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The Spectator
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 by Frank Shortt
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Bicycle Of Our Own
2014 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
C
        Times were pretty tough in the late forties and early fifties in the little berg of Shortt Gap, Virginia. The few families who resided there were scattered out in the hollows and hills of the surrounding areas. Our house was located about a mile down from the Shortt Gap post office beside Grassy Creek at the head of Buchanan County. The creek had its beginnings above Irby Altizer’s store at the entrance to Boyd Ridge. The creek was used mostly for dumping trash in and building outhouses over. We had no other place to swim, so we would dam up the water every summer and try to “mud crawl” our way around in the muddy water. When the spring freshets came, which was a normal occurrence, all the trash, sewage and some houses and outbuildings usually ended up in Grundy, the county seat. To my memory, the flood of 1957 was the worst disaster any of our family had ever encountered up to that time. Every bridge, outhouse, and tree too close to the creek was swept away by the raging waters. There were lives lost in that flood.
        The job of choice, or lack thereof, in our area was coal mining. Every able bodied man had to earn his meager living by the ‘proverbial sweat of his brow. My father, Edward Shortt, was one of the ones who earned his living this way. For thirty-three years he worked like a turnip thief in the little drift mines in our area. When he could get a union job he had to walk several miles to and from the job even in inclement weather. He worked at Premier Coal Co. in the late forties and before that he worked in Jewell Valley. He and a neighbor would walk all the way from Shortt Gap, up over Little Hurricane through rugged terrain covered with snowdrifts in the winter and copperheads in the summer. He went to all this trouble to make about five dollars a day.
        Needless to say, Dad could only afford our basic needs. He bought rough brogans for our feet, clothes as they were needed and food for the table. There were ten of us kids. We were fortunate that we had our home free and clear. Some of our neighbors were less fortunate and had to rent the sparse housing that our area allowed. Most of these houses were uninsulated, hot in summer and freezing in winter.
        Wendell, my brother, and I always wanted a bicycle. We really had no place to ride one, but as boys will be boys, we wanted it anyway. Dad owned a bicycle that he sometimes rode to the store and would have to push it most of the way there. Fortunately it was downhill all the way back. We were not allowed to ride that one as it was considered an expensive piece of machinery. We were really glad when dad got his first car, an old 1936 Ford. We thought we would get the bicycle then, but to our dismay, dad sold it to help pay for the car.
         One summer day someone came along with an old beat up bicycle. The only problem, there was no sprocket chain. We somehow traded the person some item for the bike and then began the problem of learning to ride it, especially since there was no sprocket chain. We pushed the bike up the hill beside our house. One of us would hold the bike steady so the other could climb on. When the rider cried, “let ‘er go”, off he would go down the hill. The only way to stop was to run into the opposite bank. Talk about a sudden jolt! I have been thrown over the handlebars, straddled the frame bars, and shaken out of my wits, all for the thrill of being able to say I could ride a bike! This would repeat until one of us got so sore we were unable to help the other on the bike. We would them go home to patch up and try to keep mom from seeing all the bruises and cuts we had incurred. We repeated the same routine over and over, when we had spare time, until the bike was completely worn out, no tires left, and finally the rims gave out.
        On mentioning this bike to one of my sergeants while serving in the Air force, he told me this funny story about a bike with no sprocket chain:
        He said, “I grew up in rural South Carolina in the forties and fifties. We were poor farmers and could not afford any extras. One day as my brother and I were walking out the road leading to town from our farm, we noticed a couple of boys playing on a hillside. They were attempting to ride a bicycle down the hill and we saw that the bike had no sprocket chain. Being pranksters, we thought up a way to have a little fun. On spotting a roll of chicken wire lying beside the road, we decided to stretch it across the path of the oncoming bicycle unbeknownst to the two riders who were too busy maneuvering the bike to notice what we were doing. As the two approached the wire, they noticed it too late. What a crash!! Those two boys flew up over the handlebars, up over the wire and landed on the other side. It took them fifteen minutes to hit the ground! We thought we had killed them! To our surprise, the two boys got up, dusted themselves off and the oldest one said,
        “You smoked my tires”.
        “They chased us all the way home, but being scared out of our wits, we outran them. Next day, we went along the same road and there they were riding down the same hillside again. We figured they would be so angry with us that they would surely beat us up. No, they invited us to ride down the hillside on the bike with no sprocket.”
        “To our surprise, the ride downhill wasn’t that bad. It was the sudden stop at the end of the ride that caused all the trouble!”
Thus ends the saga of the bike without a sprocket! To this day, I can say that I have never enjoyed a bike as much as I enjoyed that one.
Isn’t it strange how that the most dangerous antics we pulled growing up are the most memorable?