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John L. Smith On America's First Road Trip

George F. Thompson Publishing

Americans canceled summer vacations and aren't venturing out as much due to the pandemic, but they can still find excitement, at least, vicariously.

Boulder City's Larry Lyon has written about a remarkable transcontinental trip all by car in the 1930s that was completed by his uncle and cousin.

The book is called "1930: North America's First Transnational Automobile Trip, From Manhattan to Managua."

Regular State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith as just completed the trip as well - virtually.  

Lyon, Smith explained, is a psychologist with the Veterans' Health Administration. Smith knows the writer personally and says he is dedicated to the veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

For years, Lyon has had a manuscript that his uncle wrote about the road trip. 

“It has been one of his goals to see this manuscript, this journal, become a published document,” Smith said.

After years of effort, Lyon finally got it published.

“The result is this wonderful book that is not only a journal and an adventure story but its annotated. It has all kinds of historical notes and sidebar material and some great photos and it’s really wonderful,” he said.

Smith called it a bit of vacation for him from the stress of life right now.

Lyon had extra motivation to get the book published, His daughter, Jenny Lyon, had asked him to get in published. She died 10 years ago from breast cancer. 

If her name sounds familiar, it is likely because she was a contestant on the 10th season of the reality show "Survivor."  

Arthur and Joseph Lyon are at the heart of the book. They were born in Winnemucca and both ended up in New York City around the time of the start of the Great Depression.

With business in a tailspin and college on hold, they decided to take a road trip. 

“They bought a Model A roadster and just kind of winged it and headed south and decided to kind of invent the adventure along the way,” Smith said.

It took them less than a month to drive from New York City to Managua, Nicaragua.

“That short sells the story quite a bit because there were some hair-raising twists and turns," he said, "Part of the route, of course, wasn’t even marked with a road. So, they had to kind of create their own way to get to Nicaragua.”

One of the ways they created their own route was by flattening the tires and driving on railroad tracks because there were no roads to where they wanted to go.

The going did not get easier when they reached Central America.

“Jungles, swamps, potential banditos on the roadside, all kinds of distractions," Smith said. 

And although they traveled nearly 5,000 miles in Ford Model A, they only had two flat tires the entire time.  

When they returned home, the Associated Press and the Reno Gazette-Journal wrote stories about their adventures.

“You’ve got this great adventure story occurring at a time when society really needed relief from the stresses of the Great Depression and I think we can all relate to that,” Smith said.

Smith also noted that the writer of the manuscript, Arthur Lyon, wrote with a bit of a "twinkle in his eye." He said there is a bit of Kerouac's "On the Road" and Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" in the work.

He said, fortunately for all us, Arthur Lyon, who went to be a successful businessman, wrote down his adventures and Larry Lyon was able to bring it to life.

John L. Smith, contributor

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.