Born on August 22, 1957 in Providence, Rhode Island, Mark Leslie Hunnibell is the second of four children of Kenneth Lee Hunnibell and Carol Linda Dutra. Both Kenneth and Carol had been students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), as had many in Mark’s extended family. Shortly after Mark was born, his father bought and then moved the family to an old farm homestead (originally built in 1786) in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. When Mark was about six years old, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother and three sisters to a home in a subdivision about forty-five miles north of the old farm homestead. Six years later, they moved to Kensington, California—a small community just north of Berkeley. Mark attended junior and senior high schools in Richmond, California, where he graduated in June 1975. Two months later, he flew back to live with his father in Rehoboth while continuing the family legacy at RISD in Providence, Rhode Island.
Although Mark frequently demonstrated his creative abilities in studies at RISD, he spent more time with extra-curricular activities and, when it came time for him to graduate in June 1979, he was nine credits short to receive his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design. Intent on moving back to California, Mark drove across the country in the summer of 1979. He remedied his credit shortfall by taking a full semester of journalism and psychology classes at the University of California, Berkeley, and had the credits transferred back to RISD. After completing his coursework at Cal Berkeley, he took a job as an automotive machinist in Albany, California. While there, he began work on the 1919 Henderson motorcycle “basket case” that his father had given to him a couple years earlier, disassembling it and beginning to repair the engine.
In September 1980, finally motivated to put his RISD degree to use, Mark and Geoff, his friend from RISD, drove across the country from California to the east coast. Geoff was taking a new position in Washington, DC. Mark was going to live with his father in Rehoboth while he assembled his design portfolio to begin his career as a designer in New York. Mark and Geoff were on an extremely tight budget for the trip (they each started with $100), so they camped and stayed with friends along the way on their ten-day trip.
One overnight stop was in Lubbock, Texas, visiting with Rich—a high school friend of Geoff’s who was going through pilot training in the US Air Force (USAF). Although Mark recalled being told that his father had served as a mechanic in the Rhode Island National Guard before he was born, Mark had never been around anyone “in the service” and was surprised at how “normal” Rich and his peers were. Rich informed Mark that anyone with a college degree could become an Air Force pilot if he or she completed the training. The next morning, before leaving, Rich brought Mark out to the base and arranged to have Mark take a seat in one of the T-38 supersonic jets sitting on the ramp. The experience left an indelible impression on him.
Soon thereafter, now living with his father back in Rehoboth and after a long night working on his design portfolio, Mark announced one morning that, rather than pursue a design career, he planned to join the Air Force to be a pilot. He knew he would be forever restless if he did not explore this opportunity. The announcement was so unexpected and the concept so preposterous that his father—always the practical man—insisted he immediately go into Providence to meet with the USAF recruiter to find out if anything Mark was talking about was true. At dinner that evening, Mark reported that it was a real program and that he qualified for it with his RISD degree. His father asked what he was going to do. Mark replied, “Oh, it’s done,” explaining that he had already signed up and the first exams had already been scheduled.
Less than a year later, Mark made his solo flight in an Air Force T-41—a Cessna 172 airplane the Air Force used to determine if a flight candidate had the skills to complete jet training. Mark passed this screening program and in December 1981 received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant. In May 1983, after more than a year of intensive military pilot training, Mark arrived at his first assignment as a C-130 pilot at Clark Air Base in the Republic of the Philippines. In October 1985, he transferred to a WC-130 unit at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, “the Hurricane Hunters.” Mark completed his military service at the rank of captain and was honorably discharged from the Air Force effective January 5, 1989. Two months later he began what would become his twenty-nine-year career as a pilot for American Airlines.
While at American Airlines, Mark became active in the Allied Pilots Association, the labor union exclusively representing the pilots at American Airlines. He personally developed the union’s first “members only” web site and suite of services. Beginning in 1998, he was elected and served as a representative union officer for two years. From 1998-2009, he oversaw the professional Information Technology department within the union that administered the second and third generations of the Internet services he had brought forth.
In 2000, Mark decided it was time to dust off the baskets of the old 1919 Henderson project if he was ever going to complete the restoration. He began researching the history of the make and model, while also searching for competent experts to help him with what he knew would be substantial machine work to get the bike running. Early on, he discovered C.K. Shepherd’s book, Across America by Motor-Cycle, igniting the first spark of what has become a wildfire: the dream of recreating Shepherd’s ride one hundred years later.
By 2002, Mark had joined the Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) and had begun building a network of people to assist him with his own restoration and the growing plans for the cross-country trip. He volunteered to help at a northeast regional “meet” of AMCA and within a couple years was the chairman of a key committee for that meet. Later, he helped AMCA to stabilize and re-catalogue its “Virtual Library” collection of digital copies of hundreds of books, catalogues, photos, and documents relating to antique motorcycles.
Without a machine shop of his own, Mark was reliant on others to complete the “heavy lifting” of the restoration. After one disappointing engagement with a supposed expert for engine restoration, Mark was forced to start over. Knowing that he planned to ride this motorcycle cross-country, he engaged Mark Hill: a highly sought after machinist and veteran of Henderson motorcycle preparation for such endeavors. Thus began what became nearly a decade-long process during which experts went to extraordinary lengths to bring both the engine and frame back from what would normally be considered their graves.
In June 2018, Mark retired from American Airlines as a Boeing 737 captain, having previously been a captain on the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80, Airbus A300, and Boeing 767/757, as well as a first officer on the Boeing 727 and Airbus A300, and a flight engineer on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
Shortly after Mark’s retirement, his 1919 Henderson was—at long last—running and drivable, and he was able to devote his full energies to attending to final restoration, “driver training,” and installation of safety equipment on top of the endless chores associated with researching and planning his cross-country trip in 2019.
Across America by Motor-Cycle: Fully Annotated Centennial Edition is the product of Mark’s dogged determination to discover and tell the rest of the story of Charles Kenilworth Shepherd’s amazing journey, but Mark also plans to document his own journey in a subsequent book with the working title, Chasing Charles: Across America by Motor-Cycle II.