After 18 months of hibernation, the world is primed for adventure, and the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum has it in spades. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space, as a welcome breath of freedom after pandemic shutdowns.  ADV:Overland is on display through April 2022.  See all of our exhibited vehicles here.

Robert Edison Fulton Jr’s ‘One Man Caravan’ round the world 1932 Douglas Mastif as it exists today. [Fulton Family Archives]

Pictures from an exhibition: Robert Edison Fulton Jr.’s 1932 Douglas 750cc H32 Mastif motorcycle.  (by Clement Salvadori and Paul d’Orléans)

Back in 1885 the brothers William and Edward Douglas established a foundry in Bristol, England, making bits and pieces for the burgeoning industries cropping up in the region.  Eventually that meant cars, tractors, and castings for a local motorcycle start-up in 1907, Joseph Barter’s Light Motors Ltd, who designed a neat little flat-twin engine with opposed cylinders sitting fore and aft in the frame, which he called the Fée (fairy).  Barter soon ran out of money, and the Douglas Engineering Co. acquired the business, thinking the new business of motorcycles might have a future.  The Fée led to other flat-twin designs from Douglas, an engine configuration to which they remained faithful throughout their production, although by the mid-30s they had turned their motor through 90degrees, where it remained until their 1957 demise.

A Douglas won the Isle of Man TT in 1912, and the marque had many successes in worldwide competition, and during WWI they provided many thousands of 600cc sidevalves to the British army.  Douglas was among the earliest manufacturers – in 1921 – to adopt overhead-valve cylinder heads and ‘hemi’ combustion chambers, which made them fearsome competition machines, and the next year an RA model became the first 500cc motorcycle to record 100mph, with Cyril Pullin riding at Brooklands.  In the 1920s the company was quite successful financially, with regular race wins at Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT, and also the burgeoning world of Dirt Track racing, in which the low-slung weight and long wheelbase of the hot RA model proved a perfect fit.  By the mid-1920s the Douglas DT5 and DT6 (600cc) Dirt Track (later known as Speedway) racers were al-conquering on dirt tracks around the globe, right through 1930, when a combination of the Stock Market crash and the JAP speedway motor dealt the company a mortal blow.  In 1932 Douglas was sold to a group of investors headed by Kenton Redgrave, and this is where our story begins.

Robert Edison Fulton Jr on his 1932 Douglas Mastif, modified by the factory for his journey with racks and an extra-large fuel tank over the rear wheel, plus a skid plate, where Fulton hid a revolver. [Fulton Family Archives]
A young fellow named Robert Edison Fulton Jr., son of the founder of Mack Trucks, had been studying architecture in Vienna after graduating from Harvard in 1931.  After a year abroad, he was headed back to the USA via London, and on an early summer’s eve in 1932 he was invited to a posh dinner.  As the 24-year old son of a wealthy industrialist, Fulton was the sort to be invited to such parties. When asked at the dinner what he planned to do next, he replied off-handedly that he would not sail back to New York, but would rather ride a motorcycle around the world!  Kenton Redgrave happened to be at the table, and immediately offered him a Douglas motorcycle, thinking such a journey would be good publicity.

Fulton had only briefly owned an Indian motorcycle while in college, which he soon crashed and was pressured to sell by his family: that was the extent of his motorcycle experience. To undertake a round-the-world (RTW) journey was an act of youthful hubris: Fulton did not even know if it had been done before (it had – see our 1912 Henderson exhibit).  A few weeks after that fateful dinner party, Fulton appeared at the Douglas factory to meet his Mastif: the machine had been specially modified for the journey, and was a very rare 750cc model to boot, with perhaps only 30 ever made.  The factory had added an extra gas tank over the rear wheel and bash plate under the motor, where Fulton wedged a revolver ‘just in case’, and which he never removed. The factory also thought it prudent to bolt a Douglas sidecar onto to the ‘continental’ side: left, as most countries he would be riding through drove on the right side of the road. Fulton rode off in July of 1932, heading east back to Vienna, then turning south to the Balkans. By then he had discovered how bad the roads were away from large European cities, and soon decided to get rid of the sidecar. Shortly after, in Turkey, he abandoned much of his cooking gear and other items he realized were non-essential, including the tuxedo he’d packed away ‘in case of an embassy dinner’.  What he kept included a cine camera  with which he shot 40,000′ of film in the course of his journey.

A lot of this! The deep desert sands of the Middle East were without roads or even markers in many areas, with bandit nomads a constant worry. [Fulton Family Archives]
Fulton had a positive attitude on his journey, and was fascinated at the differences between the cultures he encountered, as well as their similarities.  For example, Fulton famously noted that in small villages all over the world, he was warned against traveling to the neighboring village, which was invariably described as full of thieves and murderers.  On arriving there, he found people just as accommodating as the previous town, but was warned against the next spot on his map in the same terms. Concerning the Mastif in our exhibition, few things went mechanically wrong in his 18-month trip, other than half a dozen flat tires. In Waziristan a king-pin in his transmission sheared, but the company had given him a small bag of spare parts, including such a pin, and he fixed it himself, obviously having some mechanical skills. After his successful journey, Fulton wrote a classic account of RTW travel – ‘One Man Caravan’ (Harcourt, Brace – 1937) – which inspired many other would-be travelers to undertake this ultimate adventure on two wheels.  ‘One Man Caravan’ records being shot at by Pashtun tribesmen in the Khyber Pass, running from bandits in the Iraqi desert, spending a night in a Turkish jail, and being lavished with attention by Indian rajahs, although Fulton is modest and discretely charming throughout, and is never self-aggrandizing…which turns out to be a common theme among RTW travel writers to come.  Fulton did capitalize on his journey and book with a lecture tour of the United States, where he shared his film footage and tales of his adventures. In 1983, he produced (with his filmmaking sons Rawn and Travis),a 90-minute film compiled from his film footage, ‘The One Man Caravan of Robert E. Fulton Jr. An Autofilmography’,  and later in his life a second film, “Twice Upon A Caravan.”

Robert Edison Fulton Jr. went on to become an airplane enthusiast (including a P-51 Mustang for his personal use), and a prolific inventor.   He invented the first ground-based flight trainer, the first ground-based air gunner trainer, a functional flying car, and the Skyhook system for pilot rescue or personnel retrieval by an aircraft – without the need to land. He kept his faithful Douglas Mastif close by the rest of his life, but only shared it publicly at local Connecticut motorcycle shows on occasion.  ADV:Overland is the first time Fulton’s famous machine has been exhibited in a museum, and his sons have kept it in running condition in homage to their remarkable father.

Fulton came across many animal, and the occasional human, that had succumbed to the desert. [Fulton Family Archive]
Fulton in Japan photographing Mt Fuji. [Fulton Family Archive]
Robert Edison Fulton Jr later in life, at his desk, where the ideas for new inventions poured forth. [Fulton Family Archive]
Vintagent Contributor Dennis Quinlan visited RE Fulton Jr in 1994, capturing him with his Douglas at Flying Ridge, Connecticut. Fulton died in 2004: read his NYTimes obituary here. [Dennis Quinlan]



Clement Salvadori is a veteran moto-journalist, world traveler, and author of No Thru Road, 101 RoadTales, several travel guides through California and Baja, and more.


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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