Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oral Histories and Early Cycling

I'm still trying to understand some of the new search interface on the Library of Congress site.

I found that that the full text of interviews in the Folklore Project, Life Histories, 1936-39 of the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers' Project is searchable - this includes interviews about "transportation," which is interpreted rather loosely.

I found one interview, for example, with one "Art Botsford" of Connecticut - the interview was performed in 1939 but the subject is mostly cycling, apparently in the 1890s.
I had a lot of fun on that old bicycle. Guess I told you about some of the trips I took didn't I? When I got through with that bike I sat down and figured up my mileage, and I found out that I'd been clear around the world, if I'd gone in a straight line.

“Yessir, I'd been over twenty-five thousand miles. Went over three hundred and sixty-five miles one week. Never did a century run, though I could've, easy as not. Some fellers used to see how many of them they could run up. A great trip was up to Springfield and back. That's fifty miles each way. You were supposed to make it same day, of course.

“I got out the shop one day at four o'clock. At twenty-six minutes after, I was down in Dexter's drug store in Waterbury, drinkin' a sody. How's that for scorchin'?


“Back in ' ninety-three I was down in Washington, D.C., time they had the convention of the League of American Wheelmen. They was three-four fellers stayin' in the same hotel with me from Springfield, had those Eagle wheels.

“One mornin' they got an old tomato can and got out in the street in front of the hotel and batted that thing around with their wheels just like they were playin' polo. Boy, I tell you they was good at it. They'd practiced it to home, you see. They had a crowd of people around watchin' ‘em before they got through.

“Some people here in town had them Eagles; others had the ones with the big wheel in front. I remember one lad, I'm not goin' to tell you his name. He used to get so drunk he couldn't stand on his feet, but put him on a wheel and he'd ride as straight as you please.

“Of course if he hit a bump he was apt to go tail over spindle buggy and when he fell off, he couldn't get up. Somebody had to help him on the wheel again, then he was all right.

“I see some of them take some nasty falls. Roads was pretty bad in them days, and it paid to use brakes comin' down a hill. Bidwell's hill was one of the worst. It was sandy as hell at the bottom, and when you hit that sand you was apt to go right over the handle bars.

“I come down there with a feller from Naugatuck one time, a new rider, I told him he better use his brake, but he said no, he didn't want to. He hit the sand and off he went tail over spindle buggy. Him and the wheel landed over in the bushes. Front wheel just crumpled up like paper. I pulled him out and he was groanin' and cussin'. Had a busted arm, I got him down to the nearest house and they went for the doctor.

“Great times, great times, on the bicycles. Then the automobiles come along . . . . .

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