by Charles F. Sullivan
When I was a boy, my parents gave me a velocipede and I enjoyed it greatly, as well as all the boys in the neighborhood, for it made lots of fun and it was good exercise also. This was made mostly of wood except the working parts such as axles and steering gears, which were of steel. When an errand was to be run in a hurry, it was my job, for I did hustle. A boy living across the street from us, moved out on Linden Avenue and my brother and I went out there one day to play, and one of us would operate the treadles a while and the other would ride the rear axle, trading jobs every little while. We arrived there in good time and played all day and had a good time, and although it was down hill all the way home, we were very tired boys when we arrived home. This one trip cured us of long distance riding and afterward when we went there to play, we patronized the street car.
The first bicycles were made of wooden wheels of equal size with steel tires, with a saddle half way, and the front wheels could be steered by the handle bar to the front wheel. There was no treadle to drive it but the rider would push it along with his feet much as boys now push their scooters. On level ground he could make much better time than by walking and on a down grade, he could coast, and if the hill were steep he would have to walk and push the bike, but it was much better than walking in time and effort. I never saw one of this kind of machine, but have talked with those that have used them and they were enthusiastic about them.
Probably about 1880, I went with my parents to a meeting of the Horticultural society at the home of Nicholas Ohmer on Wayne Ave. opposite the state hospital gardens, which was then a fruit and berry farm, but is now all built up solid, leaving the old home still standing, just as it was.
While there I saw a man who had ridden to the meeting from his farm several miles away upon his bicycle like the one described above except it had treadles upon the front axle, and he told us that he could ride six miles per hour upon it, and that seemed impossible. When riding it, the push of the feet was almost straight forward, and as there were no springs under the saddle, the rider received many jolts (volts) which soon became monotonous.
Several of the visitors tried to ride it without success and we had many laughs at their awkward efforts, but the owner had no difficulty in starting and stopping it, and I thought it a wonder.
A few years later, a lady was visiting at our home from Troy, when her son rode down from there in two hours and that was unbelievable. His bicycle was a large wheel in front with solid rubber tires about an inch in diameter, and a handle bar and saddle on top, with a curved backbone, following the curve of the large wheel and ending in a small wheel, the spokes were of wire and it was all nickel plated and made a very fine appearance. When his visit was over, he walked his wheel to the middle of the street placed one toe upon the step, gave it a couple of kicks and then placed himself in the saddle and was off for his long ride. I watched him ride up Second St. and across Main and the marvel of it grew, for I could not understand how he could balance himself upon the critter. In riding this machine the rider was sitting upon the saddle in a standing position and used his feet much as though he was walking. Later quite a number of these machines were being used continually upon our streets.
I bought one and learned to ride it easily, and when I thought I could handle it nicely, I decided to call upon a young lady and show her how smart I was. I dressed in my best, took the machine to the middle of the street, and when mounting it I was too swift and over the top I went and landed sprawling in the street with the bike upon top of me. I picked myself up, gave up the idea of making the call, took the machine back and never tried to ride it again.
One of my early jobs was clerking in the American express and at times I would go the depot to see how things were handled there, and as a safety bicycle was being shipped through, I borrowed it and soon learned to ride it upon the floor of the old Union Depot. The High wheels were called the ordinary bicycle and the present kind called the safety but the name “Ordinary bicycle” is a misnomer for they are completely out at this time. The last one I saw was used by an old colored man, Ben Collins, who did odd chores for many people and this was a handy way for him to get around.
As this style of wheel was on the road out, I think some one gave it to him, and he was greatly pleased with it.
He got an old dinner bell and tied it to the handle bars and would ring it when in a crowd and at his destination would ring it to let the folks know that he had arrived upon their job. Old Ben rode the wheel for many years and was as proud of it as if it had been a 1940 Packard. He was a very good natured man and no matter what was sold to him, he was always smiling and respectful, and allowed nothing to ruffle him, and all had a good word for him.
Safety bicycles soon came to be very much used and I bought one with a solid rubber tire, nickel plated all over for a hundred and fifty dollars, and from that time on, I was always on a wheel for business or pleasure.
My friends said it reminded them of an old poem but they changed it a little to fit my case, and I give you both editions.
“Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was white as snow
And every where that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go”
Their edition of it: “Charlie had a little bike
Its wheels were bright as snow
And every where that Charlie went
The bike was sure to go.”
The ordinary bike soon disappeared after the Safety showed its superiority, and if one was to be ridden down our streets now it would have its picture upon the front page.
At first the safety always used a solid rubber tire and we were always breaking spokes in them, and they were followed by a cushion tire, about two inches in diameter, with a hollow space in the center about as large as a lead pencil, and that was a big improvement. Then came the pneumatic, both single and double tube, and while they appeared to be clumsy things to us, yet after once being used, nothing could get the rider to change back, for the comfort it gave sold them to the rider. Then nearly every man and many ladies were riding them and it was nothing to make long trips on them. Flats were frequent at first but later tires stood harder service, and proved their worth.
Up until this time all roads were made of gravel and after they were packed they made fairly good roads for bicycling. Then paved streets began to come in, and we always chose the paved streets for riding. For 28 years I rode my bike in all kinds of weather, hot or cold, wet or dry, snow or ice were all the same to me and I took some very long trips upon it. After this, I learned to drive a model T Ford and then I was spoiled for the bicycle and in 1919 bought one and used it for ten years, and since then I have driven many other makes of autos. The youngsters are now getting many bikes and the construction of them is now almost the same as the last one I rode.
The tricycle was not much of a success upon a narrow base but now with a broad base and pneumatic tires they are being used for deliveries.
The two wheeled velocipede, proved that people could propel themselves faster and easier than walking, and this got others to thinking how to improve it. One would try one thing and it would be an improvement, while another would make a failure of his, yet it all tended to the improvement of the bike. Wood was used less and less and the quality of steel was improved and they are now entirely wood except the rims. Steel tires did not have traction enough and so rubber came into use, and now the quality of rubber has improved until now few flats are had on either bicycles or autos, unless badly worn.
This experimental work in the quality of steel and rubber has been of great value to the autos and now I think all autos use inner tube tires. The auto could not have stood the jar of the solid tires but upon Penumatics they run very nicely and are a big factor in the dependability of the auto. Also the bicycle developed the ball bearings and they were a necessity in the bicycle, and from the start, ball bearings were a standard part used upon all makes of autos. Now for heavy work roller bearings are in constant use.
The first auto I ever saw was in the early 90s and the motive power was steam and the driver was experimenting with it and every little way he would stop and tinker with it and then get in and drive on. This was an old style wagon with wooden wheels and steel tires, but he did not seem to make a success of it, even though he was riding upon paved streets. One great trouble with steam was the danger of freezing up in severe weather and that kind of power was given up many years ago.
Storage batteries were tried out and in some ways they were very convenient, Elder’s used them for deliveries for several years, but as the battery was only good for about 35 miles for each charging, that was too much of an objection to them and they have gone completely out. The stationary gas engine was found practical for small plants for many years, for I remember seeing one in the a store grinding coffee when I was just a small boy, but after the coming of natural gas they became more common and dependable but they were all one cylinder engines and the power was not as steady as it was desired.
When the auto was coming in many of them were one cylinder gas engines, but if that one cylinder would get tired and stop, where did you find yourself. It became a standing joke, that Mr. Jones took a ride into the country last night and the engine stalled and he had to get a farmer to tow him back home. Then some one found a way to operate two cylinders in an auto, and this started something and now there is no limit to the number of cylinders that can be hooked up together. At this time the usual number in an auto is six or eight and that is very satisfactory power, for if one or two go out of service there is still enough to bring you home. The auto is now past the experimental stage and is the most dependable way of traveling and a salesman when he finishes up his business with his customer, can get in his auto and be off to the next one without loosing a minute.
At the time of the flood in 1913, hundreds of horses were drowned and lots of teams were needed to haul the mud and trash off of the streets, and as they were not to be had, the city bought quite a number of trucks with solid rubber tires, and they proved themselves to be a valuable asset and were continued in use for many years, in fact now, no horse drawn vehicles are in use at this time by the city.
The first rural nail was delivered by horse and wagon but in 1913 a motor cycle was used upon two Dayton routes and later the same year those two routes began regular service with an auto and since then all have been using them and the length of the routes was increased from 25 miles per route to 40 & 50 miles.
At the beginning of the Century there were a few autos in use by private individuals and when a snow came along how we did wonder that they were able to get through. More and more people bought them and it was a very common sight to see a doctor coming up the street in an auto. The Dayton Fire Dept. bought three pieces of apparatus in 1911 and they proved so much more satisfactory that the whole department was motorized a few years after this trial was made.
The police began motorizing also about this time, and now I do not think there are any horses except for delivery service of one bakery.
The first bicycles were crude but it was an incentive to make them better, and when this was done, others saw a possibility in a motor driven carriage and the work on the bike was needed to make the auto possibility and as it came to be quite a success, the Wright boys experimented several years before they were able to say they had succeeded and they had been repairing bicycles when they conceived the idea of an aeroplane, and closed their bicycle shop to work upon it. I saw them fly over this city in 1905 to the west side and back to their hanger near Fairfield, but that plane was a crude affair compared to the late models. The bicycle was the father of the auto and the auto was father to the plane, and neither one could have been built without the experimental work upon its father.
What will be the next invention to transport people and freight from one part of the country to another, no one can tell, but we do know that we are not through inventing things but what they will be, we will have to leave to the following generation to tell us. All these inventions have been developed in my life time about 60 years and now looking back at them it does not yet seem possible, that they are here and doing service every day.