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Bicycle Enthusiasm Sparked Friendship With The Wrights


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on September 6, 1997
Stevens family memoirs include 2 new stories
By Roz Young
            Just when you think that every story about the Wright brothers has been told, along comes a new one, or, in this case, two.
            In 1894, Daytonian Art Stevens worked for the Barney and Smith Car Works. Because he spoke Spanish fluently, he was sent to Colombia to buy wood for the inlay work on the railroad cars.
            Stevens lived with a family in the village of Garzon. The father was a fine woodworker and mechanic. He saw a photograph of a bicycle in a magazine and built one entirely of wood. The finished bicycle lacked only one element to make it functional. It had no tires. He needed something tubular and pliable to fasten to the wheel rims.
            His solution was to send village boys out into the countryside to catch snakes. He dried the snakeskins and stuffed them with dried grass and lashed them to the wheel rims.
            At last the bicycle was ready for a trial ride. The mayor of Garzon declared a legal holiday. The villagers lined the streets and cheered while Art Stevens rode by.
            Later Stevens bought the wooden bicycle and had it shipped to Dayton for the Wright brothers to exhibit in their shop. It was displayed there until the 1913 flood, when it was washed away with much of the shop's contents.
            Art Stevens was the uncle of Helen Bradbury, 2000 Wilmington Road, Lebanon.
            He and his younger brother, Helen's father, were both bicycle enthusiasts, and, on Sunday afternoons, Wilbur and Orville Wright often bicycled to the Stevens home and the four took many bicycle trips together.
            One of their favorite destinations was Huffman Prairie, two miles from the Stevens farm.
            Years later, the Wright brothers rented a corner of the prairie, built a hangar there and spent many hours in experimental flights with their airplanes.
            Mrs. Stevens often packed picnic baskets, and they drove in the family buggy to Huffman Prairie on Saturday afternoons to watch the brothers fly. They were joined by other Daytonians and, in Helen's words, `They never flew very high, and the frequent, unexpected landings caused great excitement and merriment to the many observers beside the road. A concerned farm woman nearby kept a bucket of water, rag bandages and salve for any injuries that might occur to the flyers. Her small son would take off, bucket in hand, to the crash site, thoroughly enjoying his mission.
            `One day, as my father and his hired man were driving cattle to the stockyards, a high-spirited young bull suddenly broke away and headed across the prairie. The stretch was notorious for pockets of quicksand and rattlesnakes - definitely a nasty place to chase a bull.
            `He had not gone far when he stumbled into a pool of quicksand and started thrashing around violently. When the two men saw there was no way for them to pull the bull out, my father raced across to the Wright hangar. He explained their predicament to Orville Wright, who hurried out to a recently purchased tractor, grabbed ropes and planks and drove to the terrified beast.
            `After much tugging and pulling, the bull was oozed out. All involved were exhausted as well as very slimy.'
            These two new (to us) stories are from a collection called `Deja-Vu,' 14 episodes of Helen's life, written for her family in 1992.