‘A Ride in the Sun’ would be an appropriate title for this book had Peggy Thomas not encountered such foul weather on part of her journey through North America. That’s in part why I prefer the other title ‘Gasoline Gypsy’. Confused?
Well this is a book which was first released in 1953 in the USA as ‘Gasoline Gypsy’, only being renamed for the UK edition the following year. And I am very pleased to say it has now been reprinted under both titles by Rixon Groove Publishing.
It is the tale of a threesome, adventuring in a manner and innocence that secretly we all wish to emulate. Between 1950 and 1952, with barely two cents to rub together, Peggy Thomas rides her BSA Bantam, ‘Oppy’ across Canada, the ‘States and Mexico with her friend and travel partner ‘Matelot’, an Airedale Terrier, proudly riding pillion. They’re a quintessentially eccentric English trio.
In true gasoline gypsy style, accommodation is wherever it can be found, from beaches to filthy doss-houses or farmers’ fields. But her openness and genuine delight in her surroundings is repaid continually by the kindness of strangers: truckers, knights of the road who rush to help a damsel in distress; mechanics and motorcycle shops who can’t do enough; garage owners; restauranteurs and even kindly newspaper reporters.
This is a story that will make you smile and marvel at the endurance of a young woman whose riding attire is a woollen sweater or a summer frock and sandals (which she carefully removes and stores when the weather is particularly inclement). In the cold of the Canadian winter even Matelot the dog dons a jacket, scarf and hat as he rides proudly in his open box, head resting on Peggy’s shoulder.
They have no Gortex or sat-nav and Oppy barely makes ten horse power, but even this is curtailed when dog hairs block the carburettor. You will feel the tension as they spend their last few cents in the Florida swamps, or while Peggy struggles to hold down a day and a night shift in Vancouver to replenish the funds. And you will sense the urgency as Mexican divers struggle to recover her valuable type-writer from the briney depths. Yes it sounds improbable.
The 1950s are for many the golden age of travel, and the romance that the freedom of the road can provide is captured here in a manner rarely experienced. The writing is eloquent and period and a gay old time is had by all.
You’ve probably heard this before, but whether you have a GS or a GSX parked in the garage, if there’s one book you should read this year, this should be it.
Fortunately, you can purchase a paperback edition here.
ISBN 9780956 1168 40
Paperback 222pp, 12 B&W images,
Rixon Groove Publishing