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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Bicycle Debacles

Introduction by Raleigh Emry
Here is how this Story Writing 101 Assignment was introduced:

Our last essay assignment was on the favorite rural mode of transportation for kids, the horse. We now move to the streets of the big cities like Ainsworth, Springview, Long Pine, Meadville, or Johnstown, Nebraska where the combined population might have exceeded 3000 happy people and a few soreheads. (For extra credit, you folks who grew up outside the middle of nowhere can estimate the population of your own stomping ground.) If a kid needed to get across town in less than five minutes, he needed something more than shoe-leather. Until you were sixteen the bicycle was the preferred way.

 The good old Schwinn and the other balloon tired beauties -- some with baskets and tassels, some stripped down to the bare frame and two wheels -- were common into the 50s. Then a few kids started cruising the streets on their new English racer bikes... thinner tires and sometimes three speeds! One of these new breed of bikes even sported this author's name... Raleigh. A Raleigh, three-speed English racer was a Triumph, Austin Healey or MG as far as I was concerned... all are British sports machines and all out of my price range. A bike was synonymous with "freedom" for kids. But just as horses sometimes left you sitting in a sandbur patch, a bike would also buck you off, or catch your pants leg in the chain or add to life's miseries in other ways. I'll start us off with my bike experiences:

 I never had a bike until sometime after I started to school in town. That was in the 6th grade. I had learned to ride on my Campbell cousin's small girl's bike on old highway seven which then ran through Meadville, Nebraska. My Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Perry and cousins lived just north of the Niobrara River bridge. I went to stay with them a few times and learned the pleasures of cruising up and down the gravel road on a bike. The wonderful crunching sounds of gravel under the tires still rings in my ears.

Sometime around maybe 7th grade I had saved up ten dollars and bought a used bike from Gordon Ferneau, a kid who lived at the end of the block. It was the only bike I ever owned as a kid. Used or not, I was proud of it! I took the fenders off. I put the fenders on. I put the handlebars up and down and backwards. I moved the seat to both extremes and tried every height in between. I went through about a dozen sets of pedals and about that many chains and tires. I put playing cards in the spokes and roared around the streets like a motorcycle or I didn't and cruised around silently. In those days before power-steering folks put spinner knobs on their steering wheels for leverage. They were knobs that attached to the wheel that you could grab with your hand to crank the steering wheel. I guess they were good for parallel parking which you only had to do in Ainsworth to pass the driver's exam as there was little need to parallel park in Ainsworth. The spinners were also handy on tractors when you had to quickly crank the steering wheel around at the end of a row to get headed back the other way. Some spinner knobs were clear plastic of various colors and I had two, one on each side of the handlebar of my bike. I also waited and scrimped and saved for an electric horn. I didn't need a horn, electric or otherwise, but the Gambles store had an electric horn in the bike section that I just had to have. It looked high-tech for its day. It ran on batteries and had a thumb button that you could attach near the handgrip. After the horn got wet a few times or the batteries got weak, the horn had an anemic buzz instead of a honk, but it looked snazzy.

Two of my most spectacular crashes were on that bike and they both involved my sister Ruth. She was two years ahead of me in school. (Leona and Bob were four years ahead and may have already graduated by then.) We lived two blocks east and about a half block south of the school in a tiny basement apartment. My Mom, even though she worked at Spearman's Grocery or the telephone office, always had something hot for our lunch. I'm not sure how she did that and work too, but she always did. We might have to warm it a bit if she had gone back to work, but there was always a good nutritious meal waiting for us. So we always went home for lunch. By lunch time I was always starving and standing up and peddling fast all the way home.

One day Ruth got a head start. She never had a bike so she was walking. As I approached on the sidewalk behind her I "neeeped... neeped" with my electric horn and yelled out, "Hurry Up!" As I swerved around her at break neck speed... I'll take that back... one fraction of a mph below break neck speed as I did not break my neck... but as I swerved around her at a dangerous sprained-neck speed, she very casually, almost gracefully reached out and tapped my handlebar... maybe lightly grabbed my handlebar. The front wheel went sideways and it was my first experience at extended solo flight. I flew into the street and plowed the gravel with my elbows and nose. My bike came clattering and tumbling behind me. Ruth may have won the race home that day.

Some time later the same conditions existed. I warily approached Ruth and slowed to a walking speed and said, "Do you want a ride?" She crawled onto the seat and I stood on the pedals between the seat and the handlebars. She reached around and grabbed the handlebars too and let her feet dangle on each side. I told her, in no uncertain terms, that she could hang onto the handlebars but I would steer. That was fine with Ruth. So off we went on the sidewalk down Second Street. When we came to Pine Street, where we had to turn right I had a decision to make. There was only a path on Pine street where the sidewalk should be. My riding habit was to continue into the street and take the street down to the house instead of riding my bike on the bumpy path. Ruth's walking habit was to take the path. So as we approached the decision point at break neck speed... sorry there I did it again... some speed slightly less... I thought it was my decision as I was driving. At the last instant, Ruth decided to override and turn ninety degrees onto the path. I tried to override the override and was about half-way successful. At 45 degrees and beyond the path and short of the street there was a very large tree. So as I tried to muscle the bike into the street and Ruth tried to muscle the bike onto the path, the tree brought all motion to an instant stop. No, I'll take that back. My face brought all motion to an instant stop when it collided with the tree and cushioned the impact for everything else including Ruth. It may have improved my looks.

I also had a bike debacle when I was riding double with my good friend Phil Herring. We were coming back to my home from his, which was several blocks east near the east city park. I didn't have my bicycle for some reason, so I was sitting forward on his handlebars with my toes gingerly resting on the extensions of the front wheel axle. Phil was a long legged fellow and he propelled us along at a nice clip. I'm not even going to get into the break neck stuff anymore because clearly I am still alive and haven't yet broken my neck. But we were cruising. I had a fairly new pair of shoes and shoes were hard to come by back then. A pair or two a year was about all you could expect and I may have been on my second pair by then. We hit a small bump and my feet flew out to the side and flopped back with my heels pointing inward. They entered the revolving spokes of the wheel just behind the front fork. The revolving spokes quickly brought both heels against the front fork and effectively and instantly stopped the front wheel. Phil and I had a dual cross-country flight and we landed in a tangled pile. My heels felt like someone had bashed both of them with a sixteen pound sledge hammer. The rubber heel had ripped right off of one shoe and the other shoe sole was twisted about 60 degrees from horizontal. I remember wearing them like that for a short while... probably more as a novelty than as a necessity as barefoot was acceptable in the summertime.

Another sickening debacle comes to mind involving the crossbar of a boys bike. Makes me wish I was riding a girls bike at the time. I was standing up peddling as fast as I could across a vacant lot trying to catch Bob Brady, another good friend. I hit a hole and my feet slipped off the pedals. I know that each guy who is reading this is already gasping, turning ashen gray and saying "ugggggggh". I will write no more as I am gasping, turning ashen gray and saying "uggggggh" just thinking about it.

When I went off to college I left my bike at home. My brother had a car so if I needed to get beyond walking distance I bummed a ride. When I was a junior and no longer living with my brother, I finally had a car of my own... a '64 Mercury Comet... whooooeee! But then I discovered how much it cost to keep gas in it. So I made some calculations and discovered I could buy a bike and pay for it on saved gas money within a few months. So I parked my car and intended to drive it only on my weekend hot dates (every other blue moon on alternate years if I was lucky) ski trips (several times a winter) and other necessities. I bought myself a brand spanking new Raleigh, English, three-speed racing bike and boy was she pretty! I guess it was a HE with a name like Raleigh... hope so anyway... boy was HE pretty!

I had it for exactly one week. I stopped at the Student Center at good old Colorado State University, went just inside the door to buy a newspaper at a paper rack, turned around and came back out and my bike was gone. So now that my gas money was in my bike and my bike was stolen I learned the joys of walking all over again. By then I had shoes with heels that hadn't been ripped off and soles 60 degrees askew so it wasn't too bad. Those are the tales of an old biker from Austin City Limits.

Here's Adele's doozy of a story. Who'da thought?

Adele Penhollow

I commend you for the bike stories, and I praise your mom for making your lunches....what a memory. Since I never had a bike as a kid, my memory is one from 25 yrs. ago. I was a different person then.

 I can't give you a BIKE story like those, but I do have a motorized version. Sometime in the mid 1970s, I became temporarily insane. I took lessons from a friend and his wife to learn to ride a motorcycle. Don't ask.........please.

 Here I was, never having had the luxury of youthful rebellion...and my six kids at home, thinking I'd gone completely bonkers.. (Yes, I had). Well, my lessons continued for 3 months, and I took my test, took the AAA safety course at the local community college, and obtained a license. I bought a small Honda Twin Star-180cc, Cranberry Red through some friends who owned a Honda dealership.

 My husband also participated and took his test at the same time, but didn't really enjoy riding in traffic...or anywhere else, actually. I kept it sparkling clean and kept it in a safe spot in the garage, away from the boys'*real bikes*...the ones with aggressive handlebars. : )

 I practiced different moves, and drove in traffic as well as on country roads -- daytime on weekends and a few twilight rides to get used to oncoming headlights. These little excursions continued unremarkably for about 6 months. I *even* took that little bike to the supermarket and picked up the occasional supper fixins.

 My white helmet had butterfly decals all over the embarrassment of my kids.

 One gorgeous Sunday, six of us took our bikes across the state line into Pennsylvania, (which is about 20 minutes away). Three couples, enjoying the sunshine and breeze of the mid-October weather. We stopped for a quick picnic and continued down to Kinzua Dam, which is a beautiful area, as is much of our part of the country in Fall. At about 3pm, I remember saying we ought to head home, because I didn't want to drive that distance at night. So, we all got situated, cleaned our mirrors again, and began the ride home. I think it was about 40 miles.

 I was in the "middle of the pack", so to speak...and none of us were driving fast. Suddenly, the biggest and proudest 8-point buck came soaring out of the forest, and directly arched over me and landed across the other side of the highway!! His hoofs missed my helmet by "maybe" 3 inches! THAT was when I made my "Thank you for saving me, Lord" prayer and the decision to quit riding motorcycles.

 When you hear someone tell you that their life "flashed before their eyes"....well, that was the experience that did it for me. My companions only laughed when it happened...I didn't. After we got home, I was literally shaking in my boots. When the kids saw us come inside, my oldest son knew I was upset. My daughter had been babysitting the younger ones, and she pulled it out of me...."Mom.. what happened out there ?" I just told them all that I was retiring from riding. They applauded.

 Three days later, I sold the little Honda, Cranberry Red Twin Star. The guy who bought it said his wife had this crazy idea of wanting to "ride".

 I don't regret learning to ride, and I don't regret quitting. I guess I had to just plain teach myself a lesson, eh?

 FYI: When my boys were old enough to appreciate it, we bought them Raleigh bikes. The two oldest boys rode them 'til after high school, and the two younger boys used them afterward. Yes, they were great bikes.


Now wasn't that a dandy story? Makes you want to get out there on your Harley and cruise along... and pick the bugs... and venison out of your teeth. Doesn't it? Here's Patty Jay Owen's story of her misguided youth in Ainsworth... going down to the sandpits... and... and... well I'll let her tell you the story.

 Patty (Jay) Owens

As I was growing up, for some reason, bikes were hard to come by. But, somehow, our next door neighbor, Frank Cummings, (Virginia's father) found one for me. It was a Schwinn. I wasn't quite 10 yrs. of age, and was so excited that even before it was out of its crate, I was spinning the wheels. That little trick landed me a badly cut little finger and a scar I carry to this day. In spite of that, how I loved that bike. It afforded me some of my best memories.

 I already knew how to ride it. I had learned on a boy's bike at my cousins house in Iowa. After falling on the bar and receiving stitches in a most painful place, you can imagine my joy at finding my "new" bike was a girl's bike.

 Through the years, I had many adventures. Some of you will remember them as you were my companions. A group of us would pack lunches and ride out to Bone Creek off the highway. We would ride to the Sandpits and watch others swim. Sometimes we would stop and wade in the cool waters. Jeryce and I spent almost everyday after school for several weeks looking and calling for my lost puppy "Sugar". Later, we found that Sugar had joined a pack of dogs that were killing sheep and had been shot.

Another, experience with a bike of particular meaning to me, was not with my bike, but a tandem bike that Ben Crook had built. We use to make quite a twosome riding that bike. Of course, we were kinda sweet on each other, so that made it extra special. It has been so long since I have ridden a bike, but I will always remember the joy I had owning one. Thanks for the reminder, Raleigh.

Patty (Jay) Owens

Then the Rev. George T. Whitney sent us a short story about a mishap involving someone else's bike:

Rev. George T. Whitney

Peage Morgan just got his new bike at the Gambles store. Gerry Allen ushered us out the door and we sat a few moments in front of Farber's bakery. I was begging Peage to let me ride that new bike. He finally relented and we turned east and crossed main street in front of Prang's apparel. We proceeded along the Baldwin building and reached the alley across from the fire station. A farmer was leaving Honaker's produce and hit me broadside as I entered the alley. The bike was smashed and I went flying. Fortunately, nothing was hurt but my pride. The bicycle was another story. Peage was not concerned about me at all but was crying about his new bike.

Rev. George T.

Yep! That's friends for you... always concerned about your welfare! When my classmate George offered up his story, it reminded me of a time back then that didn't involve a bicycle but it involved a little red wagon. As the wagon swapped which two wheels it was rolling on about every half second, I thought it was close enough to a bicycle to include it here:

Raleigh Emry

Juniors decorated for the senior prom. I believe this mishap took place during that decorating assignment.

We needed a little red wagon for some purpose. Bob Brady had one. So a bunch of us piled into someone's car and we went to get the wagon. The Rev. George T. may have been in the car with us. We got the wagon, but there were so many helpers along for the ride that there was no room in the car for the wagon. Bradley Bourn volunteered to ride in the wagon.

So we tied a rope about thirty feet long to the bumper and to the tongue of the wagon. Bradley jumped in and off we went. The six or eight of us in the car had our heads out the window and offered up advice to the driver... mostly all contradictory.

It started out okay but then we got up a good head of steam, about thirty miles per hour, that wagon began to whip back and forth on the end of the rope like a snagged sword fish and Bradley started yelping "slow down! slow down!" as he hung on for dear life. His plea was forwarded to the driver by the various back-seat drivers. Unfortunately they didn't say "slow down... slow down" they yelled "STOP!"

The driver slammed on the brakes and here came Bradley in the wagon at the pre-brake velocity! Crash! He slammed right into the rear of the car. We all decided it was about the funniest thing that had happened for quite a while and were happy to have been part of the errand so that we could witness it.

That's the bicycle debacles. Hope you enjoyed them!

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