When Grandpa John Was a Kid - Working on My Bicycle

As a boy, I dreamed of owning a bicycle some day. While in grade school, my brother Wallace and I began a magazine route for the Saturday Evening Post. The magazine sold for a nickel, and our profit was a cent and a half. My savings accumulated slowly. During the summers, Wallace and I cut grass in the neighborhood with our push-type lawn mower. If the grass was too tall for the reel of the mower, we would first use a scythe.

Montgomery Wards had a beautiful, red bicycle selling for twenty-five dollars. Through my magazine sales and lawn-mowing ventures, I had now saved fifteen dollars. Daddy, Mother, and I signed some papers that let me take the bicycle home from Wards with the promise to pay out the balance at two dollars a month. My dream of happiness was fulfilled.

By sixth grade, most boys in the neighborhood had a bike. This expanded our range of play from a few blocks to a few miles. I didnít know at the time that my bike would influence my college career towards engineering.

I knew that my bicycle needed maintenance to prevent the squeaks of any aging machine. My daddyís large, wooden toolbox held some end wrenches and a monkey wrench that was adjustable with flat sides. Removing two nuts let the front wheel come free. Unscrewing the ball bearing holder from the threaded axle let the axle come out the other side of the wheel.

Gasoline for cleaning off the grease was available from the car in the garage with a siphon hose. The parts, including two ball bearings, were cleaned of old grease and dirt and new grease applied before reassembling.

The rear wheel was much more complicated. Most bikes had a New Departure coaster brake. Inside the hub of the wheel around the axle were about twenty rings. Half were keyed to remain stationary with the axle, while the other half were keyed to roll with the wheel. Back peddling to put on the brakes pushed the rings together which stopped the wheel.

There were no instruction manuals for my bike, so I carefully laid the parts in sequence on the driveway in the order removed. After cleaning and greasing, the parts would then go back together in the same order. Even the sprocket chain that turned the wheel was carefully oiled to maximize my riding speed.

The two-inch balloon tire fit over an inner tube. If I inadvertently rode through a sticker patch, I might find a flat tire the next day. Inner tube patch was available at every filling station, because automobile tires had inner tubes in the 1930ís. Whenever I found a flat tire on my bike, I removed the wheel and pried off the tire. I then filled the inner tube with air using a hand pump. I placed the tube in a tub of water, where bubbles would pinpoint the leak.

A Camel cold-patch kit had a scratcher on the lid for cleaning the rubber, a tube of adhesive, and a rubber patch with a pull-off covering. Later on, I used a hot patch just like the ones used on car inner tubes. This rubber patch was on a silver dollar size, shallow pan filled with a mixture that slowly burned to vulcanize the rubber patch to the tube.

My bikes had a long history. When my brother left for the Navy in early 1945, I bought his bike and sold mine to Nuell Crain, my young preacher. During high school in Oklahoma City and college in Norman, I rode the bike, that once was my brotherís, to my part-time job at the telephone company. When I left for the Navy following graduation from college, I hung the bike on the wall of my motherís garage. Twelve years later when my children were beginning to ride bikes, I brought mine to Tulsa to ride with them. In more recent years my bike got too old for me, or was it the other way around?

Copyright 1998 by John C. Westervelt

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