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In the throes of writing my next novel (it’s painful). The story takes place in 1889, culminating in the seven-day bike race held at the Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco.

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1 Origins

Chewing on an unlit cigar, the editor scribbled words across my article. I swallowed my pride at times like this. Mr. Swenson learned his craft from the older generation of newspaper editors. He expressed no qualms about tearing a reporter’s story to shreds in the name of better writing. I imagined he took pleasure from deflating egos. Younger editors went easier on cub reporters like me. I wished Mr. Swenson would retire, soon.

He stood and held my story like a king’s declaration, his cue for my latest rebuke. “Mr. Huntsman, your writing lacks polish. I wrote down some suggestions. If you have any questions, ask. You need to follow up on some points you made that leave the reader hanging.”

“Yes Mr. Swenson. I’ll make your corrections and provide more detailed explanations,” I said in my most obsequious voice. “When do you want the story?”

“Yesterday. That means tomorrow.”

“I’ll do my best, Mr. Swenson.”

A clerk handed a note to the editor. “Here’s another assignment. You’ll like it. Write a short article about Gary Mandrel. I’m no cyclist, but his name sounds familiar. Find out why he’s here, and ask if he plans to enter that seven-day race in San Francisco.”

“Sure thing Mr. Swenson. He’s making a name for himself in Northern California.”

“Carl Koenig knows where to find Mr. Mandrel. He lives in Mayfield. Know the name?”

“I know Mr. Koenig. We ride together.”

“Of course you know Mr. Koenig. He calls us about bike stories every day. Be on your way.”

“I appreciate this assignment Mr. Swenson. I won’t let you down.”

“Say, when is that race in San Francisco? I’m assigning the story to you. You’re the only writer who cycles to work.”

“In a few months. Can I see a calendar?”

“Right here.”

I pointed to July, the year 1889. For me, calendars trigger thoughts about the future. I wished the 1880s goodbye and looked forward to a new decade, and then a new century, the 1900s. What would life be like in eleven years? My career would be established. The longer I stayed in this business, the more I liked it. Nothing beats tracking down an interesting story, or covering news events like fires, robberies, and bike races. Working for a bigger newspaper captivated me. I took my first step corresponding for the medium-size San Jose Mercury News. I wanted to write for a top-tier paper in San Francisco, like the Examiner.

I rode north on El Camino Real, quiet as always on a weekday morning. As I passed Mr. Olson’s home I saw him entering the road in his carriage, pulled by Jenny, his faithful mare. She had a healthy-looking chestnut coat offset by a long blonde mane. I stopped to greet Dag Olson, who owned the county’s largest cherry orchard. “Good to see you, Mr. Olson.”

“If it isn’t Tab. You plannin’ to pick cherries again? Sure can use those long arms of yours.”

“You can count on me Mr. Olson, if you don’t mind a buffet picking.”

Mr. Olson chuckled. “If’n you can stand the bellyache afterwards, eat all you want.”

“Say, Mr. Olson, want to race?”

“You still think you can beat Jenny? She whupped you last week. She’ll do it again.”

“Half a mile, same as before. And you spot me thirty seconds head start.”

“Deal.”

I lined up with Jenny on the boulevard that ran straight as a ruler through orchards on its way to Mayfield and beyond. “You can begin counting Mr. Olson.”

The aging farmer held his pocket watch. “Go! One, two, three, four…”

I pushed down on the pedals as hard as I could. Last week he beat me by five seconds. I knew how fast I needed to ride this time. Within the first hundred yards my lungs burned and my legs hurt from the sudden acceleration. The bike’s heavy iron rims slowed me, but loose gravel and dust made matters worse.

When Mr. Olson cracked his whip after a half minute, I looked back to see him coming. Darn you Jenny, I’m going to outride you this time, I said to myself.

I rushed past another wagon hauling farm equipment. The driver turned to look at me and then Mr. Olson. “Harder!” he yelled.

Seeing the road intersection we used as our finish line renewed my determination. Already gassed, I reached into my reserves and spun the cranks faster. As Jenny approached, her hooves clopped over the hard ground at a gallop, Mr. Olson yelling for her to catch me. I glanced back a last time and saw his mare a few feet behind.

Jenny nosed me by a foot at the line, so claimed Mr. Olson. “Beat you again,” he said after we slowed down.

“I’m not convinced she won Mr. Olson. Too close to call.”

The cherry farmer patted Jenny and said soothing words. She snorted in response while she caught her breath. “All righty, me and Jenny will give you a draw. You’re gettin’ strong on that bike of yours. Why don’t you try racin’ over at the track?”

“I might Mr. Olson. I happen to be headed to Mayfield to interview a bike racer.” We waved goodbye.

Carl Koenig had a house a short distance from the Mayfield train depot, off El Camino Real. I found him waiting outside. A year ago I met this disputatious crank of a rider who lived and breathed cycling. He kept his pulse on the biking community. Bicycle knowledge coursed through his veins like blood.

“Come inside Tab. I need to adjust this wheel. You got my telephone message. Your ‘snooze-paper’ in San Jose is one of the few businesses with a modern voice box. I got word Gary Mandrel is passing through. We’re meeting at Orr & Peterson’s.”

“I can’t wait. His reputation is spreading like wildfire across the state. He’s winning all his races. I wonder how many records he’ll set?”

“I’m more interested in going for a ride Tab. Who cares about records?”

Carl went back to turning spokes. He worked his magic, listening for the right pitch when the spoke pinged and settled in. At such moments he became a piano tuner, not a wheelbuilder. After tightening all of a wheel’s spokes, he stress-relieved the wheel by grabbing opposing pairs of spokes and squeezing them. He proved himself as a piano repairman one minute, a dairy farmer with the right “squeeze” the next.

The forty-year-old engineer stood well over one fathom. Not an ounce of fat found refuge on his substantial frame. His legs pushed pedals with the strength of locomotive drive rods. Upon further scrutiny, his nose looked like an eagle’s. Large hands, taloned fingers, and deep-set eyes completed his resemblance to a bird of prey. He spotted wildlife at extreme range. His uncanny ability to see and interpret what lay ahead made him prescient. When he couldn’t find birds hidden in trees, he identified them by their song. Carl’s qualities made him a modern Renaissance man: savant, coach, Darwin in the wilds, and a walking encyclopedia intertwined.

Today he showed a deeper tan than normal, having returned from Hawaii where Dillingham Construction hired him to build a railroad through swampland. His passion for trains almost equaled his love for cycling. He jumped at the opportunity to visit the tropical paradise. He didn’t care about the coral reefs and palm trees. He went to complete a twelve-mile line between Honolulu and Aiea, owned by the Oahu Railway & Land Company.

I joined his devoted band of followers on weekend rides into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Many raced, and soon enough I wanted to be like them.

A pile of letters crowded the dining room table. “This reads like a Who’s Who,” I said. “John Dunlop, Pierre Lallement, John Kemp Starley, Albert Overman, Henry Sturmey, Eugene Meyer, Hans Renold, Alfred Reynolds, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche.”

“These fellows understand scientific principles.”

“Sigmund Freud? Isn’t he a psychologist?”

“He’s a blowhard. I don’t buy what he’s selling, but he has a few good ideas. Besides, he’s German. I can read his writing.”

“What of Friedrich Nietzsche? I studied him in school. He’s a nihilist.”

“That’s a highfalutin word for a realist. He doesn’t believe in prophets or fairy tales, nor do I.”

Carl met the great minds of engineering on the East Coast and in Europe. With so much correspondence, the postmaster kept a large bin for the letters.

“Have you seen Dunlop’s pneumatic tire? Is it as good as they say?”

Carl reattached his wheel, picked up his knapsack and made for the door. “Not Dunlop! He re-invented the pneumatic tire conceived by Robert Thomson. Mr. Thomson should sue, but I’m quite sure he thinks as I do. He wants to help technology advance. Come on. We’re going to be late. We don’t want to miss a ride with Velo Master Mandrel. I’ll tell you about Dunlop’s tire on the way. I can confirm they’re better than the Victor cushion tires.” ….Continued

Chapter titles:

2 ♦ Family                                           

3 ♦ Huckster                                       

4 ♦ Arrested                                        

5 ♦ Friendship                                     

6 ♦ Welding                                        

7 ♦ Hamilton                                       

8 ♦ Backside                                       

9 ♦ Frame                                            

10 ♦ Party                                           

11 ♦ Move                                          

12 ♦ Day 1                                          

13 ♦ Day 2                                          

14 ♦ Day 3                                          

15 ♦ Day 4                                          

16 ♦ Day 5                                          

17 ♦ Day 6                                          

18 ♦ Day 7                                          

19 ♦ Payment                                      

20 ♦ Bridge                                         

21 ♦ Memories                                    

Afterword   


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