Calgary Herald - - DRIVING - GREG WILLIAMS Greg Williams is a mem­ber of the Au­to­mo­bile Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada. Have a col­umn tip? Con­tact him at 403-287-1067 or greg­

One hun­dred years ago, Bri­tish RAF Capt. C.K. Shep­herd landed in Mon­treal. It was June 3, 1919, and Shep­herd’s stay in Canada was a short one.

That same day he crossed into the U.S. and made his way to New York City, where he bought a 1919 Hen­der­son Z-2-E four-cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cle. From New York, Shep­herd rode across Amer­ica, ar­riv­ing in Los An­ge­les on Aug. 7.

“Roads? What roads?” Shep­herd said of the route he took in the 1922 book he wrote about his ad­ven­ture, Across Amer­ica by Mo­tor-cy­cle.

One hun­dred years later,

Capt. Mark Hun­ni­bell of Yel­low Springs, Ohio, is re­trac­ing Shep­herd’s ad­ven­ture, us­ing the same make of mo­tor­cy­cle.

“In 1978, at my dad’s ma­chine shop, I saw pieces of an old Hen­der­son mo­tor­cy­cle sit­ting in a corner,” Hun­ni­bell told me dur­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion as he was on his way to New York to start his trip. “I wanted to do some­thing with it, and he gave it to me.”

After an ini­tial sur­vey of the project, Hun­ni­bell says, it looked like it was go­ing to be a big­ger un­der­tak­ing than he’d an­tic­i­pated, and life soon got very busy. He joined the air force and flew with them for seven years. Then he be­came a com­mer­cial pi­lot. It wasn’t un­til 2000, after he’d had the four-cylin­der Hen­der­son for 22 years, that he be­gan search­ing for knowl­edge­able peo­ple, books and other doc­u­men­ta­tion per­tain­ing to the ma­chine.

“I found C.K. Shep­herd’s book on­line, read it and filed it away,” Hun­ni­bell says. But an idea be­gan per­co­lat­ing — he wanted to re­trace Shep­herd’s jour­ney on his own Hen­der­son.

Hen­der­son mo­tor­cy­cles were de­signed by brothers Wil­liam and Tom Hen­der­son of Detroit. They built their first in-line four-cylin­der pro­to­type in 1911 and be­gan pro­duc­tion of a 934-cc model in 1912.

The brothers sold the com­pany to Ig­naz Sch­winn in 1917, and pro­duc­tion was moved to Chicago. The 1919 Z-mod­els, like the ones owned by Shep­herd and Hun­ni­bell, now had a 1,147-cc power plant that pro­duced 14.2 horsepower. These mo­tor­cy­cles fea­tured a three-speed trans­mis­sion and a band-style rear brake.

For Hun­ni­bell’s plan to be­come re­al­ity, he first had to have the Hen­der­son re­stored. After one false start with a Cana­dian en­gine re­builder, Hun­ni­bell lo­cated Hen­der­son spe­cial­ist Mark Hill of 4th Coast Fours in up­state New York.

“I took the en­gine, that had al­ready been worked on, to Mark,” Hun­ni­bell says. “When Mark re­al­ized I wanted to ride the Hen­der­son across the coun­try, he said we’d have to start over with the re­build — and we did.”

The frame and other com­po­nents were re­stored and painted by John Pierce. Ac­cord­ing to Hun­ni­bell, most 1918 and 1919 Hen­der­son mo­tor­cy­cles had been fin­ished at the fac­tory in olive green. But Pierce, after care­fully peel­ing back lay­ers of old paint, dis­cov­ered a vivid red colour that was in the nooks and cran­nies of the frame. While some en­thu­si­asts thought he should paint the Hen­der­son olive green, Hun­ni­bell went with the ev­i­dence and painted it red.

A few changes were made to the run­ning gear, in­clud­ing new rims wrapped in mod­ern tires. A small Honda front hub was laced into the wheel to pro­vide a mod­icum of brak­ing — the orig­i­nal Hen­der­son had no front brake. Hun­ni­bell’s Hen­der­son was fin­ished late in 2018.

Hun­ni­bell says Shep­herd’s book was not writ­ten in a diary for­mat, and it’s dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine his ex­act route.

“I spent a cou­ple of years go­ing page by page, line by line, word by word, to re­verse en­gi­neer his book to come up with a close ap­prox­i­ma­tion of his route,” Hun­ni­bell says.

On July 4, Hun­ni­bell left from Man­hat­tan and be­gan rid­ing his Hen­der­son across Amer­ica. For the first 10 days of Hun­ni­bell’s ride, en­gine re­storer Mark Hill’s son, Lor­ing, fol­lowed along. When he got to Ohio, an­other en­thu­si­ast took Hill’s place for the du­ra­tion of the ride.

Hun­ni­bell has reprinted Shep­herd’s book, Across Amer­ica by Mo­tor-cy­cle, and has added to it hun­dreds of an­notations.

In 2017, Hun­ni­bell man­aged to track down Shep­herd’s son, Charles, and met him in Eng­land. As he was leav­ing, Charles pre­sented Hun­ni­bell with his fa­ther’s compass — an in­stru­ment Shep­herd car­ried with him on many ad­ven­tures.

“This type of ride would be a pretty big ad­ven­ture on a mod­ern bike, and it’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit in­sane on an an­tique one,” Hun­ni­bell says. He pauses, then adds, “But when I’m alone out on the road in ru­ral Kansas, I’ll feel a unique con­nec­tion to C.K.”

Visit acrossamer­i­caby­mo­tor­cy­ to fol­low Hun­ni­bell as he cov­ers, as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble, Shep­herd’s orig­i­nal route.


Capt. Mark Hun­ni­bell of Ohio is ven­tur­ing across Amer­ica on his 1919 Hen­der­son, fol­low­ing the path of Capt. C.K. Shep­herd, who made the same trip 100 years ago.

Archival im­age of Cap. C.K. Shep­herd aboard his 1919 Hen­der­son in Kansas City, taken while he was rid­ing across Amer­ica.

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