The only bicycle I really remember was my Western Auto Spider. A lesser version of the 1966 Schwinn Stingray. Blue. Chrome fenders and high rise handle bars. White banana seat. Chrome sissy bar in the back. Wide slick rear tire with white walls. I was one skinny bad to the bone kid. Except for the black horned rim glasses that made me look like Ernie on My Three Sons. Okay, maybe not so bad to the bone.
I lived an entire life on that bike. Kids these days seem to think you need a paved bike trail in order to ride. Heck. We were jumping terraces in the hay fields. Spinning out on dirt roads. Which sometimes meant eating gravel when you spun too hard. We even tied ropes onto our bikes and rode them off the big rock into the lake. Pulled them out with the rope and did it again.
It was three miles into town and as soon as I could finish hoeing in the garden or mowing grass, I was off. There was backyard baseball to be played on North Avenue.
“You be home by supper,” Mama said. “Don’t make me call Blake’s Mama to find you.”
I knew better than to be late. It was a 20 minute ride. 18 if I got on it. I always wore my Timex on my left wrist. It “took a licking and kept on ticking.” I saw those commercials and thought they should have asked a kid on a spider bike to ride off a rock into a lake. I didn’t care if we were in the middle of a playoff game. When 5:40 came, I was peddling like my pants were on fire.
That bike was the first real set of wheels that I ever owned. When it got dirty, I cleaned it up. Q-tips in the tight places. Buffing out the Turtle Wax on those chrome fenders. I never left it out in the yard. It stayed under the back porch just off the den. The chain was oiled.
Along about 1968 the Rupp 5HP Mini Bikes came to town. Spider Bikes were not cool any more. My buddies were leaving me in the dust. The first time I road one I made the first turn down at the end of North Avenue. I gunned it and couldn’t make the next turn. I skidded through the barbed wire fence and peddled home with ripped jeans and blood on my arms and legs.
I pleaded shamelessly for a Mini Bike. Dad wouldn’t hear it.
“If you’re gonna get something, get something worth having. If you want to work for it, I’ll help you.” Which turned out to be good advice.
We went over to Greers’ Dairy and Dad bought 5 Holstein bull calves. Fifteen bucks a piece. We stuffed them in old feed sacks and tied up the open ends with a piece of wire. Just their heads sticking out. We put them in the back of the truck and drove home.
Frank Greer looked at it this way. “If they don’t have 4 hanger downers, we don’t have any use for them.”
I spent the better part of the next year raising calves. Bottle feeding. Toting water. Making sure that they were cared for. And when the time came, we loaded them up and took them to the sale barn in Jackson. By the time it was over, I had enough money to buy a Honda 90 Trail Bike. I had just turned 13. Psssssht on stupid mini bikes.
Now, I not only had wheels, but I had wheels that could really take me places. No license. I could follow dirt roads and power line cuts and get almost anywhere I wanted.
One afternoon, my buddy Scott and I took our bikes out after a rain and found as much mud as we could possibly find. We rode out the dirt road past Jack Fears place just on the northeast side of town. We were probably 15. The more mud the better.
What we didn’t notice was that the mud was packing up between the rear tire and the fender on both bikes. I kept trying to throttle through it, but the tire locked up. The engine overheated, and the ignition wire burned in two. There was no cranking it.
Scott was going to ride for help. It was going to be dark soon. Thirty minutes later I saw him walking back toward me. His rear tire had locked up in the mud. His kick start was missing, and the only way to crank it was to roll it off. It wouldn’t roll.
By now it was pitch black. We walked back to Jack Fears place and called my Dad to come get us. I’ll never forget that very short conversation.
“I don’t remember telling you to go out and ride till all hours of the night.” It was 11:00.
Dad pulled up in the yard. We loaded the bikes in his truck. It was a quite ride home. Secretly I smiled. I knew we would ride another day.