Theresa Wallach and her Norton International
By James Ingram
NTNOA Member #45
I saw the following article in Walnecks several years ago. It was a reprint from who knows where? There were no markings as to who originally published this and I am sure that Walnecks didn’t because of age of the article and the bad cut and paste job. Anyway, I scanned the article along with the images intending to re-render the text some day. A couple of night ago I pulled it up and using OCR software I converted the text. I had to go though it and fix what the OCR didn’t understand so there might be some strangeness in some of the punctuation but I think I have it pretty well right.
I Googled Theresa Wallach and she was quite amazing. Before her trip to America she and a friend rode a Panther outfit from London to Cape Town, South Africa. She was a mechanic, a degreed engineer, an army dispatch rider, ran a motorcycle dealership and a rider training school. She never owned a car and only stopped riding in her 80s where her eye sight failed. She rode a Norton 350 at over 100 mph at Brooklands to earn a Gold Star. Once again she was on a Norton for her trip around the US. You just gotta love the fact that she did this in 1947 just after the war. The wording and ideas seem kind of quaint in places and very foreign in others. I really like her unbridled optimism. She was a pretty amazing woman.
See the AMA Hall of Fame article on her here:
This all started because I couldn’t resist scanning the image of her, in her traveling kit, aboard her Norton International.
The Cult of Curiosity
America is the kind of place that most people read about, but never expect to see. This applies to the citizen as well as to the foreign visitor, for seeing America is a tall order. When I landed in New York and saw the sectioned and detailed maps of the country which were given free as advertisement by the gas stations, then the curiosity of my sex became a force to be reckoned with.
This was in 1947. I have always wanted to travel. The Powers-that-be, who claim that since the war the stability of the business world lies in controlling the exchange of foreign currency would not stop me. An attempt to tour the whole of the United States and get a glimpse of Canada and Mexico by working at various jobs whenever I needed money, would indeed be a great adventure. The most difficult part of the scheme was to make up my own mind and get started. In the many miles that I have covered in the last two years both men and women all over the country have said to me “I would like to do what you are doing if only I wasn't married. " Some would say "I would do something like that as things are today - if only I was ten years younger." Others have said "I have always wanted to travel just like you are doing, but now I can't leave the business." Some simply wish they had enough money.
All these people have been a great spur to my adventure, I had decided that there would be no "IFS" now and no "regrets" later. I was well on my way towards working my way round this big country when I realized that this was travel within the true meaning of the word. In this way I had come to know people and to understand their parts of the country in a way which no other mode of travelling would have made possible.
At this rate ... " I reflected "it will take me two years to see the States and why not'!" I asked myself, for to see the world they say, is to judge the judges. The opportunity of seeing America came as a contrast to my journey through Africa, from London to Cape Town, before the war. It is interesting to compare "old" Europe with “young" America and “undeveloped” Africa. Looking back, my experiences and adventures have blended together with the interesting places I have seen and given me an understanding of a truly wonderful country and its people.
The last few months of my journey have been as full of adventure as at any time since I started. During early Spring I explored two thousand, five hundred miles of Florida. One of the most interesting' places was at Silver Springs. The description of the beauty of its crystal clear waters tempted me to investigate. Deep down in the Silver River there is an aperture through which flow millions of gallons of spring water a day. I took a trip in one of the special boats.
Electrically driven glass bottom boats glide silently through the warm waters. They enable one to see down to the bottom of this queer watering places of prehistoric animals. I experienced a weird sensation of Fairyland when I looked through the glass bottomed floor of the boat. Gar fish and cat fish were swimming about over clusters of coral fern blossom. Then I saw a huge turtle take off and swim around. Usually the situation is the other way around the animals being in the cage! The boats glided slowly over the Devil’s kitchen and the Cat Fish Hotel and other beautiful underwater formations.
By the middle of March, the weather was getting really hot here. At Silver Springs there is the renowned semi - open air laboratory for the extraction of venom from rattle snakes. Mr. Ross Allen, the head of the Institute that bears his name, is the famous authority on the "milking” of these reptiles. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Allen and then watching him perform this exceedingly dangerous operation which he does before the public. It is only the rattlesnake that has the venom so necessary to the medical profession as a serum. All the snakes were caught in the Everglade swamps.
As Mr. Allen enters the glass pen, scores of rattlesnakes could be seen and heard shaking their tail tips, Not one would strike. He understands snakes. He is the exemplification of calm and confidence. Mr. Allen extracts the venom from the fangs which is supposed to be the origin of the hypodermic needle. His method was to squeeze the jaws which open exactly like a garden snap dragon plant. The two ugly fangs thus exposed were hooked over the edge of a glass beaker. The venom then extracted by thumb pressure resembled in color and quantity-a mere thimble full of orange juice.
"We have some very friendly Snakes ... "said Mr. Allen. "Come and see Indigo.” He opened a cage and let a big black Gopher crawl about him. "Here, take it . , ." he said to me. With a little gentle handling, Indigo went on exercising himself around me. His black forked tongue went flipping in and out, picking up the sound, vibrations through which he hears. "After that ... " I said to myself “. . . Come what may Florida."
As I was riding along the road south of Ocala, I saw a plaque beside the road saying "Historical marker 500 ft." I pulled into the roadside bay and read the inscription on the tablet. It was to commemorate a battle with the Seminole Indians, only in 1842.
At this stage of my journey, it was difficult to recall what I might have expected of America before I started. I didn’t realize how young it is. I spent almost three months in this "Sunshine State” which included a jaunt down to the Keys. The work of the mosquitoes almost spoiled my ride back from Key West to Miami. At times I was riding hands off and performing all kinds of contortions to soothe the effect of these pests. “Those are peculiar mosquito bites .. " said my hostess, watching me scratch myself to distraction next morning. That's poison ivy. . ." Suddenly I thought of Marathon Key. Although I camped near a cafe, I checked my camp site for obstacles that might harbor a snake or scorpions. I had removed some small boulders and remembered uprooting some weeds with my hands. However, a few days discomfort and the proper lotion soon put that right.
Leaving Florida in a space of words that hardly do justice to those entered in my diary, I continued northwards into Georgia . Riding northwards through typical Georgian small towns and along the Ocomee River Valley, I felt that I had cheated myself out of something. It was of feeling the first warmth of early seasons sunshine.
In fact, I was catching up with Spring. When I saw the young crops in the fields and the colored worker with mule and hand plough I got the real "feel" of Dixieland. The characteristics of the beautiful Smoky mountains and Shenandoah hills and caves also made themselves apparent as I gradually trekked my way towards the Nation's Capitol.
There could be no more fitting" time to see Washington and what it stood for, than towards the end of my 25,000 mile journey. This National Shrine radiated the true spirit of comradeship and hospitality of the people I met in different States. The big cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia followed in quick succession.
With feelings of sadness and gladness I crossed the Hudson River, this time in the other direction and re-entered New York City. There was never a thought about whether this journey would pay, Pay what with? Pay how? All my adventures cannot be valued in money. For nearly two years I have been living. Never at any time in my life have I had less or earned less yet at no time have I enjoyed life more.
One hears with envy of influential people who travel. Of film stars off to Hollywood or of a business director to visit a State Capitol or some such place. Perhaps people with money to spare go to Florida for the winter or a VIP to White House in Washington.
I am not included in one of these categories. I have not been promoted to sufficient importance in a firm for them to send me to conduct any overseas business on their behalf. I can understand other people seeing wonderful places like Niagara Falls - Oklahoma or Miami. Sometimes I ask myself " ... How did I get here, am I dreaming'?" Yet there I was. Me, just plain me. Surely one's world is for him who knows how to look for it.
At this stage it is difficult to recall my impressions of what to have expected of America before I started. Whatever they were, even my wildest imagination did not anticipate the kindness and hospitality that I have received from people everywhere.
My journey makes no claim to a high mileage. The average daily worker can perhaps claim more miles a year. My travels are simply a concentrated effort in a forward direction.
When travelling, of course there have to be sacrifices. One cannot have the comfort and security of home. Neither can one enjoy the companionship of one's own friends. but the Law of Compensation as Emerson says is the Law of Life itself. Every advantage has its disadvantage. Every loss, its gain. THE END.