February 12, 2013

Bicycle Trails and Various Modes of Transportation for Boys in Uptown

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

I was in fourth grade when my dad bought me a Monarch bicycle from Goldblatts. My Dad brought it home in a box and we spent the day putting it together.

I rode it around the block a few times, and I noticed the the handle bars were shaped funny and low. Dad and I just thought it was the new style until my Mom came out, made us remove the handle bars, and flip them over. We were embarrassed.

The Monarch didn't rate up there in style, like the Schwinn, but it was mine. It had a belly tank with a horn, and a headlight that fit into the front fender, but no knee action.

We all used the bridal paths in the park that ran parallel with the lake, and it didn't take us long to find trails that ran through the Sumac Jungles from Leland Ave all the way down to the Zoo. There used to be water fountains all along the way, with some very ornate and unique fountains in recess areas, sort of a rest stop.

We would pick up the secret trail at the edge of Montrose Harbor around the golf coarse and follow it into the Zoo. There was a pond in the Waveland Golf course that was fun to sneak into and catch bluegills.

As we got a little older, we became motorized. About 1948, the Travis Bike motor came out and we all had to have one. Now the Travis motor fit on the front wheel. It was a small engine; we could get speeds of up to 15 MPH,. which was fast enough for us. It had a small gas tank attached with it that held 1/3 of a gallon.

We must have gotten over a hundred MPG at about 16 cents a gal.  I think the price of motor was about 30 or 40 dollars.

A lot of the neighborhood kids rode the Travis to school. Some were in sixth grade—no insurance, no city tags, no plates, and best of all, no license required.

One of our friends, an eighth grader from Stewart, was killed when the tires of his Cushman box scooter got caught up in the streetcar tracks on Broadway. Cushmans were very popular and safe as long as you avoided the tracks and sharp turns. There was about three inches of free space from the road to the bottom, the box on the scooter, so if you made a sharp turn that edge could come in contact with the road, catch, and throw you off.

Another friend used to drive a car to school. We were in eighth grade. He was 14 but could pass for 20; he was in the army when he was caught and sent home from Italy.

The next progression was the Whizzer. What a bike! Up to 30 MPH and a hundred MPG easy.  I think gas was up to 19 or 20 cents now.

Then came the Simplex Service Cycle, which was in reality a small motorcycle. I believe we needed to get certified on these, but I am not sure. They were fun to ride, easy to maintain. The Servicycle, like the Whizzer and the Travis, started by friction or magneto. The Cushman had a kick start.

Last in the line was the motorcycle my friend Don French somehow managed to buy: a 1947 Indian Chief 80 with a sidecar, more about that later and the trouble we got into!

When I hear someone say, "Let the good times roll!" my mind snaps back to that bygone era of my life.

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