Famed bicycle provided fun, memories

Local residents read with great interest Harry McCawley’s article in the Feb. 26 Republic regarding a lost inkwell, which has been found, and W.G. Irwin’s bicycle, which has not been found. I was one of them.

I had the honor of riding Irwin’s bicycle in three Columbus parades during the early 1970s. Some of my thoughts and experiences in doing so are as follows:

Irwin, the banker who founded what is now Cummins Inc., was born Nov. 24, 1866. If we assume he rode his new bicycle while in his 20s, it would have been about 85 years old when I rode it. When we find it, it will be about 140 years old. How fortunate.

It was in storage in the third-floor attic of the old house in the center of Cummins Plant One. It was in good shape for its age. The solid rubber tire on the large front wheel was in good shape. We cleaned it up a bit but made no repairs.

The pedals were connected directly to the large wheel through arms about 10 inches long. One revolution of the pedals would propel it about 14 feet. The acceleration rate was pretty slow, but you could get it moving really fast over time. I think I got to about 15 mph one time with no problem — except how to stop. You had two choices: either back-pedal really hard or jump off, which was not recommended.

I have ridden lots of other bicycles, as well as horseback, but this presented a problem for me. Early on, I found you had to be in motion before mounting. There was a metal step on the left side of the frame about 15 inches above the ground. Intuition would have you place your left foot on it, and swing up onto the seat. Not so for me. I had good luck placing the left pedal at the top of its travel and putting my right foot on the step and swinging up onto the seat.

One had to be careful of avoiding potholes, or curbs, etc. The high center of gravity, coupled with most of weight nearly over the large front wheel axle, could easily propel you over the top. You have no chance of landing on your feet, as your legs were trapped by the handlebars you landed either on your hands — or face.

We managed to get through all three parades without accident or running over any children. Once I started, I did not stop for the length of the parade. I will confess to snuggling up to a moving fire truck or float once in a while to rest a bit.

After my last use of the bicycle, I asked if I could purchase it. I was told it was not for sale because it belonged to Irwin’s estate. Since I last saw it, some of the maintenance men at Plant One had seen it in the attic. It seems to have disappeared some time before the old house was demolished in about 2003. We are certain that it is the same bicycle, as Owen Hungerford remembers seeing pictures of Irwin riding it — maybe even in races. I would never attempt that, as I have a wife and children.

Many people have asked about its whereabouts or are looking for it. They include Jim Henderson, Hungerford, Randy Tucker, Don Michaels, Steve Forester, Steve Blystone, John Crofts, Steve Butler, Roger Lang, Charlie Rentschler and, of course, McCawley.

The Idaho potato on the red truck has not been found yet. Neither has Irwin’s bicycle. I believe that somebody knows somebody who knows its whereabouts. The search continues.

Ken Van Liew is a retired Cummins service engineer. Please send comments to [email protected].