In late 1962, Schwinn introduced the Stingray bicycle. Basically, what they did was to take the small-size cruiser-type frame that they’d been producing for years, slap on some butterfly handlebars and a banana seat with a sissy bar, and give the bike a new sleek, hot rod look. Naturally every other bicycle manufacturer followed suit in some form or fashion.
Also back in the 60’s, it was typical to find bicycles being sold in various places other than bicycle shops and department stores – places such as lawnmower shops and auto service stores. Auto service stores such as OTASCO and Firestone. And of course, these shops sold their versions of the ever-popular, Stingray-style bicycles – and at a price somewhat less than what a real Stingray would cost at an authorized Schwinn bicycle shop.
But that little bit of history doesn’t really have a lot to do with our story – other than the two Firestone Stingray-style bicycles that were presents to two brothers back on a mid-60’s Christmas. Gold bicycles - with shiny chrome flared fenders and slick rear tires. With those two bicycles, an entire world immediately became ripe for exploring for two young brothers.
And explore they did. Their world kept expanding with each excursion they took. Those excursions led to other areas of interest – collecting things that they would find along the way. It’s amazing what young boys can find interesting to collect: matchbooks, pop bottles caps - even things that were a source of income back then – pop bottles. Those bikes made quite a few trips to Stockton’s grocery store with a basket or two full of bottles netting a dollar or two each trip for the guys. Some BIG money back then for sure.
For those who aren’t familiar with section line roads, let me explain. A section of land is one square mile – 640 acres. The four roads at each side of the section are section line roads – north, south, east and west. During the time of the two gold Firestone bicycles, Midwest City, Oklahoma covered almost nine sections. These two boys lived smack, dab in the middle of the middle section. And thusly, their boundaries were assigned: Go anywhere you want to go on your bicycles but don’t cross one any of the four nearest section roads. Meaning – they had a whopping 640 acres in which to ride. Surely that didn’t seem too unreasonable.
Also at this early age, a drafting and artistic background began to emerge in the two lads – and an idea – “Hey, let’s map out all the roads that we ride our bikes on.” So they did. Never mind the fact that maps could be had for free at every single gas station back then!
So off the two boys went – riding – making mapping notes – riding – picking up matchbooks – riding – picking up pop bottles and then heading off to Stockton’s. Riding and riding and riding. And then, wouldn’t you know it. They had ridden and mapped out the entire 640 acres. Permission requested to cross section line roads. Permission granted. (Note: I’m fairly certain that the formal request was probably made at a point in time after several section line road crossings had already been secretly carried out!) Within a few months, the two had pretty much mapped out the entire city and done a tremendous service by cleaning all of the matchbooks and pop bottle caps out of the gutters. The two gold Firestone bikes logging in hundreds and hundreds of miles, modifications, abuse, repair, and whatever else two early-teen youngsters could subject them to.
One day the younger brother came home with – “The English Racer!” A Raleigh, ten-speed beauty that he had wheeled and dealed and traded somebody something for. He was sure proud of his transaction. And the older brother, even though on the verge of graduating to motorized four-wheeled transportation, was indeed impressed and slightly jealous. So they scrounged around and found a frame and assorted parts to put together another ten-speed bike. Not near as cool as “The English Racer,” but cool enough that the two of them could ride in style together until the bikes gave way to “the ’53 Ford.”
Fast forwarding through the calendar, the cycling paths of the two brothers crossed here and there every now and again. Most notably in the early ‘90’s when the younger brother talked of this huge bike ride in Wichita Falls, Texas. So off they went – to join 10,600 other cyclists to ride the Hotter’n Hell Hundred. Their dad was even there to watch – probably to be there to grant them permission to cross a section line road should they encounter one along their journey. The younger one rode his fancy new mountain bike. The older one rode his vintage 70’s ten-speed. It was the longest twenty-five miles that they had ridden together in a long time. But it was a good ride. (My philosophy: All rides are good rides – some only after they’re over.)
Eventually, just like back when the boys outgrew the boundaries of the middle section of Midwest City, Oklahoma, in no time at all the two were looking for bigger and better places to ride. The culmination of that was in 1997 when they decided to do an 8-day, 475-mile ride across Kansas. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that Kansas is flat. Sure, the western portion of the state is fairly flat – but that 400 mph wind out of the south is a killer! Kansas also has a lot of section line roads so naturally the guys invited their dad to ride along with them – granting them permission every mile to go on across the section road. (Yeah, right!) But still, for three guys who were all born in Kansas, it was a pretty neat trip to ride a bicycle clear across your old home state together.
As it is with most siblings, those two brothers shared a lot of good times with each other over the years. Also, as it is with most siblings, probably a few not-so-good ones – but fortunately those times were always trivial. Not all of those good times that the two brothers shared were on bicycles together – but some very memorable ones were. And while sometimes little brothers may too soon go on to other worlds, the good times and good memories stay with us forever. Happy birthday, Gary.
For now – enjoy the ride – and thanks for reading my story.