Story by Grover Hartard, Jr. Centereach, New York
On August 2, 1948, my mother’s older brother, Thomas Klementset, set out from Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island, New York, to ride across the country on his “Iron Horse,” a 1946 Harley-Davidson hard tail, 74-inch Flathead. Tom was just 24 years old and fresh out of the Air Force. His younger brother, my Uncle Bob, 19 years old and back from the Army, went along.
With a tarp, bedrolls, clothes, aviator headgear, and raingear they were on their way. It must have been quite a sight – two men on a hard tail with a buddy seat, sleeping under a tarp on the roadside.
Their stops included Niagara Falls; Cleveland, Ohio; and the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. They rode into Cody, Wyoming and on to Yellowstone Park, checking out Old Faithful. They stopped in Reno, Nevada before touring Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Long Beach in California and swimming in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
The return trip to the East Coast brought them by Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. After visiting friends in Texas, they rode to Vicksburg National Cemetery in Mississippi and on to Knoxville, Tennessee. The two spent a day touring Washington, D.C., photographing the White House. President Truman was reportedly on the front lawn.
They returned to Lake Ronkonkoma on September 6, 36 days later.
Tom married Virginia in 1950 and went to work at Shell Oil before entering a broadcast career. Together they raised five children. Bob became an avid flat track racer in the late 40s and 50s. He was treasurer of the Cross Island Motorcycle Club from 1950 to about 1955. He joined the NYPD in 1953. He married Anne in 1952 and they also raised five kids.
Their trip of a lifetime was recorded in a family album. The photos are priceless, but entries for expenses are unbelievable. They spent less than $150 on the entire 8,103-mile trip:
|Fuel (196 gallons)||$57.31|
|Oil (25 quarts)||$10.21|
|Misc. parts: bulb/chain||$3.75|
This trip was taken before the Interstate system was designed, but many of the roads my two uncles traveled are still in existence. It may be possible to duplicate this ride, but I don’t believe anyone could (or should!) sleep beside the road today.