Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Swanton memories up in smoke

August 31, 2020

Jobst Brandt checks out the roundhouse in 1986.

Among the many losses suffered in the CZU Complex fire is the Swanton Pacific Railroad. It was founded by Al Smith, owner of Orchard Supply Hardware stores back in the day.

Now owned by CalPoly, 1/3 size steam trains used to run around the property just north of Davenport. Now they’re burned, and so is the roundhouse. Some structures survived and it’s hoped the damaged trains can be restored.

Here’s a diesel locomotive.

I used to stop by here with Jobst Brandt on our long bike rides to Santa Cruz. He had a passion for trains and never passed up a chance to check out the facility.

Swanton Road became a familiar haunt back in the 1980s for Jobst and friends as they took Last Chance Road to the coast to attend the annual Corn Roast, located just off Swanton Road.

Last Chance Road is a memory, turned into a trail about 18 years ago. It’s still rideable though. One hot summer day after the Corn Roast we jumped into East Waddell Creek to cool off before continuing on to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

A handful of people lived off the dirt road, but we never had an issue, except once. We came to an open area where some people were undergoing fire training at a building. We tried to sneak by without being seen, but they noticed us and yelled. Fortunately they decided to leave us alone.

I last rode by here in 2015. Those were the days.

Jobst confers with a worker inside the roundhouse in 2002.

Jobst Brandt’s bikes

July 14, 2020

Finding a bike suitable for a strong rider who’s 6’5″ is a tall order.

Few riders, outside of the pros, rode as hard and as long as Jobst Brandt. Jobst and Northern California racers explored the Santa Cruz Mountains, crossed the High Sierra, and took weeks-long tours in the Alps.

Given his size, it stands to reason Jobst was particular about his bike. Cycling became more than transportation while he attended Stanford University in the mid 1950s.

Master frame builders of Jobst’s steel bikes: Cino Cinelli, Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson

Around 1955 he purchased his first bike, a Schwinn three-speed. No photos exist. He switched to a straight handlebar, like those found on today’s mountain bikes.

That bike took him into the Santa Cruz Mountains where he met devotees of the sport, who scoffed at his heavy Schwinn and steered him to the Cinelli.

A former bike racer, Cino Cinelli made about 250 frames a year when Jobst purchased his first Cinelli on October 2, 1957, from Spence Wolfe.

First Cinelli
Spence ran the Cupertino Bike Shop part-time out of his house. Jobst’s blue Super Corsa 62 cm. fully equipped sold for $138 ($1,259 in 2020).

How many Cinellis did Jobst Brandt own? Maybe 4. Blue with chrome lugs, blue, silver, red.

Jobst raced in 1958, but quickly lost interest in the sport. He moved to Europe around 1960 as part of his military service where, I’m guessing, he purchased one, two, three (who knows?) Cinellis. After the military, he landed a job at Porsche in Germany.

When Jobst returned to the U.S. with his German wife around 1964, he resumed long weekend rides in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It wasn’t long before Jobst started breaking not only bike parts, but frames as well. His size and leg strength put bike components to the ultimate test. Most failed, including the vaunted Campagnolo crank.

Tom Ritchey frame
These failures caused no end of frustration for Jobst. He finally gave up on Cinelli frames in about 1975 and turned to Tom Ritchey to build a frame.

The young, competitive rider had started joining him on rides. “I had replaced half of its [Cinelli] broken tubes,” Tom recalls when he was asked to build a frame.

Jobst must have been impressed by Tom’s frame-building prowess. The 18-year-old who lived in Palo Alto had already built racing frames for local riders and mastered lugless frame building. Without lugs, he had easy access to various tube diameters.

Tom’s mastery of frame building suited Jobst’s engineering sensibility. He had found someone who not only knew how to handle a torch, but Tom could ride his pace and understood the stresses bikes had to withstand.

Jobst had his share of accidents, including one on November 29, 1981, on Swett Road. Riding with a half-dozen cyclists they passed a few houses. A dog vaulted after the riders and lunged into the pack, where Jobst tangled with the dog and fell. He bent his Ritchey frame.

Tom fixed it and Jobst was quickly back on the road.

Peter Johnson frames
In the meantime, Jobst asked Peter Johnson to build him another frame. The machinist had been riding with Jobst for years and he, like Tom, had become a master frame builder who specialized in tig welding.

From the mid-1980s on, Jobst rode a yellow bike. Yellow, according to him, showed cracks better compared to other colors. He also painted one of his Cinellis yellow back in 1970.

Jobst started riding Peter’s frame in the mid 1980s, so he had two rideable custom-built frames for a time. However, he collided with a car on his Ritchey. Its whereabouts is unknown, but it may turn up. Jobst’s original Peter Johnson frame is owned by Richard Mlynarik.

Size matters
One thing that stand out about Jobst’s bikes is their size. Peter said he made Jobst’s first bike 66 cm. “Jobst’s theory was that he liked his handlebar high and if he stuck the stem up that high, it would break off. So he wanted a big frame with the stem stuck well down in the fork.”

Peter helped Jobst’s bike maintenance and performance by developing a threadless steerer tube, first used by Jobst’s nephew Marc Brandt in the early 1980s, and later by Jobst in the early 2000s. (That technology was patented in 1990 by Homer Rader III.)

What really irked me about Jobst and his big bike was that he would nonchalantly leave it outside stores while he went inside for a bite to eat, and a Pepsi. The rest of us had to worry about leaving our bikes unattended.

In the late 1980s, according to Peter, he built Jobst a second frame, which is still owned by the Brandt family, fully restored.

Bike is a utility
As much as Jobst loved cycling, he didn’t cherish his bikes. They were utilities to him. Owning three or four? Cinellis eventually turned into owning a single bike, which he rode into the ground. When it broke, he had it fixed. That’s the beauty of owning a steel frame.

Steel was to Jobst like a bottle of fine Chianti was to Cinelli. There was no better choice.

Jobst on his red Cinelli in early 1960s (Jobst Brandt photo).

Feel free to add to this story, if you have more details.

Messenger boys and girls from the early 1900s

June 15, 2020

Messenger boy in Shreveport, Louisiana. Been there.

Beautiful black and white images of children working as bike messengers.

They all look like they could ride out to the coast and back, just as Gary Fisher did when he was 14 years old.


“Now and Then” on Stevens Canyon Trail

May 25, 2020

Stevens Canyon slide in December 1980 and present day. About a quarter mile past the end of Stevens Canyon Road. (Jobst Brandt photo 1980)

Stevens Canyon Trail has held up well over the past four decades, but there were a few times when cyclists had issues getting past slides.

I don’t know the year, but in the early 1980s there was a slide about halfway down from Page Mill Road that caused a dismount, but was repaired in short order.

The single-track section that goes down to the creek after the long descent has been there as long as I’ve been riding. I’m guessing a big slide blocked the road. I don’t recall Jobst Brandt mentioning a time when it wasn’t there, so it may date back to before the 1950s. It was a through road way back when.

Then there’s the big slide a short distance from the access point of paved lower Stevens Canyon Road. This slide happened in the early 1980s or late 1970s — 1980 if I had to pick a year.

I clambered down it a time or two but later a cut made through the slide could be ridden with difficulty. Today it’s improved and rideable.

The Canyon Trail as a whole is definitely rockier than it was when I first started riding it in 1980. Mostly the scree comes from natural erosion of steep, rocky walls made of shale along the trail. I don’t think mountain bikes make much of a contribution here. They probably do more for smoothing the trail than making it worse.

I don’t recall the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake having much of an effect on the trail.

Best bicycle movie of all time? Breaking Away

March 20, 2020

Breaking Away is a must- watch movie that will bring some happiness your way.

While we’re enjoying our time in limbo, here’s an opportunity to catch up on some good movies. My favorite bicycle movie is Breaking Away. I’ll never forget going to the downtown Palo Alto movie theater with some local racers one evening and having a blast.

The best scene for me was when Dennis Quaid sat with his friends on a hill overlooking the Indiana University football field watching a squad practice. Mike, a “wannabe” quarterback in high school, lamented his situation as a “townie.”

“…Twenty-year-old Mike, 30-year-old Mike, mean old Mike…”

Breaking Away won Steve Tesich the 1979 Academy Award for best original screenplay. The smart dialogue and  earthy Midwestern values made the movie compelling to watch. We laughed, we cheered. The  story is based on actual events in Tesich’s life. There was and still is a Little 500 bike race.

The road race scene with Dave Stohler (played by Dennis Christopher), the main character, includes local amateur racers. (Check out this interview with our local bike media friend Bruce Hildenbrand.)

Most cyclists over age 40 have already seen the movie, but younger riders may not know about it. It’s available to rent on YouTube for $3.99.


Saso keeps on machining

March 10, 2020

Dale Saso works on a new tool for cutting steer tubes.

Dale Saso lives in San Jose and builds steel frames. Or at least he used to. Those days are pretty much gone, thanks to carbon fiber.

Now he does small jobs for cyclists who have unique needs.

I rode by to show Dale my Frankenbike, which he built in 1986. Most of my rides with Jobst Brandt in the Santa Cruz Mountains were done on this bike.

Dale was building a tool for threading steer tubes. His shop is “old school” with thousands of steel bike parts and tools laying about.

It’s what most people would imagine a machinist’s shop looks like.

I know other machinists in Silicon Valley who own expensive machines that make exotic components for modern devices, but Dale wants no part of it.

He’s content working on small jobs. I could use a new six-speed quick-release axle for my Campagnolo rear hub. I wonder if he can make one? If it could be made from better quality steel than Campagnolo used, it might be worth it.

Dale now has a website where you can contact him.

Cutting a steer tube.



How can I thank the doctors and nurses who saved my life?

February 12, 2020

Ouch! My Colnago took it on the chin in 1981 from a head-on collision.

Maybe it’s too late now, but like the TV show “My Name is Earl,” I will try to make amends. As you can see by the photo, my head-on encounter with a car did not go well.

My trip to Stanford Hospital took place on a warm summer day, July 12, 1981, with an ambulance ride from Portola Valley.

It was my good fortune to be hit a hundred yards from the Portola Valley fire station, where I received medical attention within minutes of the accident.

The EMTs stabilized my broken humerus, a compound fracture that tore a hole in my brachial artery. My left kneecap broke like an eggshell when it took out the car’s left-turn signal. Whiplash from crashing into the windshield left me with a sore neck and maybe a fracture in the C7 vertebra. X rays were inconclusive.

I had some minor facial cuts, but no internal injuries.

I wouldn’t be in surgery until around 10 that evening. I was in good hands — in fact, extremely good hands. William Baumgartner and Michael J. Cummins masterfully sewed up the artery. As it turns out, Dr. Baumgartner left Stanford Hospital for Johns Hopkins a year later, going on to become the head of the cardiology department where he specialized in heart and lung transplant surgeries.

It doesn’t end there. The orthopaedic surgeons who repaired my humerus were Donald Bunce and Chris Mochizuki. Dr. Mochizuki may still be practicing in Redwood City.

Dr. Bunce died of a heart attack in 2003. I only learned recently that he was the Stanford University quarterback in 1972, and led his team to victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

My surgeries went well and I left the hospital 11 days later on my own two feet.

How do you thank all the people who saved your life? It’s tough. You realize how vital medical care is and you understand why it’s such a flash point in politics. Good health care is a matter of life and death.

As for today’s health insurance, it’s a reflection of changing times. In 1981 I paid a modest monthly fee for 100 percent coverage with Blue Shield. The hospital bill came to $40,000. I didn’t pay a dime; just $200 for the ambulance ride.

That brings me to the here and now and why I’m stuck in my garage on a trainer going on two months. It all leads back to that fateful day so long ago.

It wasn’t my arm or my knee that came back to haunt me, but my neck. It was so stiff that I couldn’t turn it after the accident. Riding a bike was awkward, but I rode anyway, covering 50 miles to the ocean by October.

The neck got better after some physical therapy by Doris Sukiennicki, but bike rides have always been accompanied by a sore neck. It got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore.

Physical therapy is helping, but it remains to be seen how much it can undo 35 years of ignoring stiff, scarred muscles. I’m making progress, but that impact point with the car windshield will never let me forget my transgressions.

UPDATE 3/4/2020: X-rays revealed the source of my pain: There is grade 1 approximately 2 mm anterior subluxation of C4 upon C5.  Moderate narrowing C5-6 disc.  Mild to moderate endplate spurring seen at C3-4 through C5-6.  Multilevel mild to moderate facet spurring.

In other words, I have arthritis and it’s only going to get worse with age. Riding a bike is probably the worst form of exercise for my situation. Bone spurs make things worse. I guess this is my body’s way of saying it’s time to let go of the kind of riding I have done the past 40 years.

Old La Honda Road in the days of dirt

January 24, 2020

Old La Honda Road (west) in 1986, less than a mile down, before it was paved.

For those of you who weren’t around, here’s what Old La Honda Road looked like on April 13, 1986, a fine Sunday in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The road was good dirt, except during wet winters when we had to negotiate mud holes.

During those wet days we typically avoided using the road.

Paving took place sometime in 1987.

Charlie Kempner and Jim Westby worked at Avocet/Palo Alto Bicycles.

San Mateo County completed its mission to pave every dirt road in the early 1990s. I think it was Higgins-Purisima Road (Higgins Canyon Road today) and Lobitos Creek Cutoff in 1987, followed by Lobitos Creek Road around 1991-93.

Jim Westby and Jeff Justice ride Lobitos Creek Road on a cold day, December 13, 1987.

Follow the pipe

December 24, 2019

Remnants of the Schilling Estate litter the landscape.

As we scrambled down the abandoned trail, I regained my confidence when I saw the pipes snaking their way downhill. I knew we were on the right path.

Some 35 years ago I rode down the same unnamed trail off Hwy 84 and Grandview Drive, Jobst Brandt leading the way on another adventure ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Back then the trail hadn’t been rehabilitated by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space. It was just a forgotten road once owned by the August Schilling estate, located at the intersection of Portola Road and Old La Honda Road.

Schilling made his fortune in the late 1800s, first partnering with coffee magnate James Folger. He went on to establish his own spice business. I remember their distinctive red and blue containers.

At the height of his fortune, Schilling sculpted the redwoods around him into a horticultural fairyland. He built roads and bridges and planted an assortment of trees.

On this day in the 1980s all Jobst and I saw was a barely recognizable trail, rusty pipes, a concrete drainage and bridge abutments. Jobst first rode down the trail/road in the mid 1950s, on his motorcycle.

The trail to Schilling Lake from near the base of Old La Honda Road has been modified to its present alignment, in such a way that I knew this was not the original trail.

Once we reached the lake, I wanted to relive those days gone by and follow the old trail. Normally I wouldn’t depart from the marked trail, but this was a unique opportunity to explore.

It’s no wonder the trail was realigned. Many trees have fallen and time has not been kind to what was once a nice dirt road.

This canyon was logged by Dennis Martin in the 1840s, and it was he who created the lake for his sawmill. The creek that runs through the Schilling estate is named after him. Sadly, Dennis Martin lost his bet on the sale of Spanish landholdings and died a lonely, broken man.

That ride down to Old La Honda Road stayed fresh in mind after all these years, and that pipe that occupied the road. Still there.

Schilling Lake. Not much to see.

Bike riding in the Big Apple

September 23, 2019

Williamsburg Bridge on a mild September day in NYC.

My plan was to visit Dave Perry, author of Bike Cult, who lives in Brooklyn near Williamsburg Bridge.

I’ve never visited New York City, but I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to have a good idea what it’s like riding a bike there, and getting around Manhattan where I was staying.

After touring the Statue of Liberty (a must see), I could rent a Citibike and pedal over the bridge, a five-mile ride.

With mild weather, there was nothing to prevent me from a quick trip to visit a Jobst Rider from way back (mid 1970s) who I had never met.

Dave lived in Palo Alto near Keith Vierra, Tom Ritchey, Bill Robertson, and others. He raced and had some success, but then Greg LeMond came along and gave all of these talented Northern California riders reason to pause. “And I thought I was hot stuff.”

I downloaded the Citibike app on my Android phone and proceeded to stumble through the registration process. That wasn’t so bad, but when it came time to unlock the bike, I had to read the instructions printed on the rack to figure out how to enter the five-digit code sent to my phone.

There is a keypad with “1, 2, 3” and LED lights next to each number. You punch in the combination to unlock the bike.

As soon as I pulled the bike out of the rack located in Battery Park, I knew I wasn’t going to be speeding around town. These bikes weigh about 45 pounds. They’ve got fenders, a bell on the left twist grip, and automatic-gear twist shifting on the right hand grip.

The seat was too high, so I lowered it using the convenient quick release. It could be difficult to adjust for someone with weak hands.

I shoved off and noticed the sluggish steering. At least the tires are wide and thick, because you wouldn’t want a flat.

Compared to riding in San Francisco, NYC has a lot going for it. There’s a comprehensive bicycle network, including protected bike paths on some streets.

I followed a bike path along the East River, although it doesn’t go all the way to Williamsburg Bridge. I had to take Clinton Street, but it has a protected bike lane.

There’s no relaxing while riding in NYC. I had to watch out for other riders, walkers, joggers, cars. Most cyclists knew what they were doing. The boldest of the bold weave in and out of traffic with a death wish.

They make a sport of it and hold races through Manhattan, which you can watch on YouTube.

I was just trying to keep out of everyone’s way and make it in one piece to my destination. It’s intimidating riding in crowded cities, especially when you’re old and riding an unresponsive tank. In my youth it wasn’t a concern.

Riding over the Williamsburg Bridge, I appreciated the lengths that the city went to to accommodate walkers and cyclists. It has a separate lane above the cars and next to the subway/train that whizzes by every few minutes.

I enjoyed the ride in mild weather and saw nice views, but I wondered what it would be like to deal with snow and ice.

The one comparison between the Bay Area and NYC that stands out is the kind of cyclists I see. In NYC it’s utilitarian riding with an assortment of bikes, no helmets. Riders are dressed in street clothing. I saw a young woman wearing stockings and a miniskirt.

Bike lane on 8th Avenue near Central Park, minus the bollards.

Downtown I witnessed something out of a magazine advertisement — a Wall Street “suit” riding on a Citibike!

In the Bay Area it’s all Lycra and Spandex, sunglasses, and shiny helmets.

I made it to my destination and had a brief conversation with Dave, who had been out riding. He looks fit.

After sharing memories of days gone by, I headed back the way I came, this time feeling more comfortable with the riding and the bike.

At least I didn’t get lost and survived the ride. The cost came to $13 for a 10-mile ride. The day pass is the best option. It can get expensive if you pay for a 30-minute ride and go over the time limit.

Considering the difficulties of getting around in Manhattan, riding a bike can be a good option in some situations.

Since car traffic was banned in Central Park, there has been an explosion of cycling here. However, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. There are daily bike-to-bike and bike-to-pedestrian accidents.

Best way to see Central Park is via a pedicab. Look for the guy who hails from Uzbekistan.

Pedicabs ply the streets of Manhattan, offering rides after Broadway shows, etc.