Tire Smoking, Chain Drive Flyer
By bj max
As I grow older the things I look forward to don’t seem to be half as much fun as the planning or anticipation that went into them. And, as many times as not, I end up disappointed. But there is one thing that never lets me down. Christmas. And thanks to my Mama and Daddy, all of them were memorable. But there was one that stood out from all the rest. One that burned a memory in my brain that’s as clear today as it was then. It was the year I got my first bike.
Well, it wasn’t really a bike, it was a trike. To be more specific, it was a fiery red Radio Flyer tricycle and for a two-foot four-inch future nobody it was a gigantic and awesome machine. And, it wasn’t your everyday run of the mill tricycle either. No sir-ree. This example was special, with an advanced and sophisticated drive train for the day. Unlike your garden-variety tricycles with their antiquated front wheel pedal power, this particular machine came equipped with a state of the art rear wheel drive. Yeah Baby. Chain drive. That’s what I’m talking about.
According to my parents, the day I took possession of that fantastic machine I promptly went out and backed it into a pile of burning leaves, reducing the rear tires to smoking chunks of charcoal. That was a long time ago and I really can’t remember why I did such a thing, but I imagine it was some kind of crude experiment to determine what sort of chemical reaction takes place when fire is applied to rubber. According to Dad, I bumped around on it till I wore it out despite the fact that the handling was way off due to the super vulcanized tires.
We lived out in the country back then and the blacktop road that ran in front of our house went up a slight incline, then fell off in a steep quarter mile descent into the valley on the other side. It was the place to be on those rare days when we had snow. The kids in the neighborhood would dust off their seldom-used sleds, oil the rusty runners and gather at the top of Hadley hill for a day on the slopes.
I’ve always thought it a bit odd that in a part of the country that rarely saw snow, every kid in the community had a sled. My Daddy made sure we had one and there was always a Flexible Flyer hanging on our back porch, probably because Dad never had a sled when he was a kid. He had to improvise, and a corn scoop borrowed from my Grandfather’s barn was his preferred mode of high-speed sledding.
Daddy told me all about the particulars of corn scoop sleddery and I hung onto every word. According to him, you sat yourself down in the scoop and straddled the handle with your feet sticking straight out. Your buddies would then get you started with an enthusiastic shove and away you went. The handle acted as a kind of tiller, but he added that this unique steering system was flawed and very sensitive to the slightest input. For instance, (motorcyclists will certainly understand this) if you over corrected the least little bit you found yourself careening off course in a wild and dizzying spin or worse yet, slammed up against the trunk of a Pin Oak tree. Sounded like fun to me.
Daddy described those wild and harrowing rides with such passion and detail that I could almost feel the slush splashing against my face. As I sat on Santa’s knee later that year, the jolly old elf gave me the weirdest look when I told him I wanted a corn scoop for Christmas, a red one. But for some reason he didn’t come through and I had to make do with the Flexible Flyer hanging on the back porch.
Getting back to my story, a bunch of kids had gathered at the top of Hadley hill and they were laughing and carrying on and having a fine old time. I was too little to be out on such a cold and nasty day, but I could hear them playing and I wanted to be up there with ’em. So, while my Mama was busy ironing and wrapped up in the latest episode of Stella Dallas on the radio, I slipped off, mounted my chain driven tricycle and pointed her into the wind.
With four inches of snow on the ground and no rear tires to speak of, I had to pedal like crazy to make any sort of forward progress. It was only a couple hundred yards to the top of the hill, but to a four-year-old it was like riding to Alaska. As the incline increased I had to pedal faster and faster to maintain forward momentum but I was running out of steam and it was beginning to look like I wasn’t going to make it. Every once in a while the knifelike edges of the little stamped steel wheels would cut through the ice and I would move a few inches only to stall out again. Even at that tender age, I had enough sense to know that what I needed was a coupla’ thousand more RPM, but I was plumb tuckered out and didn’t have a clue where I was going to find that extra power. Just as I was about to give up, I accidentally slipped onto the gravel shoulder and immediately I felt the trike bite into the rough surface. At about the same time, my big brother Wayne noticed my predicament from the top of the hill and came to my rescue as he would so many times during my childhood. He provided the power I so desperately needed, pushed me to the top of the hill and let me hang out with the big guys long enough to satisfy my curiosity. Then he escorted me home. A big brother always, even to this day.
That was the first time I ever went touring, one of the many biking firsts I experienced on that little red tricycle. I had my first flat when I backed into that pile of burning leaves and I survived my first wreck when I lost control on a high-speed coast down a little knoll in our yard and crashed through the shrub bushes, piling up underneath the front porch. And of course, it was my first bike and, like your first sweetheart, you never forget that first bike and I’ll always remember the little red tricycle with chain drive.
Merry Christmas from Dixie.