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This story originally appeared in issues #135, #136 and #137 of the Plymouth Bulletin in 1982.
THE RICHARDSON PAN-AMERICAN EXPEDITION
By Jim Benjaminson
|For every story that appears in the Bulletin, there
is a story behind the story. And with this issue's Special Edition there is no exception.
The Richardson Pan-American Highway Expedition is perhaps one of the greatest automotive stones of all time. In scope and magnitude it surpasses those pioneer automobilists that first crossed the United States at the turn of the century The Richardson Expedition crossed not only this country but encompassed the area spanning two continents-crossing trackless wilderness, endless mud. un-chartered territory and obstacles of every sort that
Mother Nature could throw against them. The men of the expedition, Sullivan C Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C. Van Hee were many times called "Three Damn Fools" by friends and foes alike. It is a title that was perhaps fitting, considering the almost insurmountable odds against their succeeding -but succeed they did -and now that title is worn proudly- The Richardson Pan American Highway Expedition was perhaps the last great automotive adventure undertaken on the face of this earth.
But the "story behind the story" resulting in our publication of Sullivan Richardsonís account of the trip "Adventure 'South" begins with three other men forty one years after the expedition set out from Detroit Michigan that cold November morning. It starts on a warm, sunny North Dakota afternoon as these three, Mel Stark, Richard Thurston and Bulletin editor Jim Benjaminson headed into Canada on a business trip. While in Canada it was only natural for Benjaminson to wander into an automotive supply store and check out at least the magazine rack. That resulted in the purchase of Petersen Publishing Company's 2nd Edition of Plymouth Dodge-Chrysler book.
Among the many articles in this book was one entitled "Cape Horn Caper", which gave a few brief details of the Richardson Expedition and presented a few photographs of the specially prepared 1941 Plymouth sedan used by the Expedition. Several photos showed the car when it was new-the others showed the car after the trip--beat and battered but still recognizable as the Expedition car. The article stated that expedition leader Sullivan Richardson had written a book, entitled ''Adventure South" about the trip, but Petersen Publishing had been unable In locate either the author or the publisher so they could not reprint any of the books material.
One photo caption indicated Chrysler executives had been questioned about the car but the only reply was that they felt the car was still somewhere in Central or South America yet the photographs of the car taken after the Trip showed it with 1945 Illinois license plates and s "C"' gas ration sucker. To the intrepid Bulletin editor that meant only one thing--the car HAD to have returned to the United States. This lead to formulating plans in attempt to locate Sullivan Richardson or any other still living members of the Richardson Expedition.
The trail began with the car's 1945 Illinois license plate, number 752-534. Benjaminson contacted Plymouth Club member Pat O'Connor, who is an Illinois state trooper. The question was simple--could that 1945 license plate number be traced? Pat contacted the office of the Illinois Secretary of State, who in turn dug into the records. On February 11th, 1982, the registration search showed that Illinois 1945 license plate No. 752-534 was registered to S. C. Richardson, 7626 North Ashland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. The car was listed as a 1941 Plymouth 4 door sedan, serial No. 15031250, engine number P11-214804. The address was, of course, 37 years old but it was a place to start.
From that point Ron and Joan MacKenzie, also Plymouth Club members from Oak Lawn, Illinois were contacted. Would it be possible for them to go to that address and see who or what they found? The MacKenzie's leaped into the search but Sullivan Richardson was not to be found.
As the Expedition had begun in Detroit it was only logical to also check the Detroit area. Club vice-president Joe Suminski joined the detectiveís list. He located a party that photographed the battered Plymouth in a Detroit parade in 1946, but once again the trail went cold.
Long distance information was utilized in the Chicago and Detroit areas to attempt to locate any of the Expedition members, but the only lead, an A. Whitaker listed in the Detroit phone book proved to be a false alarm.
As all leads seemed to run into blind alleys it appeared the search was at an end. And then the MacKenzie's tried one last source--the Action Line column of the Chicago Tribune. After a brief description of what we were looking for the Action Line stated "we would appreciate any information on Richardson's whereabouts". The date was March 25th.
On April 19th Mrs. Elva Richardson penned the following note to the Chicago Tribune's Action Line: "A friend living in Chicago sent us a clipping from your March 25th column all three of the men are living in Southern California ..."!
Success--with a capital "S"! The search for Sullivan Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth Van Hee was at an end.
Since that time all of the men have been contacted, many questions have been answered about the trip and many original photographs were borrowed.
But best of all Sullivan Richardson agreed to allow portions of his book "Adventure South" to be reprinted in the Bulletin's 25th Anniversary issue.
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