by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — Used to be, summertime was bicycle time.
Bicycles have been around for a long time (some sources date a prototype back to the 1400s), but it was not until the 1890s, after the invention of the air-filled tire, that Huerfanos caught onto the fad, and the young people embraced it enthusiastically.
The first mention of bicycles locally was in 1893, but evidently the bikes had been around long enough that Walsenburg had passed an ordinance against riding them on sidewalks. Another item dredged from the Walsenburg World of the day was a classified ad, “Lost – between Walsenburg and the Standley ranch, a bicycle tool bag with wrench and oil can. Return to this office for reward.” And M. Bernstein, a longtime merchant of the city, met disaster while riding his new bike and collided with a group of young ladies. Bernstein must have been quite a cyclist, despite this setback, for when he returned from the east with his new bride that April, he was met by a “company” of fellow riders.
In January 1895, Dick Brothers company and the firm of Baxter and Kearns obtained bicycles, perhaps for deliveries of some kind. Then Herman Neuman bought one to “run down his sheep”, hopefully not literally. A raffle took place for a bicycle that month, and Albino Sanchez won it. This brought on the editor’s notation of “Cycling enthusiasm is on the rise among people of the town.” That the bicycle was capable of speed greater than traveling by foot was demonstrated that year when Art Arnold covered the 20 miles from the family ranch on the Santa Clara to Walsenburg in two hours and 10 minutes. “Pretty good considering the roads,” the editor explained. In fact, it was those very roads that made cycling a summer sport. Imagine bucking the snow and mud of a typical winter with a front wheel the height of a horse.
The new rage really took off in June 1895 when “six young men” signed up for a race the distance along Walsenburg’s Main Street and east one mile and then a two and a half mile return trip. This was scheduled for the 4th of July, and it was won by Will Unfug.
In La Veta, the local editor remarked, “Cycling has become so popular in La Veta, that it is time to organize a Wheel Club.” At the time, bicycles could set one back $20 or so, or the equivalent of many men’s monthly paychecks, so a purchase was a serious investment.
Naturally, since it looked like so much fun, the fairer sex became involved in the new sport. In fact, in 1899 when improvements had been made to the basic bike, Mrs. Harry Gross Jr. became the first person in Walsenburg to own a “chainless” bicycle, whatever that was. It was a gift from her husband.
Despite the horrible roads of those days, and the lack of bridges, several heroic trips were made for pleasure. Excursions to Rouse and old Cuchara six miles east of Walsenburg became the norm. One time 13 riders made the trip to Cuchara and had an “impromptu church service” in the hotel there. A more ambitious trek was made to Tom Sharp’s ranch in Malachite in 1899, “which was illuminated on all sides with torches. The roughness of the road prevented many members from attempting the run.”
Even more ambitious was Fred Klein, 23 years old in 1896 when he bicycled “up the Huerfano”, dined at Sharpsdale and proceeded on to the gold mines at the head of the river. Fred, of necessity, gave up gold mining and bicycle riding to become a responsible bakery owner in the early 1900s. The previous year, 1895, Fred made the news when he was thrown from his bike when he hit a “drift of sand” and landed on his head, severely bruising his face.
If some folks were brave enough to face the county roads, then there must have been plenty more sticking to the relative safety of city streets. For these, the town fathers passed an ordinance saying riders must ring their bells 30 feet before an intersection to avoid “interference with horses and buggies.” Still, accidents happen, and one rambunctious rider hit and knocked down Ed Baxter on the streets of Walsenburg. Mr. Baxter was seriously injured and took to his bed where he contracted pneumonia and nearly died. This is the same Baxter of the hardware store who had a few years previously offered raffle tickets for a brand new 1899 model bicycle with every $1.00 purchase. He must have rued the day.
In 1899 the cycling fad was at its height. F.G. McHarg, the new postmaster of Walsenburg, was elected president of the new “wheel club” called the Silent Cyclers.
B.C. Newlove was the man who loved cyclists the most. Newlove was a tinner and plumber, but added a “bicycle livery” to his tin shop. He and his son Guy sold and repaired bikes and tires (as well as baby buggy tires), and in 1899 was doing a “large trade.” This was also reported as a “rushing business” so life was good for the Newloves. Or, at least, until the tin/bicycle shop burned down in 1903.
As with all good things, there has to be a down side. In La Veta, citizens protested loudly to the “police magistrate”, or judge, when a cyclist caused a horse to run away with a buggy, badly frightening the occupants.
Then a bunch of “tourists” out riding frightened the horse drawing the mail hack to Gardner, causing heavy damage to the cart.
In Walsenburg, the police were summoned to south Main Street to “quell a riot,” but discovered it was just “a bevy of school ma’ams trying to break a bronco bicycle.”
The “wheel” fad lasted about a decade before running its course. A sign of the demise of the bicycle’s popularity might be summed up with this ad from the La Veta Advertiser, “For Sale: Ladies Crescent Wheel, Almost New, $12.00”.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward