1936 Around the world

RGHF Member and historian Napa, California, USA
“Titch” Harrison, the RGHF historian who shook hands with Paul Harris
Plus the entire trip’s notes and letters
“A Process Mind” the entire book.
2011 Inducted into the “1905 Society”

This portion of Dr. Lyon’s book deals with his Rotary experience in 1936.

Grandmother Richards takes over

In the spring of my freshman year, as our Luisetti team took all the honors, my beloved Grandmother Richards passed quietly away as her kidneys failed, the end point of scarlet fever acquired in the waters of Sutro Baths near the Golden Gate. She had been living with us for sometime. I had many talks with her, for I was becoming a history buff. Her tales about the Old South and the Civil War never tired me. Gram knew I had a dream, quite impossible to achieve, of riding a bicycle through Europe, so far away from home and family. Air travel was then restricted to pioneering Pan American flying boats to Hawaii and South America. The telegraph was the only reliable means of direct communication and not available everywhere. So, dream on Dick, no charge, as you still have the Foreign Service in your prospects.

Gram’s Will made this dream come true. Ted and I were each to receive $800 that could only be spent riding bicycles in Europe. There was no backing off from this commitment, and there was a time frame dictating “now.” The year was 1936, and the Olympics would be in Berlin.Lyon

Dad and Mom, faced with an obligation that must be met, frightened of course, started to plan. Both of them, always making something odious into something good, decided that the $1,600 could be stretched to take us around the world. Dad would make us into Rotary Ambassadors of Goodwill by enlisting the help of Paul Harris, Founder of Rotary, that was by then in 57 countries, many on our route. His letter assured our parents that their sons would have helping hands when in need, and further, that two American young men, whose teeth were cut on a Rotary Wheel, could strengthen the ties that bind this organization. Dad sent the letter to the clubs in each major city on our route.

We leave our home for eight months to see the world

The hours riding in the bus to Seattle were the only ones on the trip that were troubled by any apprehension. The enormity of our undertaking was becoming obvious. By the time we boarded the NYK Hiya Maru, our confidence had reestablished itself and our days would be dedicated to planning ahead.

The trip in winter in the subarctic seas was a rough one, our sturdy ship and equally sturdy captain plunging along. The ten passengers made common sense of using first class comforts, returning to second class for meals, there chasing plates as they careened, some to the deck. No one was seasick. There was really no time to sit in a deck chair with nothing to do except respond to the environment.



Our Rotary involvement began the day we landed in Yokohama. We were met and were squired for three weeks in Japan from Tokyo to Kobe. We spoke to Tokyo Rotary, had meals and nights in Japanese homes, and accompanied young folk to Nikko in the awesome beauty of winter snow-decked Japanese temples. We were taken to Hakone and Miyanoshita in the shadow of Mount Fujiama, stayed at the fabled Tawaraya Riokan (native hotel) in Kyoto, spent the night with the monks on Mount Koya San, and watched the Takarazuka dancers in Kobe, their performance far surpassing anything we had seen at home. In the hands of Rotarians we believed we were seeing the Japanese world of the future. They were the highly educated, often even royalty, as were Baron and Baroness Togo, dedicated to catching up with the outside world first discovered in the 1880s as the Emperor Mejii accepted Admiral Perry’s challenge. These days would have a profound effect on my thinking when Japan would become the enemy just a few years later. At Stanford, as we prepared for this great adventure, I had taken a course in Japanese history and absorbed it to a degree that my appreciation of its culture made Japan for me much more than just beautiful mountains and seas. This tendency to always look forward and prepare for what might occur would be a staple for my life.



The Suwa Maru picked us up at Osaka and steamed towards Shanghai, where Rotary again took over. Fong Sec, the father of Rotary in China and Dad’s friend, treated us to the most sumptuous meal we would ever have. It was course after course of traditional and historic delicacies that I doubt can be obtained today. We saw the real China in the narrow alleys behind the burgeoning western world of the Bund. Rotary there was in its infancy, lagging behind Japan.

Back on the Suwa Maru, steaming to Hong Kong, Charlie Chaplin, his beautiful companion Hedy Lamarr, and her chaperoning mother, made for a few hours of talk. Charlie Chaplin proved to be an incisive thinker, belying his character on the silver screen.

Rotary in Hong Kong was a surprise. It still operated in the colonial tradition. There were no Chinese members. We watched our words carefully. A side trip to Canton, with its Ling Nan University and American friends there, took us into the heart of old China. The individuality of the Cantonese left an indelible impression that Canton was in an almost medieval state, more like America in its earliest entrepreneurial days. China was far from being cast in a single mold.


On our side trip to Manila, we were in the hands of family friends, the Judge Lockwoods. They made sure we tasted of the always colorful flavors of brightly painted taxis and rickshaws provided by a people seemingly content with the primitive joys that were soon to change. Rotary was not our host at this stop, and this again was the old colonial world. There were cool mountain retreats for the rich and privileged. We, the latter, played a round of golf in Baguio before going on board ship again, back to Hong Hong to board our liner back to the west.

Singapore, Ceylon, Aden, Suez

In Singapore, the Rotary President met us to be sure our few hours ashore were well spent. The harbor was a mass of activity, which included boys diving for coins beside the ship. Our colonial world again took over as we had cold drinks and lunch at the fabled Raffles Hotel. The city seemed as beautiful and disciplined as I understand it is today. What do I remember most vividly? It was the tall handsome Sikhs in magnificent tunics, hand directing traffic with a flick of a finger, perhaps an arm wave at most, always unflappable.





It was a short sail to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Rotary President Reverend Dr. Nathanialez, met the ship and treated us to classic tropical fare as we talked with his seven children, all with college scholarships waiting for them in England. We’ll never forget the hot curry and the cold fruit drinks that spoiled us forever. Curry today is not even a shadow of what it was then. As we embarked, the Reverend presented to each of us a tiny ebony elephant. It rests in front of me today as I remember and write.

The rest of the sail took us through the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. In Port Said we had the opportunity to make a one-day side trip to Egypt. Ted and I both felt that such a short visit was unconscionable for a site so historic. We would take our chances that some day in the future we would give Egypt the respect due it. And of course there was the added matter of cost. Our dollars were too precious not to hoard them for the biking days ahead


The Mediterranean’s blue surrounded us the next days as we passed the smoking Stromboli volcano, then made land on Easter morning, docking sounds muted by the music of church bells heralding the day. It was Sunday, and another holiday would follow. All of our only dollars were in my money belt, as a Letter of Credit that could not be invaded until banks would open. Mr. Shallam, old “China Hand” returning for a well-deserved vacation in England, took his Masonry

French Riviera first

Our first days biking over the hills to Toulon started to toughen us up. At Le Lavendou, a tiny medieval hamlet on the Mediterranean, we had our first taste of rain. In our beach-side pension, after delicious meals, it was a treat to sit and read while looking out on the turbulent sea. The ride then took us through even older Hyères to Cannes and Nice. Did we stare at the scantily clad beauties on the beaches? I don’t think so. We were still too busy being absorbed into our own world of make believe.

We watched the Rolls Royce’s roll up to the Monte Carlo Casino. Somehow we talked the concierge into letting us do our ogling at the tables, hands firmly in our pockets as we planned for the intensive ride the next day. It would be east on the Moyenne (Middle) Cornice, and then back on the high altitude Grande Cornice with its tiny historic castle at Eze. We were beginning to really roll.

The next day was Saturday, and we would cycle into Italy. The border is a thousand feet above the city of Menton. There we had our first experience with a border crossing, not shared by bus loads of tourists flashing by. More lira? For a deposit on our bikes? It’s Saturday and the banks are closed!

Ted stayed at the station while I rode down into Menton. I somehow located the Black Market, took a beating in the exchange, and pedaled back up. These two now bedraggled American boys in shorts and T-shirts could pedal into Italy, keeping out of the way of the roaring busses.



It’s Italy

Our first taste of Italy on this weekend was of red and yellow flowers and a small square filled with old and young, loafing and dancing as joy seemed to fill the air. This was a welcome change from the sophisticated coolness of the French Riviera. It predicted wonderful days ahead, especially when we were able for $10 apiece to procure railroad seats taking us anywhere and everywhere in Italy. Mussolini was rightly famed for his railroads, always on time, with baths (doccia) available at every main station. A hot shower, soap and towels were provided. Could we ask for anything more?

With bikes in the baggage car everywhere we went, taken out and ridden for miles through historic sites and wholesome countrysides, we kept our legs in reasonable shape. However, our strength was no match for that of the locals. Once we hit the cobblestones that ringed every city and provided main streets in the hamlets, there would be friendly competition as youths came up from behind, challenged us, went by, and then rode away to their homes, always laughing and waving.

We were in the catacombs outside Rome when the Harrison Flannerys, scions of an old well-to-do family in Pittsburgh, asked us if we would like to go with them to Naples and Pompeii in their new Ford convertible sedan. You can’t beat that, and those were fun days. They stayed at the finest hotels while we wandered through the byways, searching for a reasonable and comfortable pension. They had their Baedeker to guide them, but we had something better. It was called the Hand Me Down, made available by Holland America Line. It was a paperback with recommendations for hotels, restaurants with their prices and also special things to see, all gathered from travelers over the many years. It was our Bible and never let us down. So, our searches were always short and the results superb.

Beyond the routine visits to Herculaneum and Pompeii, our climb to the summit of a smoking and burning Vesuvius was truly “tops.” I can still remember the guide beseeching us to not go any further, but we did until the hot soles of our shoes said “nuff.” I am guessing our visit to the active volcano may have been among the last, as Vesuvius sleeps these days.

Il Duce appears and so do we

We returned to Rome to find the excitement intense, for Il Duce was to speak from his palace in Piazza Venezia. The war in Ethiopia had ended with Italy the victor and now, with a major African colony, the Roman Empire was reborn. All of the avenues entering the Piazza were packed; there were a million people in front of the candlelit Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.

Ted and I, head and shoulders above most of the crowd, sort of slithered and slid forward until we were just a few of feet away from Mussolini standing above on the portico. Il Duce was the chant, even as he spoke, his hand always out in salute while Il Duce small papers were scattered by planes close above.

Once he disappeared behind the drapes, many near us seemed to be going somewhere else. We followed to find ourselves in a jubilant parade, ending up at the Quirinale, the King’s Palace, on top of one Rome’s seven hills. There was the king himself, Victor Emanuel, saluting the crowd. We returned to our Pensione Juliana, two very tired boys.

What do I remember most about Rome of 1936? The fountains and plazas lined with colorful sidewalk cafes; the stillness and peace as we picnicked in the grass and wildflowers lining the large cobblestones of the Appian Way; the inner, fearful grandeur of the Coliseum as we conjured up gladiators coming through the tunnels to fight to their deaths. That dream was breached when we overstayed, finding ourselves locked in. Much yelling brought the Carabinieri, who laughed at our confinement and didn’t take us to jail for breaking the law. Bikes took us to Hadrian’s Villa, its trees filled with the songs of birds, and the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, magnificent in the night, as Mussolini prized its lighted pools and falls. We threw our coins in the fountain of Trevi as we left to go north, first to Assisi, and then to Florence, Venice, and Milan, finally leaving the train well into the Alps at Iselle.


This hamlet was really tiny-just an equally tiny hotel over a rushing stream and a train station. True to what we had been promised as we left our bikes at the station in Florence, there they were, and ready to go again. Thanks Benito.

We ride over the Simplon Pass–the first that year.

Purely by chance and good luck we went through customs as the first to go over the Simplon Pass that year. Again, we were at the mercy of the agent, a swarthy unshaven character out of a Hollywood western who played his part well as he smilingly cheated us as we exchanged lira for francs. No matter, we were thrilled to be on our way through snow tunnels, alternately walking and riding towards the 6,500 foot summit. We miscalculated the availability of food. Our usual habit of buying some vegetables and bread along the way was impossible, for habitations were far away on the mountain slopes where cattle grazed, their tinkling bells music to our ears.

It was the Benedictine Hospice that will forever be engraved on our memories. The Saint Bernards met us. The priest took us in, fed us, and sent us on our way. This was a fairy tale made real. A few coins at the altar hardly covered the joy of that day.

We were sure we were finally in Switzerland. There would be no more haggling over each purchase, and blue-eyed, fair-haired country folk would be our hosts. And the next ride would be downhill all of the way to Brig, four thousand feet below. Riding at times with our feet on the bars despite the gravel surface, our joy was brought to a halt as my rear tire went flat. The pastures around were empty and silent, until, from nowhere, our first Swiss friend appeared. Mountain dialects didn’t allow any explanation. None were needed. He took out his kit, removed the tire, patched it, and blew it up again, all in one motion, ending as he took off with a smile and a wave. What a welcome to the land we had dreamed of for so long! And, its mighty Matterhorn was just ahead.

To see it meant a long walk, pushing bikes, on a narrow well-worn mountain path. Cars were not allowed in Zermatt. We went through tiny St. Nicholas, and along the meandering stream, wildflowers abounding. Zermatt was just as anticipated, a fairy land. We gave no thought to making a climb to the Matterhorn’s summit, for that would take days of getting used to the altitude, so the magnificent mountain was just that from afar. We had to be on our way again.

Then came the rain

The Rhone River Valley was an easy coast downhill, we thought, until the winds from Lake Geneva, sweeping so powerfully up the valley, made us push in low gear for hours to make any headway. Rotary came to the rescue in Geneva, placing us in our first hostel. There we learned the virtues of “café au lait,” along with beer, to be a constant source of energy for the rest of our journey.

Then the rains began. It was only mid June. It poured and poured and poured! After four days of waiting for respite, we purchased sorry raincoats––no parkas then––and went on the road. The water went in at the collar and out over the shoes. We had to keep riding to stay warm, not hard to do going uphill, but a downhill run would chill us to the bone. After one such chill, I spent the night in Ted’s arms, our blankets not effective. I must have been in good shape to have tolerated this.

We rode on through picturesque old Bern to Interlaken, still in the rain and denying us the awe-inspiring views we had expected and believed we deserved. In Interlaken the Rotary president, architect Niggli, put us in comfy, warm beds. One day of sunshine let us climb up the valley and the three thousand feet to Mürren (no money for the lift) to see the Jungfrau in all of its grandeur. It, along with Zermatt’s Matterhorn, had to suffice for Switzerland’s physical beauty. The beauty of its people did the rest.

Our first real country hostel outside of Lucerne gave us a taste of what was to follow. It was full, as was often the case, for most travelers were on the road for a day or two and would stop early. We would ride full days, up to 100 miles if pavements allowed, so we often would check in late and accommodations were likely to be makeshift. This night Ted and I slept on mats in the attic, but the view through the bottle glass windows was compensation enough.

Swiss roads were a joy, and bicycle paths were appearing. However, often we would leave the highway, and push and ride up a side road to gain the full flavor of the land and its people. It was on to Lucern, where our main destination was the main park and its famous Lion of Lucerne. He didn’t let us down. Then we were on to Zurich and our next Rotary experience.

Zurich Rotary, to be followed by Munich Rotary, came the closest to our American concept of a Club. Herr Turler, maker of world recognized watches and Herr Sprungli, a world chocolate king, made us feel at home at the meeting. Sprungli chocolates filled our packs when we left. At dinner in Zurich’s finest restaurant we can never forget the spit-barbecued lamb, again a Rotary gift.

The road to Konstanz in Germany borders the Rhein. Its tiny town, Stein Am Rhein, was and still is a gem not to be missed. Boy Scouts paraded as we came by.

Our border crossing was easy for the first time. They welcomed blond, blue-eyed Aryans, for they were expecting America to join them in their misguided racial ventures, something we knew nothing of at the time. Then our roadways changed, as paved bicycle paths became common in the more traveled areas

On the bicycle paths and roads of Germany

Munich Rotary was down to just 26 members from over 200 and glad to survive. As an international organization, only it and the Red Cross were allowed. Rotary’s survival was special in that Herr Oberhummer, proprietor of Munich’s largest department store, was one of the original eight members providing Hitler’s original support in Munich. I have wondered if his heart was broken in the years that followed. In his store he made sure we purchased the correct apparel for young men–––Bavarian plumed hat, hosentrager (suspenders) and lederhosen (sturdy leather shorts), and only in fashion when well worn. Muncheners rubbed butter into the leather to make it look well used. We chose otherwise, because Bavarian manners might be unacceptable in the other parts of Europe we would traverse. Germany’s Rotary, bleeding, was to die slowly.

Riding from Augsburg to Nuremburg, we stopped at Erlangen at its Siemens plant. Its Rotarian manager, Dr. d’Ernst, showed us “die werkes.” Then on to the historic quaint old towns–––Rothenburg, Dinkelsbuhl, Heidelberg, and at the Rhine, Hitler’s showcase hostel, Stahleck Castle. Then it was cobblestones again along the Rhine to Bonn, and a smooth highway to Koln where Hitler’s “Jugend,” (German youths, boys and girls) were toughening up for what was to be their fate.

This was a serious affair. In contrast to Mussolini’s Young Fascisti, with their small and inconspicuous knives made of rubber, large German Jugend knives in holsters seemed to mean business. We did not warm up to our hostel neighbors. We were just glad to have a bed on which to place our “schlafsacks” (envelope-like sheets), and to be supplied with a blanket and a 10-pfennig breakfast of brot and milch each day. We did not tap into Rotary again as we remained vigorous and healthy, though tired, and felt the need to try and catch up with our schedule that had been ruptured by the rains.




Our introduction to Holland was five days in the home of a family whose “company town” spinning mill was something Ted and I had known only in books. They seemed a happy lot. We slept in really soft beds. Our meals we’ll always remember: breakfast meant eggs anyway we wished them, with a variety of Dutch breads hard to imagine.

A word about the designation “Dutch.” We quickly learned not to say “Dutch.” It was too close to the German “Deutsch.” “Hollander” it would be from then on.

Biking in Holland was a breeze. Hostels were all run privately and with the feeling of a home. The highest hill was only three hundred feet. Bicycle paths went everywhere, although we preferred to ride on the dikes. We visited Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and then the southern island of Walcheren, where the ferry deposited us in Belgium. The crossing went almost unnoticed, so relaxed were the officials. The ride down the poplar-lined canal to ancient Brugge was a high point for us, but rain met us again on the road to Brussels. It was time to hurry on toward Paris. We were running out of time as we anticipated the fall semester at Stanford for both of us.




Paris was a turning point. Monsieur Beranger, head of Standard Oil and a friend of a friend, took us in. He gave us his guest room nine stories above his opulent apartment on historic Rue de Lille. We breakfasted with him each day. We were again, as in Holland, temporarily spoiled. He also made preparations for me to fulfill my desire, at that moment, for a foreign service career by enrolling me in the Ecole of Political and Social Science, supposedly the finest preparatory school in the world. I could enter it later on. Rotary again took us in, so to speak, assigning Monsieur Franck to aid us. He spent a good deal of his time complaining that his Coca Cola franchise was not paying off; the French loved their wine. I hope he survived the war, as GI’s and their Cokes invaded.

Dick gets the black flu in Paris and we race to England

Our Paris visit ended when I started to run a high fever accompanied by nausea. This was new, and we had no desire to be sick under French care. We quickly sold our bikes for $5 apiece. I now think we should have brought them home. We boarded the train to Calais, and then the ferry to Dover, and finally the train to London where the London physician Rotarian placed us in the Russell Square Hotel and made daily visits. By that time Ted was feeling “not so good,” but fortunately good enough to stay by my bedside as I became delirious. What is a delirium to me? It is when brother Ted was “there,” for I could see him, but he wasn’t really there. I doubt this will pass the test as an understandable symptom of the “Black Flu” that was then starting a murderous toll on the Continent. I guess we brought it to England.

There was one major compensation. It was Henry Hyams, certified London Cockney, who by definition had been born and lived within the range of Bow Bells Church. Henry attached himself to us on the Dover ferry and never really left our sides. He brought us food every day, and then introduced us to Petticoat Lane. He taught us many of the cockney “rhyming” expressions such as “A Raspberry Tart,” equivalent to our “The Bird.”

Forty years later Henry would come to California, determined to see Indians. The best we could do, despite driving him and his wife, Mona, the length of the state, was to send him back to London as a cowboy, all five foot two of him with hat, chaps, and boots, as he said, “Hi pardner,” passing unchallenged through customs

We ship for home, at last

Our three weeks of illness ended up in a luxurious country club with its Rotary members. With returned appetites and wonderful meals and rest for several days, enough time was left to see Windsor Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon, the wonders of Hyde Park, and the Tower of London, before shipping out on the Cunard steamship Berengaria for home. Our status was just above “steerage,” but as was our experience during the whole trip, we were with the folks who really made the world turn.

When New York loomed on the horizon, at the bow Ted and I were in tears. We reminisced, and agreed that coming home to America, its people, its freedoms, and its optimism was a gift unknown anywhere else. But there is a price, for as we spread our largess, we cannot expect to be loved or even liked by those who are the receivers. Therefore, in order to be concerned for others and generous, we must above all be powerful and never feel guilty because of it.

Knowing how our dad operates, we expected him to be on the dock to greet us and take us home. In that day, Dad would have had to make the five-day train trip to New York. We looked at the crowds below, and no Dad. Oh hum, what’s new? We’d make do and somehow find our way home with the few dollars left. Bulky suitcases in hand, we went down the gangplank and started for the street. As we passed the welcomers at First Class, there was Dad. He always expected the best for his sons. In a few minutes we were gorging on milkshakes at Walgreen’s Drugs.

Dad purchased a used Buick, one of the most powerful ever built, and we roared home. There we put pounds on fast, and recovered the strength that would enable Ted to be a freshman basketball star, and cushion my fanny to sit comfortably on the bench. I had lost the opportunity to stay on the first string while we were learning about the rest of the world. Regrets? Not a bit. As I look back today, I have the same admonitions we expressed on the bow of the Cunard liner Berengaria for the young who must carry on.


Harvey Lyon and Rotary in German – 1927






PDG Harvey Lyon with Dick’s brother Bruce








Medical Inventions.
“Superior Hose” for the Prevention of Pulmonary Emboli from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
Operating Room Table Scale for Continuous Weight Monitoring.
Electrolyte “Bear Juice” for Heat Exhaustion/Muscle Cramps for Univ. Of California “Golden Bears” Football Team.
National Prize Winning “Piddle Pattern” Urodynamics, in 1965.
Automotive Inventions.
Rear view mirror alteration to eliminate blind spots and provide exact definition of following car.

Dick Lyon and Jack M. B. Selway at their home, 13 July 2011