and a toothbrush. Above this was a windshield with a leather pocket for maps. Concealed within the bashplate below the engine was a compartment carrying a Smith & Wesson revolver. Both tyres were larger than standard, from an automobile, and a spare wheel complete with tyre, brake drum and ring gear was fitted to the rear of the sidecar.

His luggage included cooking utensils, a tuxedo, white shoes, a dinner jacket, a dressing gown and pyjamas, a small library, and the obligatory pith helmet. All but the topi were abandoned before he departed Europe, along with the sidecar after a traffic accident early in the journey. Most of the trip was on the solo machine.[1]

A year and a half later he arrived home after covering a vast distance following a route which encompassed 32 countries. Departing from Dover, he rode through France, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece, then across Turkey, Syria, Iraq (partly through the Arabian desert), then sailed to India where he stayed for some months before tackling Afghanistan, Indochina, the East Indies (Indonesia) and finally Japan.

From there he sailed to San Francisco and rode to New York.

Robert Fulton spoke English, French and German, and when (as was often the case) these did not suffice, he used hand and body movements to make himself understood.

In Turkey, travelling at night he attempted to cross a bridge which wasn't there and ended up in the creek below, unconcious for some hours.

Having achieved the seemingly impossible and crossed the Syrian desert, in Baghdad he spent seven weeks in hospital with jaundice. The Iraqi hospital was far from modern, and the treatment is described as "rather primitive and rudimentary".

His plan had been to travel through Afghanistan via Iran, but as it was now winter and the mountains would impassable he took a boat to Bombay.

Fulton spent six months in India and travelled extensively, documenting parts of the Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh, Waziristan, Baluchistan and elsewhere in the country. He then rode into Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass and had his cameras taken by the authorities, and survived being shot at. Having retrieved his cameras, he rode across the dangerous Kandahar region before returning to central India, where he was given a right royal reception by a number of Maharajahs.

Another steamer, this time to the Dutch East Indies, rode through Sumatra and then shipped to Malaya and on to Indochina where he was imprisoned briefly as a smuggler. Then on to China before sailing to Japan where he visited Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Kobe. From there, in company with a group of over 30 Japanese motorcyclists, he rode to Osaka.

From Japan he took a steamer to San Francisco, and began the trip across America. In Texas his motorcycle was stolen, and he finally made it home to New York on Christmas Eve, 1933.


Fulton published a book in 1937 titled "One Man Caravan" which chronicles his epic journey in detail.

The film footage was collated into a documentary by his sons in the late 1980's, 5 minute extract here: around-world-by-motorbike-1932

Another was made about Fulton's quite extraordinary later life as an inventor and aviator: Fulton at Vimeo

The Douglas was restored at Fulton's request by members of the Douglas Motorcycle Club in 1993.

Fulton was a very creative man; he developed a system for aircraft to lift people directly from the ground whilst in flight, and that system was adapted to allow speedboats to collect groups of frogmen from the sea whilst travelling at speed. Both of these systems were used by the military for many decades. He also developed a flying car, and a device to help train pilots. It was rejected by the military at the time. These days we call it a Flight Simulator.

After a very full life, at the age of 95 Robert Fulton died, in 2004. "A good innings" writes Dennis Quinlan, who knew him well.


The film footage was collated into a documentary by his sons in the late 1980's, 5 minute extract here: around-world-by-motorbike-1932

Another was made about Fulton's quite extraordinary later life as an inventor and aviator: Fulton at Vimeo

The Douglas was restored at Fulton's request by members of the Douglas Motorcycle Club in 1993.

Fulton was a very creative man; he developed a system for aircraft to lift people directly from the ground whilst in flight, and that system was adapted to allow speedboats to collect groups of frogmen from the sea whilst travelling at speed. Both of these systems were used by the military for many decades. He also developed a flying car, and a device to help train pilots. It was rejected by the military at the time. These days we call it a Flight Simulator.

After a very full life, at the age of 95 Robert Fulton died, in 2004.


Extract from One Man Caravan

What those placid Londoners thought I can only imagine. Somewhere in their minds there certainly reverberated the one word, Mad!

"I'm going round the world on a motor-cycle!"

I'd said it. Seven persons had heard it — and there I was. If I startled my hosts and their very British guests I was due to receive, in return, what can only described be as a jolt. It was a young man, a little older than myself, who spoke from the other end of the table.

"I say there," he exclaimed, "that sounds grand! Have you a motor-cycle?" Then and there was the chance to disclaim the whole affair. Instead I remained silent, and the next words I heard came from the young man, whose eyes brimmed with excitement and great interest. "If you haven't your motor yet, old man," he said, " then how about letting me furnish it? You know, we have the Douglas motor-works. Fine engines. We must talk this over. It sounds interesting, very interesting."

And thus, within a few weeks, I found myself sitting astride two wheels, humming down the Dover road, headed for what one of the motor-works heads had dubbed "a two-cylinder Odyssey." Not that I felt like any kind of Ulysses, nor did I have visions of a modern Homer becoming my biographer. My feelings were a mixture of anxiety and boredom. The anxiety over the possibility that my mother and father might at any moment learn of my intended trek and take steps to intercede in the venture. The boredom came with contemplation of the thousand or so miles across Europe, in which I should just another Wandervögel on a motor-bike, and not the glamorous figure a small group of British friends had assured me I represented. I wanted real adventure — right away; a chance to use the bulky bundle of maps and all the gadgets strapped so neatly to various sections of my motor-cycle.

One Man Caravan, page 6. Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., 1937.


Many of the pictures would not have been possible had I not rerigged my cameras before starting the journey. Travels even as a child had taught me that many people disliked (sometimes actively) having their picture taken. Some of them had probably never before seen a camera and all they knew about things pointed at them was "guns".

I therefore made a special viewer for both my Leica "still" camera and my Bell & Howell Eymo 35mm movie camera so that I could take pictures at 90 degrees ...looking one way but actually filming another. It did take some getting used to, especially with the movies when the subject moved about and required following. But it produced a lot of otherwise impossible pictures and avoided a lot of human reactions.

Twice Upon a Time, Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., 1997, page 148


As we crossed Baffin Bay, barely fifty miles to Thule, another fine love-song for they [sic] fellow man (in this case woman) materialized. Suddenly my dream-world vanished in a fog so thick the wingtips were invisible from the cockpit. The circumstances were about as bad as possible. The airport was deep in a fiord too narrow and with walls too high for this airplane to reverse course. It was "land or else... ! "The pilot had never been there but the Base was equipped with GCA (a Ground-Controlled-Approach System where the Tower in effect becomes the pilot and the man at the airplane's controls simply does what he is told to keep the plane on a correct electronic approach course to the runway.) Needless to say most pilots do not relish this second-hand system but this was a "flight for life" — a flight for LOVE

We were shortly on final-approach, throttles back, airspeed reduced, heading and rate of descent remotely specified, nose coming up (still no ground in sight and 1 had no earphones to hear the Controller). Minutes like hours of nothing - suddenly a screeching thump as the runway rose to meet the tires and the brakes went on, We rolled to a stop, still in the middle of nowhere. Not only were the edges Of the runway invisible. So was the ground right under us. And there we sat for about fifteen minutes until a jeep found us and led the way to the ramp and atv awaiting ambulance.

An hour later we were informed mother and child were doing well.

"FLIGHT FOR LIFE" was a life-inspiring experience.

Twice Upon a Time, Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., 1997, page 358

Notes

1. Accounts of what became of the sidecar are sparse and conflicting, and it is not mentioned in Fulton's book. Sergio's version (in Spanish, above) says that it was removed after an accident in France. A story in the Toronto Star from 2012 says the accident was in Belgium. In the video clip on The Guardian the sidecar combination is shown being pushed by a group of villagers immediately preceded by an image of a windmill (1min 21). A rather good video by Geoff Thomas of Nomad Nomad mentions the Balkans before stating that the sidecar was removed after meeting an Australian who was walking around the world backwards. He was actually an American, Plennie L. Wingo, who got as far as the Turkish border whilst heading east in October 1932. Fulton encounted Wingo in Greece and writes, "The figure of a man appeared. From his shoulder projected a bracket supporting a mirror. The sun intermittently reflected in his joggling glass. There was a sign on the man's back. As I approached, the letters grew enormous: 'Look Out! Look Out! Walking around the world backward!"

A group of images in Fulton's 1997 book is captioned "France - Gently broke the fall." The LA Times writes that he "ditched the sidecar and tuxedo in the Balkans."

2. At one stage while researching this article I was thinking that Sergio's comment about poetic licence summed it up nicely - this just can't be true, he's making it up. Each time I dug deeper to find the flaw in the Fulton narrative I found that it correct. Case in point: he clearly states in one of the videos that the movie camera is a 35mm, but the grainy image showed what must surely be a 16mm. The section above on his cameras clarifies that.

Some accounts state the film stock as 40,000 feet, rather than 4000. The Eyemo camera accepted standard 100ft rolls of 35mm film which weighed, including canister, around 300 grams. 40 canisters contain 4000ft, and weigh approx 12kg. 40,000 feet would be 120kg, so probably not. Apparently some of the exposed film was lost due to the high temperatures and/or humidity. Fulton posted exposed rolls back to the States when he could.

3. The Douglas motorcycle is variously listed as a 600cc T6, a Bulldog 500 SV and a Mastiff 750 SV. The Vintagent says it's a Mastiff, a US museum features the machine says it's a Bulldog. GY1616 has alloy heads and barrels, as has the Mastiff. Both the T6 and the Bulldog have cast iron top ends. Also, Fulton's machine was designed to haul a sidecar, so a 750 makes good sense.

Sources: Sergio Scalerandi, Denis Quinlan at Velobanjogent, fricandomotarra Wikipedia, et al.


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