Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

High school junior biked into the world of business

We were saving for a second bike tour in Britain and were buying bikes by mail and long-distance telephone calls to and from a bicycle shop in Glasgow, Scotland. In March, we ordered handmade Carlton bikes with derailleur gears for Nancy and Walt and a three-speed bike with brakes in the rear hub such as the ones I had as a child. I was leery of learning a new system for applying brakes.

In Glasgow, an elderly gentleman with the last name of Smith, who had measured us, found that the long-distance calls had resulted in bikes ready for our sizes except for adjusting the saddle height, position and tilt. I had thought that bicycle seats were adjusted up or down and that was that!

A second white-haired Smith joined us and said, "The first three days on the hard saddle will be murder, and after that, you’ll be quite comfortable." He was right, of course.

They added one hand-brake lever to acquaint me with the newer, better way of slowing and stopping. I realized that I’d never been taught to ride a bicycle! Learning to ride was more than just learning not to fall!

Walt spent hours in British bicycle shops, asking questions and learning as we toured for two months on those great new bikes.

Jack Hearnes, a mechanic who had accompanied the British racing team to keep their wheels rolling in international competition, spent several hours with Walt. Nancy and I, waiting, wandered to antique sales and shops. We arrived back in Columbia just in time for Nancy and Walt to be in University High School’s first day of fall classes.

Walt had played basketball through junior high, but in 1966 as a sophomore, he said, "I’m not going out for the team this year. Let’s face it: All the others are so much taller."

The coach had referred to Walt as "a scrappy little guard." He did well in track and earned a letter in pole-vaulting competition. However, in tenth grade, Walt would be competing with juniors and seniors who towered above him.

I understood Walt’s problem because I’m the shorty from whom he inherited his stature.

Walt yearned for a lightweight, French Peugeot PX-10 bicycle such as the one he saw in England. He saw that same bike in Ed Morton’s bike shop in Springfield. It cost about twice as much as the handmade English Carlton.

Chub and I had never bought our boy a bike - Walt bought the Peugeot PX-10 with his own money.

In December 1966, local cyclists formed Boone’s Lick Club. The group’s first "tour" was when six cyclists put their bikes on the Wabash train and went to Centralia and pedaled the 20 miles back to Columbia.

Club buddies wanted water bottles, cycling gloves, covers for brake levers, etc. The Springfield dealer suggested that Walt sell bikes and supplies in Columbia. Walt was eager to do that. Promising to keep up his school work, the high school junior rented a vacant barber shop on Hickman Avenue and erected a sign: "Walt’s Bike Shop."

A few months later, a window banner announced that "Eleven New Bikes Arrived Today." Walt’s business boomed, and Columbia had its first complete bicycle shop.

P.S. My grandson, Sam Russell, a former employee at Walt’s Bike Shop, now is now employed by a national bike manufacturing company.

Sam and his wife, Brie, will be in France for a week, urging Lance Armstrong over the Tour de France finish lines.

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