By Joann M. Ringelstetter
Saturday was a dreary day here in Wisconsin, but Ruth and I decided to do a little photographing despite the chilly wind and intermittent drizzle. So we headed to Richland County, which is our favorite county here in Wisconsin. At one point, we passed a home with a whimsical yard and decided to turn the car around and have another look.
The driveway was lined on both sides with birdhouses and there was a picket fence with two bright pink bicycles in front of it. Photographing the pink bicycles reminded me that May is National Bike Month. So, in honor of that, I decided I would share a few childhood memories involving bicycles.
When I was four years old, the two-lane US Highway 151 north of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was constructed. This highway consumed a portion of our farmland and my older brother and sister and I watched as the huge machines moved the earth and the concrete was poured. When the concrete was dry, but the highway was not yet open to traffic, my brother and sister got permission from our parents to ride their bikes on the new highway. I, not wanting to be left behind, but not having a two-wheel bicycle, took the only option I had – an oversized rusty tricycle with a ragged-edged seat that seemed to tear my pants every time I rode it (much to my mother’s frustration). Being able to ride “forever” on the smoothest road around was an absolute thrill (in spite of the hole in my pants).
Tearing my pants is the only bicycle (I mean, tricycle) mishap I remember for myself. However, I do remember a few bicycle mishaps for my siblings.
When my brother David was first learning to ride, my dad, thinking it would be an easy way to learn, told David to take the bike to the end of the driveway, which had a slight incline to it. So David walked the bike up to the end of the driveway by the road and hopped on. The driveway slowly declined as it passed the barn and milkhouse and then it curved around in front of the stone chicken house. As the rest of the family stood in front of the chicken house watching, David began his inaugural ride. Things were going well until he came to the curve in the driveway and failed to make the turn. At this point, all we could do was watch as he careened into the side of the stone chicken house. Luckily, nothing was hurt but his ego.
Then there was the time that Ruth was riding her bike down that same slight driveway incline on a sunny summer day. As she passed the barn and milkhouse, our border collie, Laddie, decided to chase a cat from the barn into the yard. The cat ran across the driveway and Ruth managed to swerve enough to miss hitting the cat. What she didn’t know was that Laddie was right behind. As she slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting our beloved dog, she was hurled from the bike face first onto the driveway. She ended up having to get stitches, and she still has a small scar to remind her.
As some of us kids got old enough to ride our bikes on the road, we would ride down to a nearby gas station to buy bottles of soda pop for ourselves. This gas station had one of those driveway hoses that went “ding-ding” whenever a car drove over it. This would alert the gas station owner that someone had pulled in and would need their gas pumped. On one of our “pop runs” to the gas station, David rode his bike over the driveway hose expecting to hear the familiar ding-ding. But at this gas station, the bell was inside the owner’s home and you couldn’t hear it outside. Thinking his bike wasn’t heavy enough to trip the bell, David rode over the hose again and again and even dismounted his bike and stomped on the hose. Well, you can imagine what the owner was experiencing inside, and soon the owner was shouting at us to leave the property. Needless to say, we didn’t get our soda pop that day.
When we were kids, we lived next to the Tuschen family and we sometimes played with John Tuschen, who would become Madison’s first Poet Laureate many years later. When I was about five years old and John was about ten, he got a brand spanking new bicycle and rode over to our place to show it off. We were standing in the yard when he rode in and I was eating an apple at the time. As we inspected his new bicycle with envy, I finished my apple and decided to play the apple core prank, which was popularized in the 1952 Disney cartoon entitled “Donald Applecore” and starring Donald Duck, along with Chip and Dale.
The prank went like this:
Joann (holding up her apple core): “Apple Core!”
Phyllis (our older sister): “Baltimore!”
Joann: “Who’s your friend?”
Phyllis (pointing at John): “John!”
So I wound up my arm and, with all the force I could muster, I whipped the apple core at John and somehow managed to hit him smack dab in the face. I think it caught him off guard (and probably hurt) and he started crying and rode home. I felt bad for making him cry, but I also couldn’t help being proud of my strength and skill at only five years of age.
Ruth and I always do our shunpiking by car, but for those of you who enjoy bicycling, it’s also a great way to shunpike. Just hit the backroads and enjoy all the beautiful rural scenery.