Oh to have your own bicycle. Every boy’s dream!!

I recall in Hollywood, my brother Bill had a bicycle – he could ride on two wheels!! What a deal. I wanted one so badly, but I was about 3 years old and could not reach the pedals, much less the seat of his bike.

If my recollection serves me well, Dad and Mom got me a tricycle at first. This was a big trike as I remember. It had a big front wheel and I would zoom around on it, but it wasn’t a bicycle, which is what I really wanted.

Christmas of ’47 came around and under the tree that year was a bicycle and this one had trainer wheels and I remember Dad helping me to ride it on the driveway. I would sway from on side to the other and the trainer wheels kept me upright. Eventually I got the hang of it and could scoot down the streets without the trainers. This was a big day for me.

We transferred to Tia Juana in about 1949 and I recollect riding my bicycle around the camp. A was about five years old then. During the raining season the streets would flood and all the boys would be out on their bikes riding through the high water. We ruined a lot of bike wheel bearings doing that, but it was great fun.

When I was about eight years my parents gave my brother, Bill, a new bike for Christmas. It was a Schwin and it had a horn which he could toot by pressing a button on the side of the frame. It weighed a ton and also had an unusual front suspension system. By that, I mean it had a spring arrangement which was tied into the front fork which absorbed the bumps. It looked neat. The bike was heavy though, with fat tires and only one speed and when the roads were hot and soft from the blistering sun it was hard to ride. I could not reach the seat, so I used to put my right leg through the frame placing my foot on the pedal and somehow I would pedal the beast down the street. My sister, Cris, did the same thing when she was old enough until my parents got her a bike of her own.

To make the bikes lighter, my friends and I would strip them of all excess metal, etc. No fenders, just the frame and tires. We went through a period of pretending we were riding motorcycles and, using our mother’s clothes pins, we would attach playing cards to the fender braces so that the cards extended into the spokes and we would ride around the camp in groups with the cards creating a kind of sputtering racket. That was great and lasted about one summer.

Riding bikes consisted of phases which came and went as our interests changed. We learned early on to strip the bikes down to service the rear brakes which consisted of a number of metal disks in the rear tire hub which had to be replaced exactly as removed. My brother and I would tear the bikes down, lube them and reassemble them making sure we did not lose any of the small bearings. They were stripped of excess metal to lighten them and could be taken anywhere which is what we did with them. Today, you have 15 speeds and can climb a mountain with little extra effort, but, back then it took effort to climb any incline much less the dike when all we had was one speed. The bikes gave us a sense of freedom which we could not get any other way. We weren’t old enough to drive our parent’s jeep and motorcycles were not part of our way of life. Later we had Cushman scooters and Vespas and some of the older boys such as Jimmy Penhale had an Indian Motorcycle.

A group of us would regularly ride out past the Tia Juana offices on the back roads and the worse thing that could happen to you on those excursions was a flat tire. It would be hot and humid as hell and you would be forced to walk the bike back to camp under that blazing sun. Since there were burrs and stickers everywhere, a flat tire was accepted as the going penalty for riding the bikes. We got pretty good at passing our bikes over the barbed-wire fence on the dike which separated the Shell camp from the Creole camp and then further down the dike where the small Mene Grande (Gulf) camp was and where the cute Wagner girls – Sharon and Sandra - lived.

I could strip and rebuild a bike in a couple of hours. I can still visualize the condition of the inner tubes of the tires on my bike. They were nothing but patches, one after another. In those days, you fixed your own flats and we utilized a vulcanized patch which was a rubber patch which you placed over the leak using a tube of glue to hold the patch and then you clamped a metal container over the patch using a hand held clamp with a screw device to hold the container tightly against the patch and then you lit the material in the container which heated the patch and vulcanized it to the inner tube. It would hiss and sputter, giving off a bluish smoke, and create sufficient heat to melt the patch into the inner tube. I loved the smell as the patch was heated.

My father gave my brother an English racing bike for his 16th birthday when we lived adjacent to the Staff School. He came home one Saturday afternoon and parked it in the driveway and went into the house to eat lunch and when he went out again, the bike had been stolen. He was heartbroken as it was the nicest bike and gift my father had every given to him. Both he and my Dad tried to find the bike by driving around the camp, but it was out of the camp in a blink of the eye. Following that incident, Dad fenced the yard. That was about the time Castro was beginning to export his revolution to Venezuela.

As we grew older and could drive my Dad’s jeep, I recall the bicycles of my brother and I resting upside down on their seats and handlebars at the edge of the driveway gathering rust with wild morning glory vines encircling the front wheel forks intertwining the spokes and the flattened rotted tires and the bike frame and the beautiful blue and white flowers when the vines came into bloom.

That’s how I remember it...