Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Mt. Hamilton by Bike in 1914 – Don’t Forget the Fying Pan

May 17, 2012

Charles Fuller sets out from his house in Sunnyvale for a ride up Mt. Hamilton on March 5, 1914.

Imagine riding up Mt. Hamilton on a single-speed, wearing cowboy boots and lugging a frying pan! Do you think you’d have to walk? You bet, and that’s just what Charles Fuller did on a hot spring day – Friday, March 5, 1914. But he made it.

Fuller must have been an interesting character. At various times in his life he was a realtor, a Baptist preacher and then Sunnyvale postmaster, 1915-32. Fortunately he was interested in photography, and left behind photos of his high adventure on Mt. Hamilton.

I can’t say with certainty that Charles Fuller the cyclist and postmaster are one in the same. A Charles R. Fuller lived at 693 W. McKinley Ave. in Sunnyvale in 1940 with his wife Anita, according to the census. He was 56 years old, which sounds about right. He would have been 30 in 1914.

But I digress. Fuller planned leaving Sunnyvale at 1 p.m., but preacher Thomas M. Patterson insisted he do some duplicating and typewriting for him in preparation for an upcoming musical program.

Stopping at a bike shop to buy a new tire, Fuller didn’t get started until 5 p.m.; instead of taking the train to San Jose, he decided to ride and enjoy the evening. In my research I’ve noticed many accounts of night riding at the turn of the century. Night riding has a certain allure (I rode down Mt. Hamilton under a full moon) and without traffic I can imagine it’s something cyclists of the day did with gusto.

His load was heavy
Fuller was a real Boy Scout. His bike was loaded down: oil cloth tent, poncho sleeping bag, heavy overcoat, small pillow, hair rope, 2 gunny sacks, and wool socks all in a white canvas duck clothing bag. In a leather bag on his handlebars he placed a broiler, frying pan, kettle, “granite” (enameled) pan, knife, fork, spoon, cup, and a salt and pepper shaker.

His food consisted of 6 potatoes, bacon, butter, bread, cookies, graham crackers, a tin of Nabiscos, can of sardines, 6 oranges, walnuts, almonds, and milk chocolate. Even Fuller admitted it “proved to be more than a sufficiency.”

After stopping to buy film, Fuller started climbing around 6 p.m. but in just 15 minutes he found himself walking. Can you blame him? That’s a mighty heavy load with no gears.

He soldiered on until midnight before stopping next to a creek off the road and pitching his tent. He was 9 miles from the summit so that would place him overlooking the southern end of Halls Valley. Only a wagon and a car passed him during his six-hour walk and ride.

Occupy Wall Street? No it’s occupy Mt. Hamilton Road after a long walk and ride in the dark.

After rising at 7 a.m. and eating breakfast, Fuller met two teens who were hiking up the mountain and they exchanged pleasantries before continuing. He left around 9:45 and reached Smith Creek an hour later. Back then a stately mansion near the creek served as a wagon stop and hotel.

Lunch at Smith Creek
After lunch at the hostelry, Fuller began the long climb, but instead of following the road he headed straight up, following the telephone poles! It was one of those hot spring days with temperatures in the mid-80s. Lovely.

He reached the summit at 3:30 p.m. and proceeded to tour Lick Observatory until well into the evening before taking his bike back down the way he came, avoiding the road once again. He camped at Smith Creek.

Descent to Smith Creek with Lick Observatory in the background. It looks much the same today, but trees have grown back.

Next day early in the morning Fuller was awakened by hundreds of motorcycles making their way up the mountain. This parade went on for hours. Fuller had a chance to ride most of the way back to Sunnyvale, but fell twice during the harrowing descent. Remember, the road wasn’t paved and his bike must have been hell to steer.

Fuller ended his diary on a high note, and you would expect nothing less from a preacher. “The weather again broke the record of many years for excessive heat for the time of year, never-the-less it was a delightful experience. Hope I can go on a similar excursion soon.”

Thanks goes to Don Axtell for doing the research and finding Fuller’s photos preserved at DeAnza College, now in the Online Archive of California. Don is known for maintaining the spring on the steep backside of Mt. Hamilton about three miles from the summit.

Mt. Hamilton by Bike: 1888

May 14, 2012

Bay City Wheelmen in 1894. Cycling has been huge in the Bay Area forever.

When I published Mt. Hamilton by Bike (update coming soon) I said it was only a matter of time before I found information on early rides to the summit. Now I have one from 1888.

As reported in the San Jose Evening News on Oct. 3, A.A. Bouton rode his bike from San Francisco to Mt. Hamilton summit and back in less than 24 hours! He made it in 20 hours. Considering road conditions and the bikes of the day, that’s a blistering pace.

Bouton left San Francisco at 3 a.m., reaching Lick Observatory at 1:50 p.m. That’s 74 miles in just under 11 hours, 6.7 mph. He made it back in 9 hours. There is no mention of the type of bike ridden — highwheeler or one of the early safety bikes, which were introduced in 1885. I’m going to wager it was a safety bike.

In 1914 a Sunnyvale rider rode to the summit and back, in cowboy boots. He documented his trip with photos and a written account. More on that later.

Sonora Pass when it was Dirt

May 13, 2012

John Finley Scott at the summit around 1959. Judging by all the gear, he must have camped out. He was about 25 years old in this photo. (Photo courtesy of Vance Sprock)

Sonora Pass summit ca. 1959. That’s John Finley Scott’s bike. Clearly, the summit is dirt.

Thanks to Vance Sprock, owner of Cupertino Bike Shop, we have photos of Sonora Pass before it was paved. Vance retains most of the late John Finley Scott’s personal photo collection.

I was surprised Sonora Pass wasn’t entirely paved until around 1960. I thought it was much earlier. My guess is the upper pass was the last section to be paved.

John was a colorful character who pioneered long-distance touring in the 1950s around the Bay Area and throughout the West. He didn’t ride a fancy bike, and it looks like he mostly camped, judging by photos.

The UC Davis sociology professor “invented” the modern mountain bike in 1953, using a Sturmey Archer geared hub, flat handlebars, cantilever brakes, and fat tires tacked on to a heavy around-town bike frame. He later bought Cupertino Bike Shop (1980-1989). John was murdered in 2006.

His creativity was recognized by induction to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

I added this photo to my publication Adventure Rides in the High Sierra.

Alps Memories as Fresh as Newly Fallen Snow

April 27, 2012

Rick Bronson, Jobst Brandt, and Steve Smith recall their first tour of the Alps in 1960 during a gathering of friends and family to see slides of that epic ride. Klaus Brandt photo.

Last Saturday I met up with Jobst Riders from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s to have a first look at digitized slides of the earliest (1959 and on) legendary Alps tours led by Jobst Brandt. As a special tribute, two friends who accompanied this indomitable rider in 1960 traveled some considerable distance for the occasion.

Rick Bronson and Steve Smith were pioneers, joining Jobst on a new kind of touring. Lightly equipped with no more than a Carradice saddle bag, they rode long and hard all day and into the early evening, ticking off the grand passes one by one as they rolled through Switzerland, France, and northern Italy. They spent the night in hotels, consuming a healthy meal and plenty of lager for a peaceful night’s rest before the next day’s journey. A tourist’s Tour de France you might call it.

On their 1960 tour (captured here)they saw the last of the dirt roads. A post WW II Europe bent on putting those nightmare years behind it found the perfect remedy: packing the family into the car and driving into the mountains for holiday. And so the roads were paved.

You had to believe these were some wistful and at times painful private moments for Rick and Steve as they looked back at the days of their youth…and Dan Jones. A tall, strong rider, Dan died in a car wreck during a blinding thunderstorm outside Albuquerque while driving his vintage VW bug — hit from behind and pushed down a ravine. “I warned him to get larger tail lights, but he wouldn’t listen,” Steve recalled.

All in attendance who accompanied Jobst on his 50 tours of the Alps from one decade to the next were struck by the scenery and the poses of the riders. It all looked so familiar, the choice places to take photos unchanged over 50 years.

There was more — Jobst on a frozen Zurich lake riding his bike in sub-zero weather, Jobst riding over the Stelvio in early spring’s snow walls, the Cinelli factory when it actually made bikes — the bikes these intrepid riders owned and rode through the Alps on wooden rims. They would settle for nothing less. And Eddy Merckx battling demons in perhaps his first race in the Giro ‘d Italia. He looked none to happy.

It was a great day for reminiscing with Jobst and friends, reliving the days of our youth.

Naming Roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains

March 18, 2012

Mtn. Charlie Road plaque, located where the road joins Summit Road at the Hwy 17 exit.

How did government agencies name roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains? A road might be named for a physical feature or location (Skyline Boulevard, Big Basin Highway – Hwy 9), or a person.

Quite a few roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains are named after people. Here are a few and some details:

Mountain Charlie Road. This narrow, twisty road straddling Hwy 17 is named after Charles Henry McKiernan. The toll road was purchased by Santa Cruz County in 1878. This earliest immigrant settler of the Santa Cruz Mountains survived a grizzly bear attack in 1854.

Schultheis Road. Named for John Martin Schultheis. I ride this mostly dirt road regularly between Redwood Lodge Road and Summit Road.

Page Mill Road. Named after William Page, who established a sawmill on Peters Creek in 1867.

Haskins Hill (Pescadero Road at Sam McDonald County Park). Named after Aaron Haskins, who built a shingle mill nearby in 1875.

Graham Hill Road (between Felton and Santa Cruz) was named for Isaac Graham, who owned this toll road in the 1860s-70s until it became a public thoroughfare.

Wurr Road (at Loma Mar). Named for Henry Wurr, a shingle mill operator originally from Germany.

Highland Way. Extending from the end of Summit Road to Eureka Canyon Road, I don’t know exactly how it came to be named, but there is an interesting coincidence here. It could be called Highland because the road is in high country. It could also be named for one M.C. Hyland.

He was the foreman on the ill-fated night of Feb. 12, 1877, when a terrific explosion killed at least a dozen workers who were building the Wrights tunnel on the South Pacific Coast Railroad. It’s just off Summit Road near Highland Way.

Photos of the Week

February 26, 2012

Here's the South Pacific Coast rail line (now Union Pacific) looking south on Thornton Avenue in Newark. The branch line on the left went to the machine shop back in 1878.

By 1913, when this photo was taken, the machine shop was history. It closed around 1908. From South Pacific Coast by Bruce MacGregor.

Looking north on Carter Avenue is where the machine shop stood for more than 30 years. Carter Avenue is named for the Carter brothers, whose company built most of the narrow-gauge rail cars in California.

San Jose Track Racing Has History

January 4, 2012

Greg LeMond and George Mount win the district Madison in 1979 at the Hellyer Park Velodrome. (Jobst Brandt photo)

While we all know about the Hellyer Park Velodrome in San Jose, there’s a lot more to the history of track racing here than you’d ever know.

Thanks to Tracy Delphia, we have a fairly good history of track racing. Tracy wrote about the sport for her master’s degree as San Jose State. It’s our good fortune to have this excellent paper available online.

It’s no surprise Tracy talked to Clyde Arbuckle, a walking encyclopedia about San Jose history in his day. He’s no longer with us, nor is his son. It’s too bad because they were both cycling authorities.

Most of her paper focuses on the short-lived but popular Garden City Velodrome (1936-1940) located at Wabash and Olive avenues, next to present-day Abraham Lincoln High School and the Rose Garden.

I’ve watched a few races at the Hellyer track. It’s a blast to see the riders speed around the concrete oval but the location in south San Jose doesn’t lend itself to drawing a crowd. I wish it were closer.

A Free Adventure Ride Around the World

December 24, 2011

A book written by Thomas Stevens about his around-the-world ride is available online for free.

Thomas Stevens has to be the ultimate adventure rider and one of the most interesting characters in cycling. Since I’ve been on my share of adventure rides, I can relate. He rode his 50-inch highwheeler around the world starting April 22, 1884, in San Francisco. His journey took him across the U.S. to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, China, and Japan.

Now you can read his two-volume book — Around the World on a Bicycle — and it won’t cost you a penny-farthing. Here’s how. Just download a Kindle application for the PC, available online. Then download volume 1 and volume 2 online, no charge.

I advise doing this sooner than later because who knows how long it will be before Amazon starts charging.

Tom was British so the language of the time was a bit stilted, but it gets better as you read along. It’s a fascinating read. I was disappointed he didn’t offer much detail on the U.S. leg as compared to the European tour a year later. You can probably piece together a fairly close approximation of the roads he traveled just by reading.

Tom rode through Wyoming along what is today Interstate 80. It must have been a lonely ride. What’s amazing though is to read about how many people he did meet back then in the Wild West. The West had pretty much been settled with the railroad going through. He spent a lot of nights at housing used by the railroad workers.

Reading about the adventures of Thomas Stevens is a great way to enjoy the holidays.

Smith Creek on Mt. Hamilton Road Then and Now

November 25, 2011

Smith Creek stage stop on Mt. Hamilton Road in 1890.

Smith Creek today. Trees have overtaken the creek bank.

I mentioned in Mt. Hamilton by Bike that Smith Creek had a hotel. Here’s a photo taken around 1890, from the San Jose public library collection.

Below is a photo of the same location today. That looks like one cold day on Mt. Hamilton in 1890.

For Adventure Rides in the High Sierra I’m researching photos of the Sierra passes from the late 1800s or early 1900s. No luck so far.

Memories of a Bike Shop Owner – Part 3

February 26, 2011

In this final installment, Mike Jacoubowsky, owner of Chain Reaction bike shop in Redwood City, California, talks about his website, where the bike industry needs to focus, and children riding to school. First photo shows a 1974 ride over Mt. Hamilton, with Mike in the group. The second photo is a ride with Jobst Brandt and Jim Westby on Loma Prieta Road around 1974.


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