Chapter Three-Bicycle Trip New York to Linesville:1897

In preparation for this trip I had bought a bicycle wholesale from one of the firms with whom we dealt, called  The Stormer, which cost $38, not much out of line with a similar machine at present values. I had taken several test runs up the West bank of the Hudson, then crossed the ferry at Tarrytown to the East bank and came down to the New York side.

Otherwise, in clothing, I outfitted myself as follows for the trip with the idea of roughing it more or less. I saw a pure white wool sweater in a Plainfield show window, marked Special at $1 and I bought it. It was just my size. I will say that it represented a value such as I marvel could be offered even under the low prices prevailing at that time. It would sell for $10 today. It proved adequate for my needs, and, moreover, gave me a snappy look.

I had previously joined the League of American Wheelman, and had the emblem L.A.W. emblazoned on my corduroy cap. To match the cap I had corded corduroy knee-pants, bloomer style, buckled at the knees, with knee-length black stockings. Aside from what I could strap across my handlebars, I carried only a small alligator hand-satchel for small items.

So equipped, I started out early. It was a morning in early summer. With a route across New York state outlined, I went first up the Hudson, then on the East bank to Poughkeepsie, and for dinner I stopped the Vendome Hotel where I was entitled to a 10% discount. It was the first and only time that I ever availed myself of the L.A.W. discount, or indeed patronized any hotel. I found it more desirable to live off the land, under my own devises and less formal. In the preceding I refer to meals, and not lodgings, for that very night I was to seek a hotel for sleeping accommodations. As to living off the land, I have always been fond of plain bread and milk, and in my bicycling days that was one of my standbys for food. I always paid for food and never begged. Preparing myself by purchase of a 5-cent loaf of bread, in passing through a town near noon, I would soon thereafter approach a farm house door and ask the house wife to sell me a small pail of milk, usually about a quart, and then repair to the nearest shade tree and make my dinner, then return the pail. Of course I carried in my kit knife, spoon and fork and washed them in the sink. The milk cost me for estimated quart from 3 to 5¢.

Soon after leaving the town of Hudson, I was taken sick with heat. It was hard work from a long and sustained trip since early morning. However, a half hours rest in the shade put me in good shape again and I proceeded on into Wappingers Falls for the night, 87 miles for the first day and all well. I looked up the little hostelry dignified by the name of a hotel and checked in for the night, and was assigned to a room on the second floor. From there on, during the evening there occurred a succession of comic opera incidents that the facts, as I shall relate them, are almost beyond credence, but true, never-the-less, and as bright in my memory as when they occurred, 63 years ago

There was running water over a basin but not very good light. Whenever kerosene or weak electric light I don’t remember, but I had stripped, hung my sweated union suit in the closet nearest at hand and was busy sponging off from the sweat of travel. When somebody tried the door, which I had locked, and I found by the voices that it was a couple of girls. They challenged me by Jack, let us in. I asked them what they meant, and by then they sensed that something was wrong, but still insisted that I let them in, that it was their room. I demurred but they still persisted, so I told them the landlord gave me this room, and if there was any dispute they should go down and consult him, which they thereupon did just that.

When they came back they were full of apologies and explained that they were a couple of girls touring a field by the popular bicycle way. They had had these rooms for a week. As they had been doing, they left in the morning for the days outing, but the landlord had understood that they were checking out for good and so had re-let the room to me. I concluded that his registering methods and checking would stand improvement. Be that as it may, the girls, giggling, asked me to throw out their nightdresses, as the landlord had gotten them another room. Thereupon I, being naked, grabbed for the first thing I could lay hands on and tried to open the door to push it through.

The lock was some new-fangled invention, the like of which was new to me, and I had never seen its counterpart and I couldn’t unlock the door; so the girls told me to throw the stuff through the transom, which I did. After a few seconds a gale of laughter pealed out and they said the bundle I had thrown was not their nightgowns but a set of men’s underwear. I knew instantly what I had done, but didn’t let on to them. They fired my union suit back and told me specifically where to look for their garments. I found them and fired them over.

To explain their former reference to Jack, the fact that a man’s under suit had been hanging in their closet, they said that Jack was a friend of theirs. He had a job as a night telegrapher. During the day they had given him permission to use their room while they were away to sleep. They supposed he had left the disputed garments in their closet un-wittingly. Anyhow, an embarrassing situation was thereby explained. The girls and I arranged to meet the next morning and continue together, as their route for the day was the same as mine. So it was left, except for me to ask them to explain the workings of the lock. That I could get out in the morning. This they did, and I demonstrated it a few times to be sure. We met, as agreed in the morn, at daybreak, but they were waiting for their escorts, who were late, so I left them. Can you imagine such a comedy of errors?

Continuing on into Albany, 150 miles from New York, I crossed the Hudson here on an iron bridge and then West into Schenectady for the second night out. Out of Schenectady the next morning I traversed the beautiful Mohawk Valley. There were no pavements at all then, in the country, anywhere in the United States, but along the route I took there were occasional side paths along the roads, beaten hard by travel, and from county to county supposed to be built and maintained through a 25-cent license assessed against users and evidenced by a tin medal attached to the wheel. I was warned, but never bothered, not by the charge, but the deal of getting the thing. It was a trip to the county seat, though I was never challenged.

On this day I pick up two brothers, Clark and Roy Dove, from St. Louis, touring just for the fun of it, and we continued in company into St. Johnsville, for our next night lodging. It was Saturday night, and I was out of small money, but no merchant would change my $20. Therefore I dropped into a store and bought some trinket that cost 5-cents and presented my bill and it was changed. We all bunked together that night, in one room.

The next day we hit Little Falls, Herkimer, Ilion, and the other prosperous towns along the valley route until within a few miles of Syracuse, where we camped in a cornfield under an apple tree. It began to rain slowly about 3 o’clock, so we hot footed it or hot wheeled it into Syracuse and got modest lodgings. Next day the rain continued and Roy and Clark took a train west. Not I, however, for when I wheel no train is going to spell me. Later in the day the rain ceased and I pull out for Rochester.

In Rochester I got good lodgings with the Volunteers of America, the first contact I ever had with that organization. From there to Buffalo was against a head wind and a very hard pull, and I bunked on the hay in a barn that night. A part of the way across the state I had ridden on the Erie Canal towpath, but not a great distance, as my machine seemed to frighten the mules, for which the rough drivers bawled me out, so I took the hint, and desisted. Somewhere along my narrative of progress across the state, I have missed a cog; for, while traversing the towpath route I climbed to the top of an abounding hill alongside to sleep under the stars and above the canal infested with mosquitoes.

After leaving Buffalo I followed the lake front highway to Erie, where I found lodging with my cousins, Grace and Addie Smith over night and for a short relaxation before completing the last lap of my journey, 43 miles to Linesville, thus ending my first long bicycle ride.

New York Store

Arriving in my hometown I augmented my parents but not supplant them in the management of the store, giving my mother a measure of relief to attend to her housework. In giving special emphasis to the advertising end, I had printed 1000 cards with figures printed all around the edge, to be punched as purchases were made, until the card was full, when a cash prize would be given the bearer upon its presentation. I distributed these cards far and wide by bicycle, in addition to handing them out in the store.

Then O. R. Washburn started a newspaper in Linesville, and to secure prospective new subscribers he gave me the privilege of culling the names from county directory and mailing to the same, all this in exchange for my services in folding and mailing these copies on publication day. My reward was special advertising in the paper. Daisy had saved a copy of the circulars issued at that time, and she just resurrected them lately. I will quote some prices, so no guesswork is involved. Here are some samples:

Dealers in galvanized, stationary, enameled ware, crockery, woodenware, tin ware, notions, small counter goods, toys, and general house furnishings. Summer 1897.

One pint pieced cups @ 1¢; we sold these in quantities to auctioneers; garden trowels 3¢; bottles of black ink @ 2¢; 19-inch scythe stones @ 2¢; steel teaspoons 12¢ per dozen (re-tinned); 6-foot horse whips @ 10¢; a good whalebone whip @ 50¢. Incidentally, Westfield, Massachusetts, was the whip center manufacturing city of the world, wherein at that time 19 factories prospered, later being eliminated or converted to other uses. Sheet bread pans @ 5¢; wire egg whips @ 1¢; a box of 250 envelopes @ 19¢; guaranteed oil stoves @ 69¢ and up; flat oil tea kettles @ 10¢; 20X38 Turkish towels @ 10¢; china nest eggs 23¢ a dozen; and so on, for thousands of useful items. Compare values with today.

We specialized in paper covered books, or novels, as they were called, bought in New York in 1000 lots @ 7¢ apiece and distributed to mine and other stores, and appealing to all tastes, the same quality as now sold at 25¢ to 50¢. Love stories by Laura Jean Libbey; drama by Mr. E.D.E.N. Southworth, Ishmael, or in the depths; and the aftermath, self raised, or out of the depths; boy’s books, like Frank Meriwell and Horatio Alger; In His Steps or What Would Jesus Do? a fine work Left Handed Luke, or  The Lion-hearted Lad Left On Labrador. Gray enameled bedchambers, along with other items in graniteware; we bought from factory in original cases and always had a display on sidewalk in front of the store. They sold at 19¢. We bought tin cups by the 5-gross case.

We heated with a coal burner, a tall sheet iron stove, and lighted with oil. Huge brass lamps were suspended from the ceiling. We bought oil for them by the barrel for 5 & 6¢ per gallon.

Bicycle Trip To Chicago & Return-1897

Preparing for our trip, I took the agency for the Manson Bicycle and the first sales were to Fred and I. We equipped ourselves with ordinary street clothing, instead of the sport outfit I wore on the way from the East. We used a spring pant-guard and had toe clips attached to our pedals. We had oil-burning headlights, for, we didn’t anticipate riding nights with its unknown road hazards, unless caught out and necessary to make a goal, which was too often the case. We had a large haversack thrown over our back and coats strapped to the handlebars. Countrywide pavements of any sort did not exist. Even in the cities were indifferent about paving the streets. Generally, at best the cities had rough granite blocks or cobblestone streets. To anticipate our needs, we bought all our eats, or at least offered to pay for them. Sometimes the offer was refused, and in no sense did we class ourselves as tramps or vagrants, nor were we ever looked upon as such, but simply as two young travelers. Fred was 16 and nine years my junior. To anticipate, we bunked wherever night caught us, never in a hotel or under a roof, other than barns or other shelters, except the few occasions that we stopped over at relatives.

With the forgoing preface and explanations, we started off, as Detroit was our first long-range goal. Near Mifflin, Ohio, we had our first mishap. Approaching a long hill, over a mile in length, it didn’t look very steep, and I confidently started down it without hesitation. Fred, with more common sense dismounted to assess the prospects. I soon picked up speed and couldn’t control it by the use of my toe stuck under the fork (coaster brakes hadn’t yet been invented). I soon lost my pedals and so stuck my feet straight out and hung on, trying to keep the middle of the road and keeping my balance. I must have been doing at a mile a minute, my cap jarred down over my eyes, until I could shake it off, and my pack worked loose so it hung in my front. In this way I reached the bottom all in one piece. A funeral procession was just starting up from the 4-corners settlement there, and I was thinking if I didn’t be more careful the next one would be for me.

Fred was walking down the hill, looking from side to side, and expecting to see my wrecked wheel, if nothing worse. He picked up my cap, half way down, and then we inspected the wheel to assess the damage, if any, from the crisis that it had undergone, but found nothing wrong other than tightening the nuts all around. Then sallied on, with no further mishaps other than a minor fall into the ditch that Fred had, but with no injury beyond a skinned leg and breaking a wheel spoke, easily repaired.

We were making for Aunt Sarah’s for the night. She and her grown daughter, Emily, had move from Akron and now lived in Detroit, at 259 Shelby Avenue. I had been there once, but Fred was never there. Approaching the city, a fine rain mist started up, making riding very uncomfortable and spattered our wheels with fine mud thrown up from the street. When we came to the suburban developments we found a streetcar at the end of the line. The conductor kindly allowed us to board it, and we hung our machines on the projecting arm of the braking assembly. The conductor said he would take us to the city limits or until we reached paved streets, which he did, being of cobblestones mainly. At any rate, with street interruptions incident to repair work, the fine mist, and all after dark, we really earned our money the next hour or so trying to find Shelby Avenue. However, we finally located it.

Now starts the tale of what potentially might have resulted in the worst crisis of our whole trip, possibly involving the injury or death on one or both of us. To cut the ending short, will say that we came out of it intact, and not to the detriment of any of the parties concerned, proving that the good luck that was with us the entire trip still stayed by us.

Reaching Shelby, dismounting and groping our way down the street in the semi-darkness of indistinct street lights, we came to a house which I claimed was my aunt’s verified by my remark, “yes, I see the coal shed in the rear”. Then, as now, it was the custom, when a new subdivision was opened the houses were more or less similar in uniform and shape, but different in the color in painting. The reader has by now already imagined what was in the process of happening. Entering these premises I said to Fred,  we will not bother my aunt at this hour (it was after 11 o’clock). We will just bunk in the coal shed until morning before announcing ourselves. Therefore we adjourned to the shed, which proved to be a catchall for discarded items, as well as bins for wood and coal.

After stacking our wheels outside against the building, we felt around among the rolls of carpet and other household rejects until we cleared a place on the wood floor where we could lie flat and go to sleep for the rest of the night. We shoved our shoes under the door to brace it, and went to sleep. We never lit matches in such situations, and electric flashlights were not in general use, at least we did not have one, and depended upon our sense of feel. We arose early, as was our custom, and immediately attached the hose to the plug at the house and turned on the water. We were busy washing down our plastered wheels as if we owned the place. In the meantime keeping an eye on the house, anticipating the surprise we were going to give the folks.

At times we could see apprehensive females peering out the window, but I warned Fred not to declare ourselves until aunt and Emily came to the door, which, at length the older woman did. With fire in her eye, we, seeing the lady was a perfect stranger, turned off the water. She exploded indignantly, what are you doing here? I stammered, Isn’t this the residence of Mrs. McIntosh?  She said it was not, and a good thing her husband had gone to work early without going out back, else he would have been tempted to take a potshot at us, or perhaps other action not quite as drastic, as they had been bothered lately by tramps. Her husband had bought a gun, to be ready for the next trespassers, and he would have been within his rights.

After a bit the woman was mollified, and we had a nice conversation. She was most affable when she saw that we were good intentioned, and directed us to the right house, two doors beyond. Aunt was terribly embarrassed and hastened to make amends, and ran down to her friendly neighbor and told her that I was a prominent merchant in my hometown and Fred was a student, etc., so the matter was straightened out amicably.

Leaving Detroit after the episode in the last chapter, our goal was Battle Creek, a short hundred miles to the west, where we expected contact the Henry family, formerly residents of Linesville. Parenthetically, I will say that our daily runs were not supposed to exceed 100 miles, but occasionally a little over, in one instance far over, but that is another story. We could make this mileage without strain by getting early starts, riding steadily but not trying to speed. We would call it a day by dark, except in cases where we were trying to make a certain destination. Then,we were tempted to keep going until we made it.

Arriving in Battle Creek and the Henry home, we found the oldest daughter, Daisy, had gone into the country a few miles, to be with and help a sick friend, temporarily. We were invited to spend the night at the Henry home, which we did. That evening, Mrs. Henry gave us directions whereby we might ride out and call on Daisy. Therefore we sallied forth, but somehow missed the place in the dark and it was not until the following year, prior to which Daisy had moved back to Linesville, that I contacted her.

Leaving the Henry’s late next morning our objective was the comparative short run to the farmhouse of our Uncle Amos Smith, in Cass County, near the village of Vandalia. My previous letter to him and his wife, Aunt Susie, had apprised them so they were expecting us at suppertime, for which, farm style, they  had killed the fatted calf. However, through the ever present delays on the road, it was late before we got there, and dark, nearly 9 o’clock. Owing to the lateness of the hour I told Aunt Susie that she could just set us out a light lunch. She said that was all taken care of and ushered us into the overloaded table, which we speedily lightened, for, in truth, we were almost starved, having eaten nothing since noon, anticipating the meal that evening with the Smith’s. At the conclusion of the meal, uncle, in his droll way said ” well, boys, if you call that a light lunch what would a square meal be?”

We stayed over a day and were plied with all the table goodies going, to which we did full justice. As hosts both uncle and aunt, in their kindness made every effort to make our stay enjoyable. Uncle even provided us with guns to shoot rats that were denuding his corn crib. Uncle Amos, though ostensibly of retirement age, formerly County Surveyor, late member of the Michigan State Assembly, but now, unpaid. His job was the area meteorologist, making daily observations and reports to the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Again, we boarded our steeds for Chicago. About 20 miles out we met a fellow traveler on a side path, where we all had to dismount in order to pass. He advised us to take the right-of-way of the Michigan Central Railroad at Chesterton the rest of the way into the city, but to beware of the paddies, who might arrest us for trespassing, or at least drive us off the railroad property. Around Chicago were sand, sand everywhere, and no suitable road into the city from the East for other vehicles than horse drawn market wagons etc. We did as advised with no contact from section hands as it was dusk and all the maintenance of way workers had gone home. We had one minor accident that might have resulted in injury. In crossing a trestle, Fred’s heel dropped between the ties, but with no damage other than a skinned leg and the usual breaking of a spoke or two on front wheel. Thus we entered Chicago switching off the railroad to street travel as it became available.

The sights in Chicago are legion. In the past have touched on in these things, so I will skip over them hastily. Vaudeville houses were in full flower, taking the place of our picture shows  of today. We stayed in the city but two or three days, then headed back east. Leaving the city, we bore south and east to Valparaiso, to strike a route that our wheels would traverse. On the second day out hangs a story; sometime in the mid-afternoon we encountered a dentist from St. Louis, who was taking his vacation by bicycle. Dressed in the latest fashion approved by the fraternity, and evidently making a more or less leisurely trip of it, he was eastbound. He asked if he might join us. We assented, provided, as we warned him that our steady pace would suit him, taking time out for meals in limited rest periods. He said “O.K.”

So we continued all-day and far into the night until 11P.M. After 119 miles, he was nearly dead and could hardly stand up. After dismounting, he decided to call it a day. Seven miles outside Detroit, we all decided to call it a day, and looked around for a place to sleep. We encountered a citizen on the street and told him our quest. He then, at that time of night was half drunk from his evenings libations, but sober enough to offer hospitality to strangers, and told us that we could bunk down in his barn, so we followed him down a side street until we came to his barn, and thereafter ensued a rather comical situation. Our host unlocked the barn and ushered us in and showed us the hayloft where we could make our beds. He would lock the door, thus insuring us a safe and secure lodging where we could sleep like a bug in a rug.  Then, stumbling around in the loft he fell through a hole in the floor from which, however, he caught himself and was not injured, but, in the struggle to regain his balance he found he had lost the key that he had in his pocket and so he departed, leaving us behind the unlocked door.

However, our dentist friend was quite disturbed by the incident. Fred and I bedded down in the hay and were soon sound asleep, but the dentist was sure that the claim of the drunk having lost his key was only a ruse to leave the place wide open so that he could rob us during the night. Fred and I had no such worries as we had nothing to lose anyhow, unless it is our lives. But our friend would accept no assurances from us, and while we went to bed he stacked the plow, cultivator, and any other farm tools he could find to barricade the door, and when he finally came up to join us he laid his gun beside his pillow  just in case. He had been unduly induced to push on into Detroit that night by the city lights, which were visible 30 miles away, and so deceived us into thinking we had not far to go. Detroit in the 90’s had its lights mounted on 200-foot masts with high intensity electric light bulbs, a unique system and not used elsewhere as far I know. Otherwise, we would have stopped sooner in deference to our friend.

Well, we parted with the dentist then and there, leaving him still asleep and unharmed while we got out early in the morning. We rode into the city where we had an appointment with our Aunt Sarah. As we were running low on finances, we had written home for $2 to finish our journey. It arrived in Detroit at my aunt’s house were we could pick it up at our visit.

We started right out, rounding the end of the lake at Toledo, thence following the shore through Ohio to Cleveland. Arriving at that city we quartered at a Welfare Organization with 50 other itinerants, in a big second story room, on cots, with bath privileges at 10-cents apiece.

Next day’s run, likewise a short one, was to the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Fisk. We called them Uncle Leonard and Aunt Beulah, though from courtesy, as they were not related. They lived near Kingsville. With night approaching, a big storm was brewing up. They were not expecting us, so we had to wake them about 9:00PM. At our request Aunt Beulah brought us some bread and milk when she learned we had no supper. The milk had soured account of the thunderstorm, but we didn’t let that affect our appetites, as it was healthful anyhow. We didn’t let on under such intended kindness.

Delaying our start in the morning until the roads had dried out a bit, we left for the short run to Erie, Pa., to spend the night with Cousins Grace and Addie Smith, who had come to Erie from their home in Springfield to go to school and find work. They were both older than Fred but younger than I. These accommodations were appreciated in view of our dwindling finances. We had but 50-cents left from our Detroit fund of $2, and before we left Erie we had further depleted that. Among other necessities were a couple of polka dot blue kerchiefs chosen thus because they served as scarves around the neck to ward off the sun, and they didn’t show dirt, sweat, or dust. When our laundry facilities were nil, their large size was a helpful  broke bread with them. They bunked us in the corner on the floor with a guilt, etc. Then we headed for home and  the end of the trail  with 1000 miles of travel behind us. We ran into Linesville and home with exactly 1¢ between us, and the mathematicians will have to tell us how to divide that.

Fred’s and my further bicycling days were resumed again in 1899, in a similar round trip between Linesville and New York with the year 1898 as a sort of intermission.

In the fall of the year Father and Raymond went down to Chattanooga to visit Uncle Ed, using the Southern Railway and its Northern connections. Upon their return Raymond wrote the story of their trip, a copy of which, in his own handwriting I have in my possession. Raymond (my youngest brother) passed away the following year.