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THE BICYCLE by David Powers

The picture below is of the author and his brother and sisters with the OLD bicycle. At the bottom of the story you will see his dream.


The sun resembled a big red blister in the sky, beating down to further scorch the parched vegetation, severely dried by the lack of precipitation. The dust that drifted along the fencerows lay in little mounds like miniature snow banks. It was the summer of 1937. We were in the dust bowl period, occasioned by the severe drought that had encompassed the entire region, adding to the miseries of the great depression. Franklin Roosevelt was President and was doing his utmost to create programs to stimulate the economy and alleviate the suffering.

We were poor, but did not realize it because everyone around us was in the same predicament. My father was fortunate enough to have a railroad job, which accorded him regular employment, but with seven children to feed and house, there was just not enough money. We all had the necessities but there was not enough left over for many fineries.

I was twelve years old. I had a job selling newspapers on a street corner. The newspaper office was about two miles from the acreage that we lived on. Six days a week around 3:30 PM I would ride my bicycle to town, pick up my papers, go to my corner and for two and a half hours holler "Hastings Daily Tribune. Read all about it". After I was finished I would proceed to the Tribune office, check in my unsold papers, get on my bicycle and pedal home. The paper sold for three cents a copy. Out of that I got to keep half, one and a half cents. I would generally sell ten papers a day, awarding me fifteen cents. Then even a penny was valued highly. Occasionally, at the end of the day I would buy myself a sack of "old maids", the culls left over from a popcorn machine. The cost was one cent. Times were tough!

About that time I happened to venture into a Western Auto Store. There I saw what in my estimation was the ultimate in bicycle elegance. It was called a Western Flyer. It was beautiful. It had a sleek design ornately painted, heavy black balloon tires. It even was equipped with a carrier seat over the back fender. In addition a headlight powered by a six-volt battery was available for an additional cost of one dollar. There sat Winged Victory and I was determined to have it.

Upon arriving home, I encountered my mother. I pleaded my case. She was somewhat sympathetic with my argument but stopped short of giving approval. She pointed out that even though I had to share it with my siblings, we had a bicycle that was serviceable and quite adequate to supply our needs. She acknowledged that even though it probably was like comparing a Ford to a Cadillac, she did not want me to be burdened with payments and in the event of a default was not in a position to assume another debt."Case Closed".

Several days later I returned to the store. The storeowner was there so I related my situation to him. After further discussion he began to figure. $13.95 for the bicycle, $1.00 more for the head light and $4.00 carrying charges. The word "interest" was really not a household word yet. A total of $18.95 was all that stood between that beautiful machine and me. He then began to write up the contract. 75 cents a week for 26 weeks payable twice monthly. I figured $3.00 per month when I generally made $3.60 per month. Heck! I could handle that. The only other stipulation was that a responsible adult would have to co-sign the agreement to ensure the store payment in the event of a default.

Contract in hand I headed home. When I got there, my mother was gone, however my sister, Alice, four years my senor, was there. I always figured that she was blessed with better than average intelligence and possessed excellent penmanship. Henceforth I persuaded her to forge my mother's signature on the contract, using the argument that it would save me a wait and that it probably would be okay with her anyway.

With the contents of the contract properly fulfilled, ownership of the Western Flyer transferred from the store to myself. I was proud ---- until I got home. To say that my mother was mad would be an under statement. More descriptive would be words like furious, irate, fuming. I reheard her previous argument in loud vocal tones. No way could we afford such a luxury and if the signature was ever investigated, my sister could be charged with forgery and sent to prison. I felt devastated but I had the bicycle.

As in most cases the passage of time dulls the memory and after a while the harshness of the reprimand began to fade and a state of normalcy returned once more. Daily I would perform the ritual. In the hottest part of the day I would have to allot three to four hours to attend to the paper chores. Temperatures in excess of ll0 degree were commonplace. Even though I had a nice bicycle to ride, the routine was fast becoming monotonous. Try as I may, I could not increase my paper sales. Fifteen cents per day was about the extent of my earnings and I desperately needed every cent that I could garner to make the payments. Several hours in the local swimming pool would have been refreshing but the ten cents cost of admission was not in the budget. Even the occasional sack of "old maids" had to go.

And so the summer went. The new was fast wearing off the bicycle.

One afternoon while attending the matinee at the local theatre, on a dime that my mother had given me, someone stole the head light off my bicycle. This just added more misery to what I thought was fast becoming a hopeless situation. Oh how I yearned to get out from under this burden. I considered my options. I could quit making payments, but then if my folks could not bail me out, the store would take the bicycle and I would lose the equity that I had built up in it. But worse, if they found out that my mother's signature was not actually on the contract, Alice might go to jail. I figured that I had no choice.

About the time that school started, I heard that a morning paper route delivering the "Omaha Bee" was coming open. The route consisted of twenty-eight deliveries in the West end of town. The papers came in on a Burlington passenger train and could be picked up at 4:30 AM daily. To supplement my earnings, I applied for the route and was immediately accepted. My mother, bless her soul, would get up with me at 4:00 AM and drive the car behind me, up the gravel road past the cemetery till I got to the city limits, where the asphalt roads and street lights began. This turned out to be but another act of futility as I would have to pay for the papers up front and would not realize any profit until I collected from my customers. Three people on the route would never pay me and after several months about all of my profit was invested in them. Henceforth this venture came to an end.

My mother was a compassionate person and even though I had gone against her wishes, she felt sorry for me. On several occasions she would match my earnings for the week. I reluctantly accepted these subsides because I knew that this money had been earmarked for other expenditures. This I thought was a terrible time to be alive.

Fall turned to winter, Christmas came and went and I became thirteen years of age. I attended to my obligation faithfully but grudgingly and somewhere in early spring made the last payment on the bicycle. In later years I asked my mother why she told me, among other things, that my sister might be arrested for falsifying her signature. Her answer was that she wanted to scare me into never doing anything like that again. This however would not have been necessary, because of the lesson learned by a skinny, red headed, freckled face twelve year old boy, in the area of finance.

Yes the sun still comes up in the sky but I do not see it as a big red blister any more. Irrigation and other technology has transformed this barren land into an oasis with lush green foliage. The war in Europe brought an end to the terrible depression. Today I consider myself most fortunate to be retired and living in an elaborate home that we recently constructed at the golf course. I drive a luxury automobile; belong to a prestigious Country Club and am privileged to enjoy the better things in life in an environment free of indebtness.

I tell these things not to flaunt my good fortune, but to call attention to the fact that because of this incident that was burnt into my memory many years ago. Since that time, no matter how great the temptation, if I did not have the cash to pay for a product, I would not buy it, not with standing a time when it was necessary to be financially leveraged in a housing development, which bears my name today.

Today a penny is considered almost worthless. Would I bend over and pick one up? Yes indeed. How do I know but maybe that news stand with the pop corn machine might reopen and sell me a sack of old maids for a penny?

Written by David A. Powers, 1924 - 2009