History of Overlanding – 1930s and 1940s

Robert Edison Fulton Jnr

Heir to the MAC Lorry Company of the USA, Robert Edison Fulton Jnr. rode around the world on a Douglas ‘fore-and’aft’ 600cc, initially with a sidecar which he abandoned in Southern Europe.

R Fulton Jnr

Having recently finished some advanced studies in architecture, Fulton was asked at a dinner party what he would do next. On a whim he said ‘ride a motorcycle around the world’, little knowing that the owner of the Douglas Motorcycle Company was present and took him at his word.

Fulton’s 25,000 mile (40,250 km) trek took 18 months between 1932-34, riding through 22 countries on three continents from England, through Western and Eastern Europe, into Turkey, Syria, the ‘Djebel-Druze’ and Iraq. Then by ship to India, Waziristan, Afghanistan and on to Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Siam (Thailand) and French Indo-China (Vietnam), China, then Japan and finally onward across the USA.

Fulton became a self-taught pilot and aerial photographer as well as an inventor with over 70 patents in his name (from a bed-making device to an early air-gunnery simulator, an emergency rescue rig for downed air-crew and an aeroplane that transformed in to a car).

Fulton wrote of his exploits in ‘One Man Caravan’, published in 1936 and republished 1998 by Whitehorse Press; 275 pages, softbound 5.5 x 8.5 inches.  Also, ‘The long journey home’, a selection of stills from Edison’s cine-films of his journey, was published in 2000 by August Press, 112 pages.

Toward the end of his life he also edited 40,000 feet of 35mm cine film he’d shot along the way to create an 58 minute Video/DVD: ‘Twice Upon A Caravan’, narrated by Fulton and available in NTSC/DVD.  A trailer can be found here.

Theresa Wallach & Florence Blenkiron

Rugged Road by T Wallach

Overland travel has thankfully never been the preserve of just one sex. In 1935 Theresa and Florence embarked on a ride from the UK to South Africa on a 600cc Panther motorcycle with a Watsonian sidecar and a quite amazing homemade trailer. Their route took them straight through the centre of the Sahara, then across to Kenya in the east before continuing south to Cape Town.

Both women were already experienced motorcycle racers and trials riders and Florence was a member of a very select club of riders who had lapped Brooklands at over 100mph. Their story is one of incredible achievement in a time before roads. It’s one of battles with extremes of nature and mechanical mishap and fortunately for us, Theresa wrote a book ‘The Rugged Road’ which is a terrific read to boot. It’s published in the UK by Panther Publishing and you can read a full review here.

Mr & Mrs Bujakowski

Mr Bujakowski

The Polish couple Mr and Mrs Bujakowski rode from Poland to China in 1934 on a BSA Halo. They left eastern Poland (which is now Lithuania) and travelled for 19 months. They initially rode west through Poland to Germany, then Austria, then southeast through the Balkans, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, Burma , Indochina all the way to Shanghai. It was a total distance of 24,000km.

They had great adventures and run out of gas, money and inner tubes many times, but we are particularly grateful to Mrs Bujakowski for documenting them. All of her thoughts and observations were captured on the typewriter that they carried the whole way, along with their assorted armaments, however they were welcomed everywhere they stopped.

Their story is captured in the book “Moj chlopiec, motor i ja” (My boy, the motorcycle and I), but so far it appears to have only ever been available in Polish.

We’d like to thank Peter Sewinski of Chicago for the info about this wonderful couple.


With motorcycles and fuel in short-supply across much of the war-torn world, we haven’t found any stories of overlanding riders during the 1940’s, but we’ll keep searching and update this page as we do.