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Drums of Tonkin, a book by Helen and Frank Schreider

• CATEGORIES: Books, Features, GPA (SEEP), Machinery • TAGS: This site contains affiliate links for which I may be compensated.

UPDATE: A 1964 article in the Spokesman-Review highlights their speaking tour following the Indonesian trip.


Map of Frank and Helen Schreider’s Indonesian Adventure during 1961.

In 1954, Helen and Frank Schreider drove a Ford GPA (amphibious jeep) named Tortuga from the Arctic Circle to the southern most town in South America, Ushuaia, Argentina. They published a book about their adventure called 20,000 Miles South: A Pan-American Adventure in a Seagoing Jeep from the Arctic Circle. It was a book I enjoyed.

In 1960, Helen and Frank began a new adventure in India. For unknown reasons, Tortuga was replaced by the Tortuga II (Amphibious Vehicle website has a great comparison information between Tortuga I and Tortuga II). Perhaps the original Tortuga was too damaged to undertake another long trek. The goal of their Indian adventure was to explore the Ganges river plain and write an article for National Geographic (which appeared in the October 1960 issue). I have the article, but have yet to read it.

In 1961, following their India adventure, the pair undertook an even longer expedition. They wanted to explore Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas, a chain of islands stretching 3000 miles from Bali to Timor. Their adventure filled two large articles for National Geographic (Indonesia: Young and Troubled Nation in the May 1961 issue and East from Bali by Seagoing Jeep in the August 1962 issue). They also published a book in 1963 called the Drums of Tonkin: An Adventure in Indonesia.


Both the National Geographic articles about Indonesia and their Drums of Tonkin book are dense with cultural references and photographs. Unfortunately, both the articles and the book over-burdened me with local references to such a degree that for me the story was less compelling than their 20,000 Miles book. This likely reflects a larger emphasis on anthropology, geography, and biology, a result of their funding by National Geographic.

Despite the compelling prose, there were plenty of photographs to enjoy. Here’s just a few. This first one is pretty self-explanatory.

1962-08-east-from-bali-national-geographic1 1962-08-east-from-bali-national-geographic2According to the New York Times obituary for Frank, who died in 1994 in Crete, the couple joined National Geographic in 1967 and continued to have additional adventures by vehicle, foot and boat. However, there is no record that they ever traveled by GPA.


7 Comments on “Drums of Tonkin, a book by Helen and Frank Schreider

  1. Bill

    Their 1st book is what got me started reading as a kid – I tried to buy a copy – it is now a very expensive old book. I didn’t know about this one.

  2. Steve E.

    These sound like some wild adventures. I wonder if sea water getting into the axles and gearboxes was a problem?

    That center picture reminds me of an old wooden bridge I crossed in my ’60 Wagon while deer hunting about 5 years ago. It’s almost identical. Luckily, the 12″x12″ timber stringers matched my tread width, otherwise I would have been too chicken to cross. My buddy kept me on line. For the little bit of distance we gained, I wouldn’t do that again. I don’t want to fall through like the GPA did. I’d rather hike.

    **Steve E.**

  3. mmdeilers Post author

    Yes, during the first trip they mentioned having to repack the bearings after every major water adventure. Unless Tortuga II had better seals, I suspect they still had to do that.

  4. Steve E.

    I love that nickname “Tortuga”. It just rolls off your tongue. (It means turtle. )

    **Steve E.**

  5. B. Halvorsen

    For an amphibious vehicle comparison, read “The Last Great Australian Adventurer” by Gordon Bass. It was just published last fall. The adventurer was Ben Carlin. His first book, “Half Safe” (the name of his vehicle) is more interesting from a story stand-point than his second book, which was also too detailed not to be a bit boring. But he definitely went around the world in his vehicle and is still in the Guinness Book of World Records for his feat. I was fortunate to meet him and ride in the Half Safe way back in the late 1950s.

  6. David Eilers

    Thanks B.,

    I’ve covered Ben and Half-Safe elsewhere herein. But, your the first person I’ve known to have ridden in it. That’s a cool story! If you have any pics and/or would like to share that story, I’d be happy to post it for readers.

    There was at least one other documented seep adventure that I’ve documented, but I’m short on time tonight so can’t look it up right now (am on the road for the next 3 weeks).

    – Dave (

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