Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Entrepreneurs got started at local dining room table

The coach called our son Walt a "scrappy little guard" on the basketball team in ninth grade, but he was not tall enough to hold his own with the varsity players. "I’ve been thinking I’d like to start a bike shop," Walt said. He had met Ed Morton, a bicycle dealer who imported French Peugeot bicycles for his shop in Springfield - the ones with 10 speeds and hand brakes instead of gears and brakes in the rear hub.

In l967, about the time he entered the 11th grade in University High School, Walt was selling bicycles and supplies. He rented a vacant barber shop - complete with big "pump-up" chair and a pink lavatory in the sales room. That location is now part of Jefferson Junior High School’s playing field.

The bike business was booming. By l970 his friend Bud Stone helped Walt buy a lot on Rogers Street; he borrowed money for that and a new building. A few years later he rented a building in Warrensburg, near the campus of Central Missouri State University, and opened a second shop with Dave Erisman as manager.

Walt and Dave, innovative bicyclists, saw the serious bicyclist’s need for a device that would measure two things: miles per hour and cadence, to monitor his speed and regularity of pedaling. Walt and Dave set out to create a device they called "The Pacemeter."

Most people understood the novelty of knowing how many miles per hour they were traveling, and some cyclists had discovered the advantage of humming a tune as they pedaled in time with the music.

Walt and Dave planned for the Pacemeter to have two dials, a speedometer and a tachometer to register the rate and rhythm of pedaling. A glance at the handlebars would help the rider get "more miles for less muscle."

For two years, Walt and Dave worked on the Pacemeter, often for hours at my dining table sketching designs for wiring, mountings for sensors and magnets, and designing the attractive black meter container for the handlebars. They "whittled" the final weight down to only 9 ounces! They let me test prototypes.

A representative of a widely respected British bicycle manufacturing company had planned to promote the Pacemeter to the industry. The inventors borrowed money and patented the device, which sold for $70.

At the crucial moment of placing it on the market, the prospective British promoter quit selling bicycles and went into tennis rackets! Walt and Dave had little money for national promotion but advertised briefly in a popular bicycling magazine. They sold Pacemeters to racers, Olympic trainers, summer camps for serious bicyclists and others, shipping them to 38 states.

One morning Walt received a call from California from a fellow who was vying for the Henry Kremer prize - $87,000 for the first person in the world to invent a successful plane propelled by human power. It had to take off, clear a 10-foot pylon, fly a half mile, turn around, return and land safely. Paul MacCready explained that they were working on a human-powered plane and thought the Pacemeter could help them. They flew many unsuccessful trials, always improving the design and reducing the weight to attempt to earn the Kremer prize. A bicycle racer who weighed twice as much as the plane was set to try again in MacCready’s "Gossamer Condor," a flimsy, 70-pound bird with 96-foot wingspread. At 7:37 a.m., Aug. 23, 1977, like a silent movie, the Gossamer Condor moved forward and lifted upward.

To be continuedÖ

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