Syracuse University Magazine


In London, Carl S. Clancy and Walter R. Storey were the subjects of an article in Motor Cycling (November 19, 1912).

Image courtesy of the National Motor Museum Trust

Road Trip

A century ago, a restless former SU student became the first official 'around-the-world' motorcyclist

By David V. Herlihy

“Syracuse College Youth Completes an 18,000 Mile Trip Around the World.” So trumpeted the Syracuse Herald on August 28, 1913, referring to motorcyclist Carl Stearns Clancy, an adventurous former SU student who had spent the previous 11 months rumbling through a dozen countries on four continents. The century-old feat marks a milestone in early motorcycle history. 

The son of an itinerant Congregationalist minister, Clancy grew up in five towns scattered across New England. At an early age, he exhibited eclectic interests and a thirst for exploration, two traits that would impel him to undertake his dangerous journey and shape his subsequent career as a filmmaker. While other boys were content to play games, he would canvass the local cemeteries in search of tombstones with humorous epitaphs. 

In fall 1908, at age 18, Clancy enrolled at SU, where his older brother George was employed as an “Instructor of English.” He joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and completed two semesters before dropping out of school. “College seemed awfully dull,” he explained to a Herald reporter after completing his journey. Clancy moved to New York City and got a job in advertising, only to become bored once again. “There isn’t much excitement in a business career,” he confided to the same reporter.

Finally, Clancy concocted the antidote to his doldrums. He persuaded the Henderson Motorcycle Company of Detroit to provide him and a buddy, Walter R. Storey (grandfather of Fred Storey ’88), with brand new bikes, so they might “girdle the globe,” much the way bicyclists had done a generation before. They would cover their own expenses, writing reports for Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review

The four-cylinder Henderson, widely considered the fastest model on the road, sported an elongated 65-inch wheelbase and a whopping $325 price tag. The model had one gear, one brake (in the rear), and a seven-horsepower, 57-cubic-inch engine that ran about 50 miles per gallon of gasoline (which cost between 20 and 40 cents) and 175 miles per quart of oil.

The duo’s gear included an assortment of wrenches, a first-aid kit, a folding typewriter, film and movie cameras, and a silk balloon tent. For security, Clancy also packed a Savage revolver. They made plans to have tires, gasoline, and lubricating oil shipped to them as needed. To open doors, they carried letters of introduction from William Jay Gaynor, the mayor of New York, and President William Howard Taft.

In October 1912, after sailing from Philadelphia to Dublin, Ireland, the lads caught up with their machines, shipped directly from the factory. Their tour got off to a rough start when a double-decker tram rammed into Storey’s rear wheel. While the compromised machine convalesced in a garage, the two shared the good one; Storey sitting snugly on the optional passenger’s seat, wedged between Clancy and the handlebars.

By the time they reached London, where they granted an interview to the magazine Motor Cycling, they were back on their respective vehicles. However, the newfound bliss did not last long. After a brief tour of Belgium and Holland, Storey quit, leaving his former partner to go it alone.

Clancy’s ride through France and Spain, generally over good roads at an average cruising speed of about 20 miles an hour, was relatively routine. His true adventures began along the rugged coast of North Africa, between Algiers and Tunis. Recounted Clancy: “Suddenly, six Arabs mounted on stocky black ponies came riding full tilt. [The leader] unslung a long rifle and began taking pot shots at me.” Clancy managed to outrace his pursuers to a safe haven of sorts: a nearby mountain path with a 100-foot drop-off.

Originally, Clancy planned to ride all the way across Asia. But owing to the lack of good roads, most of his riding there was confined to the island of Ceylon, off southern India (present day Sri Lanka). Bumping along jungle paths, he had several near fatal run-ins with water buffalo and cheetahs. At night, he found his tent surrounded by jackals and mountain cats.

After an enjoyable romp across Japan, Clancy sailed to San Francisco. There, he teamed up with Robert Allen of Los Angeles, who rode a 1913 Henderson. On the first leg to Portland, Oregon, Clancy encountered the worst roads of the entire trip. Some days he barely covered 20 miles. During one two-hour stretch across the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, he counted 17 falls “on account of loose rocks and mud.”

The pair spent five days touring Yellowstone Park on foot, while a mechanic in Livingston repaired Clancy’s broken front fork. After stopping to see his brother George in Beloit, Wisconsin, and his parents in South Egremont, Massachusetts, Clancy made his triumphant return to his home in New York City.

Clancy reentered the public spotlight in the 1920s, directing a series of silent films starring Will Rogers, mostly filmed in Europe. His most notable work, The Headless Horseman, based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” cast the famous humorist as Ichabod Crane. “While it didn’t make any money,” Rogers reminisced, “we had a lot of fun making it. Old Carl sure can dream ’em out.” Noting the work was filmed primarily on the estate of John D. Rockefeller, Rogers mused, “[Clancy] would have had the old gentleman himself on a horse chasing after me, if I hadn’t interfered.”

Failing to make a successful transition to Hollywood “talkies,” Clancy eventually settled in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, Eloise Lownsbery, a noted author of children’s novels. He closed out his colorful career by making documentaries for the U.S. Department of Forestry.

However forgotten he may be today, Carl  Clancy’s memory lives on among his extended family. His nephew Edward (a retired physics professor who was three weeks old in July 1913 when Carl visited the family home in Beloit) recalls how his uncle delighted in telling tales about his trip, especially the time when he had to hunt down a blacksmith in North Africa to repair his motorcycle. Edward’s daughter Gwen, herself a filmmaker, vividly recalls a visit with Carl in 1970, a year before his death. “The house was crammed with exotica from around the world,” she says. “There were scarves with golden threads draped over dresser tops, oils and perfumes in little jars, carved wooden screens, a statue of Buddha, and a curious odor I later learned was incense.” When she told Carl she was taking a college course on Asian literature, he eagerly launched into a ponderous lecture on Asian culture. 

Old Carl, indeed!

David V. Herlihy is the author of Bicycle: the History (Yale University Press) and The Lost Cyclist (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the story of Frank Lenz, who, 20 years before Clancy, set off from Pittsburgh to circle the globe on a newfangled “safety” bicycle, only to disappear mysteriously in Turkey.


The dynamic duo of Carl Clancy (left) and Walter Storey at the start of their trip in Dublin.

Photo courtesy of Warren Storey


Carl Clancy aboard his world-worn Henderson motorcycle, during his final leg of the journey in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Gwen Clancy and family

clancy_chair.jpgCarl Clancy