How many of you remember learning to ride a bike? How about your first bicycle ride? Can you remember that? If so, write it up for us and send it in. We’d like to include some of those accounts in our e-mail newsletter. To get you started, here is Rick’s account of his first bicycle ride. (Should we call it “The Bicycle Thief”?).
I grew up in a company-owned logging and lumber town at the crest of the Coast Range Mountains in Oregon. The most notable thing about Valsetz (the name derives from a combination of the name of the logging railroad, the “Valley and Siletz”) was that it enjoyed an average of 120 inches of rainfall each year and grew the best Douglas Fir trees within a five hundred-mile radius.
When I lived in Valsetz in the mid-1950s the town had about 1200 inhabitants. Everyone worked logging the woods or at the company mill, the company store, the recreation (“rec”) hall, movie theatre or at the public school. Our town actually had its own little school district as the next closest public school was sixteen miles away over a gravel road. My dad was School Superintendent, taught most high school subjects and coached most sports. Mom was the music teacher. She also taught drama and all levels of high school English. The school was just across the street from our house, which was provided by the company (as were all the houses in town). The street was made of heavy wooden planks hewn from the finest old-growth Douglas fir trees in the world. The planks covered what would otherwise have been an impossibly muddy road. In the fall, before the rains started, the company dump truck drove down the alleys in town dumping freshly cut Doug fir firewood, rich with fir resin and free for the taking.
Many of the kids rode their bikes to school, weather permitting. Those who lived in the old logging camps on the edge of town had a couple of miles to ride. Nobody locked their bikes since there was no one to steal them. Or so they thought.
We had no kindergarten in Valsetz. Those not old enough to go to school stayed home with their moms. Since my mom worked I stayed with Anna Kolen, our neighbor across the wooden alley. She had seven kids, most in school, so she took in a few children to baby sit. We liked that because her husband, Oscar, was one of the main sawyers in the woods. He was a big man and wore heavy caulked boots. His overalls were so big that when Anna shorted them for him the cuttings made great sailor caps which she sewed for us. The Kolens also were one of the first families in town to get a television set. As I recall we enjoyed Captain Kangaroo first at their house.
It must have been the spring of 1955, when my buddy Bill Miller and I were nearly six (and headed for school in the fall). The great innovation that spring was the paving of the parking lot at the company store and rec hall as well as the school playground which my dad had convinced the
company to do. It was a beautifully paved surface, sloping just enough for the heavy winter rains to run off into the open ditches along the plank road. Sunny spring weather had driven us outside and Bill and I found our way to the collection of bikes in the school yard.
If you’ve taught anyone to ride a bike you know that a smooth, slightly inclined surface is a perfect place to learn to ride without training wheels. If you get on the bike so that both feet touch the ground, and you start to coast, you’ll be riding that bike in no time. Well, indeed, I don’t know who started it but Bill and I picked out a couple of bikes that fit us just about perfectly and we started to coast down that new asphalt and in no time we were pedaling, turning, and headed down the plank-covered sidewalks along main street. It wasn’t long before we had covered every wooden sidewalk in the south end of town. I can still remember the exhilaration I felt as I sailed through that little company logging town, free as a bird – until it came time to go home.
Our lark didn’t go undiscovered for long. Anna was standing in the schoolyard, hands on her hips, as we pedaled back to deliver those bikes. I can’t remember the exact consequences but I expect it had to do with “business end” of an 18-inch long piece of Douglas fir kindling.
I still don’t know whose bike I “borrowed” on that wonderful spring day in 1955 but it sure was a good fit. I do know, though, that about a month later, my sixth birthday present was one of the best ever. It was my sister Sue’s old pink girl’s bike painted blue. What a surprise that was. And what a great summer I had with that bike.