By Kenneth Olausson
In the beginning of the 1950s, not many people had travel on their mind. But some people strived for adventure. A Swedish military lieutenant by the name of Kaj Wessberg and his wife Mary set off on an American trip in the summer of 1954. They travelled 2,000 kilometres through 10 countries, on their Husqvarna ‘Dream Machine’. The model 281, as it was also known by the greater public. Here is the second episode of their fantastic story…
Being adventurers, the married couple were keen on broadening their horizons and wanted to experience the sights of North and South America. But it would take more than a holiday to conquer these vast continents on a motorcycle. There were no purpose-built touring machines around in these days. After receiving support from the Husqvarna factory, the ‘Dream Machine’ was shipped to the west coast of the United States. In New York, the start of this epic trip began with a time-consuming visit to the American Customs authorities. The Wessbergs had arrived to pick up their machine in the harbour, which proved to be all but simple. The Customs officials asked a lot of questions and were keen that the Swedish machine would leave the USA and not be resold here.
“The worst nightmare was to find our way out of this Metropolis,” Kaj Wessberg told the reporters who covered this long-lasting event. “We had troubles finding the right way out of the big city.”
Heading southward, after some delays, the couple were on their way and rode towards Florida, which would be their first stopover. Having completed this distance without troubles, it was nice to experience the hot summer winds of the Florida coast. The couple enjoyed the sun before continuing to Texas. After this big state, they once again turned south heading into Mexico and on towards Guatemala.
“The roads were often very bad and we struggled along, sometimes physically exhausted.” Mary wrote home. But camping life worked out well since the Wessbergs had been thoughtful, bringing adequate equipment for their tour. One of the less pleasant experiences occurred in Mexico when the couple were staying with the Swedish Consul General.
“When we woke up in the morning, everything had been taken away from us,” Mary told in a sad voice. “The theft meant that we had no money, no passports, no binoculars, no camera, and so on. It took us two weeks to replace everything and be on our way again. Very frustrating!”
The media had a keen interest in the adventurous voyage and followed the progress closely.
“It was of great value having press clippings when we had to contact local authorities for help,” said Kaj Wessberg. By the time they reached Nicaragua, the political situation was in turmoil. Luckily the Husqvarna mount received military escort through parts of the instable country. It was ordered by Nicaragua's leader himself, Anastasio Somoza! The tour went on through the Central-American countries of Costa Rica and Panama before the next objectives Colombia and Ecuador.
“The people in the countryside were overwhelming and supported us all the way,” Mary told. “They were spontaneous and often took their instruments to entertain us with their local music. Despite camping during the entire voyage, we were never molested in any way.”
During the journey, the couple also came to conquer the Andes on their Husqvarna Dream Machine. The 175cc engine was a bit weak in higher altitudes and Mary sometimes had to get off the bike in order to continue by foot. It was sometimes necessary for her to push in order to make the steep hills. At Pico del Aguilla they reached an altitude of more than 4’000 meters where the gravel roads were almost non-existent. Oil-mixed petrol was sometimes scarce, but in the end, there was always a local farmer who had fuel available. A full tank contained 13 litres of fuel, including a one-and-a-half litre reserve. Generally, petrol was extremely cheap.
On one occasion, the Husqvarna was pushed onto a trolley and they rode on the railway from a banana plantation in Colombia to the final destination of Venezuela. After ten long months, the adventure was over and it was time to return to Sweden. The Husqvarna and its riders had covered more than 2,000 kilometres before the bike was shipped back on a container ship. It went from Caracas to its home country and was immediately shown at the Swedish Fair in Stockholm, where visitors could admire this precious gem at the factory's own stand.
“The only mishap with the Dream Machine came after a small crash when the throttle cable was damaged and had to be replaced with a new wire,” Kaj and Mary Wessberg stated with pride. “Otherwise it was full throttle all the way.”