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Bud and Dick: 1915

1915. "Baker and O'Brien, transcontinental motorcyclists, at north of Ellipse below White House." Dick O'Brien and Bud Baker were two "Washington high school boys" who made a five-month, 10,000-mile round trip to the West Coast to see the California expositions. Said Dick: "Our experiences will prove mighty interesting when we start to tell them." Harris & Ewing Collection. View full size.

1915. "Baker and O'Brien, transcontinental motorcyclists, at north of Ellipse below White House." Dick O'Brien and Bud Baker were two "Washington high school boys" who made a five-month, 10,000-mile round trip to the West Coast to see the California expositions. Said Dick: "Our experiences will prove mighty interesting when we start to tell them." Harris & Ewing Collection. View full size.


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1915 roads

In 1919 the Army decided to send a truck convoy across the country from California to Washington, D.C. A young Captain Dwight Eisenhower made sure to get himself included in the adventure. They discovered the roads of America to be appallingly bad in many areas, and were almost forced to give up the journey on several occasions.

After many months they made it to their destination. Later in the 1950's, when Ike was president, this experience was a major factor in his determination to give the United States a first-class interstate highway system.

The roads these guys must have traveled would have been horrendous in many areas. A motorcycle would probably have had a better chance than a four-wheeled vehicle, but there were probably spots where they were just driving through total wilderness.

The wind in your hair...

and the bugs in your teeth! Can you imagine riding all that way with no face protection from bugs, gravel, dirt, etc.? Only the young have that kind of fortitude!

[My guess would be that they at least wore goggles. - Dave]

1915 Indian

From this video you can get a bit more of an idea of what the two intrepid teens had for a ride back in 1915.

Also, an excellent picture of another restored version here.

To see the bike in color makes me think Baker and O'Brien must have attracted a lot of attention from wide-eyed lasses across America.

Bike Specs

It appears to be 1913 or earlier since it does not have a headlight. Those were introduced in 1914. I've been Googling around trying to find the engine size/horsepower. Anyone know? I can't imagine it has more than 10-15hp. It looks like an oversized moped.

Pricey ride

The 1915 1000 cc Indian would have been a very expensive motorcycle in its day (and even more so now!). Baker and O'Brian must have saved a lot of money from summer jobs or had some very indulgent parents.

They also must have been excellent mechanics because motorcycles in those days took a great deal of on-going repair and maintenance to keep them functional. Other cross-country motorcycle diaries from those days indicate an amazing level of resourcefulness was necessary to to complete the trip. In one case, two fellows traveling by sidecar rig broke down and managed to repair the engine's ignition system mechanicals with a bit of material from the passenger's false teeth!

Teens Always Dream of Adventures

At my high school graduation, June 1969, here in upstate NY, a fellow classmate walked on stage to receive his diploma while wearing biker boots. Immediately after, his parents saw him and three others ride off on their motorcycles with backpacks to visit Baja Mexico. Teens will always dream of travel and adventure. I remember wishing I could go with them, still wish I went...

Either time is frozen...

...or they are supported by a hidden pole. The emulsion (most likely on a glass plate) from 1915 was rather slow, so there would have been some blurring if the bike was in motion. But look at the spokes on the rear wheel, which are in sharp focus. The top spokes aren't blurred at all.

Methinks some photographic license is being taken here.

[Emulsions in 1915 were not slow. Fast enough to freeze a baseball. Shutter speeds were demarcated in thousandths of a second. - Dave]

Permission? What permission?

At that time most boys over twelve were considered grown, and any parental effort to require permission to take a job or make a trip would have been seriously resented. To the point of the boy "riding the rods" to less nosy climes.

Quite a few young men made similar pilgrimages, to the West Coast, to Mexico, and anywhere else their fancy turned.

In fact, a twelve year old boy drove a CAR from Oklahoma to New York City to meet his father's returning troopship at the end of WWI. The greatest problem was the necessity for frequent tire repairs. This feat attracted a small amount of notice in the newspapers, and father and son took turns driving home.

Old Radio Man


"Dick" can ride on my backseat anytime, with or without a helmet.

ow ow OWWW

Ten thousand miles?! On that bike? My butt goes numb after a couple hundred miles on a comfortable, modern Ducati or Triumph. I can't imagine a cross-country trip on that prehistoric Indian. It's a cute bike, but thanks.

The Bike

Looks like the 1915 V-Twin Indian. And after 10000 miles she'd have been nicely broken in. Doubtless Bud and Dick went on to the next big adventure in a couple of years. I hope they survived that one, though so many didn't.

Would it happen today?

I find it difficult to believe anyone's parents would let a couple of HS teenagers disappear across the country today ... even in a car, let alone on a motorcycle. Did anyone do this kind of thing while still in high school in more recent times?

[So if you were 18 and and had just graduated from high school, you'd be asking Mom and Dad for permission to take a trip? - Dave]

Dick and Bud's Excellent Adventure

Washington Post, Oct. 4, 1915.


Two Washington Boys Back Home After
Trip to Pacific Coast.

Two former Washington high school boys -- "Dick" O'Brien, of Technical, and "Bud" Baker, of Central -- reached this city yesterday after a trip to the expositions in California on a motorcycle. They were gone five months to the day, and 10,000 miles were covered. The boys left this city May 3. At Denver they gave an exhibition of their proficiency by riding up and down the steps of the statehouse.

"We were, I believe, the first to cross the continent on a motor-driven tandem," said young O'Brien, "and our experiences will prove mighty interesting when we start to tell them. We were stopped for five days by reason of storms in Kansas, and at other points our patience was severely tested by poor roads. The roads of the East are far superior to those of the West, and the installation of the Lincoln memorial highway from coast to coast will go a long ways toward opening up a new country.

"In Reno the thermometer was 110 as we passed through, and an hour later we were throwing snowballs at each other on top of the Sierras. We stopped at the fair for some time. We are glad to get back home. But it was a great trip."

"Dick" O'Brien is the son of Richard E. O'Brien, inspector of plumbing in the District building.

Candid Camera

I agree with Stinky on your incredible website giving us a whole new perspective on the way it was in days of yore. In all seriousness, I must say that the young man in the front looks very unhappy, almost like he is in pain. Its been said one can tell a happy biker by the number of flies in his teeth, but these kids really do not seem to be enjoying their adventure. And is that a "Clarabelle" horn on the handlebars?

Interesting indeed...

Cross country with no helmets? No leathers? Not even a saddlebag? My, what stories they must have been able to tell!!

Great DOF!

I love the Depth of Field on this one. Look at the blurred car on the background. Looks great!

The Eternal Teenager, Redux

The photos you present here often have a timeless and (almost) immediate quality to them that are capable of taking my breath away, Dave. I can't think of any other place that I've been -- not books, not movies - and certainly not old family photo albums - that have the ability to convey that sense. I live in a part of the U.S that is blessed with thousands of old houses and I've oftentimes looked at one, imagining how it might have looked the day the builders finished it. But because I am relying only on my imagination, I'm left with an incomplete, unsatisfied mental picture. Here, though, I can look into the faces of people long dead and see their youth and vitality clearly -- and I can appreciate the relative newness (and vitality) of a motorcycle that, more likely, I would otherwise only see in the back, dusty recesses of a junk/antique barn -- rusted, banged up and worn out. I hope that Bud and Dick went on to live relatively happy lives and died knowing that their lives weren't a waste of time.

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