IV - Through The Valleys Of The Two Great Rivers To Chicago

Although it was evening when I reached Omaha, Nebraska, on June 11, I at once hunted up the largest bicycle store and repair shop I could find in the city - that of Louis Flescher, 1622 Capitol Avenue - and began putting my machine in trim for the last 1,600 miles of my trip. I found that six new spokes were needed, and, after putting them in and truing up the wheels, I put on a new belt rim to replace the old one, which had been literally chewed up by the rocks along the road. It looked, in fact, as if it might have been a rail on the manger of a cribbing horse. Also, I put on the second one of the pair of tires that I got at Ogden and soldered up a small leak in the gasoline tank. Knowing that from that time on I would be able to get almost anything I needed, I decided to remove my carrier, with its extra gasoline tank and tools, and ship them to Chicago. I kept only a pump, a tire repair outfit, a wrench, a spark plug and my lubricating oil. All this was not done at night. It took me until 1:30 o'clock the next day to finish my work, and then I had lunch.

It was three o'clock on June 12 when I left Omaha. The streets of that city are fine, many of them having vitrified brick pavement. It might have been all imagination, or the exhilaration I felt at leaving the deserts and the Rockies behind me, but the bicycle seemed to skim the earth like a swallow as I started for the steel bridge across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The carrier and its freight made the load lighter, and the fine pavement had much to do with it, but the difference seemed greater than could be accounted for by these things. At the time it seemed to me as if I was having the finest ride of my lifetime. Unwitting I cheated the toll collector at the bridge and crossed over into Iowa without paying anything. I was going at a smart pace when I reached the bridge and had gone along on it some distance when I heard a man shouting to me. I learned afterward that he was the toll collector. I glanced back and saw him waving his arm excitedly, but at the time I thought he was expostulating because I was riding between the tracks, so I kept on and, as far as l am aware he did not undertake to pursue me or have me stopped. At Council Bluffs I made the acquaintance of Mr. Smith, of the Nebraska Cycle Company, who has traveled all over the country. He sent the barometer of my new-born confidence and enthusiasm down. From what he told me of the roads and the condition in which I would find them at that time, after all the rainy weather, I about made up my mind that I would have to ride on the railroad ties all the way to Chicago. Perhaps it was the effect of what he said that led me to explore Council Bluffs to a greater extent than I had any other place through which I passed, though, truth to tell, there was not opportunity for exploring in more than a very few, most of my stops west of Omaha having been at places that could be seen at one glance - "tout ensemble," as the Frenchmen say. The brick pavement of the Council Bluffs streets is superior to anything I ever saw before and I have seen some fine roads in Australia and other countries. It is laid with such scientific method and such consummate art that you might think you were riding on a board floor when rolling over it.

It had been my design when I started to take the more southerly route from Omaha, by way of Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, because I understood that, although the distance Is greater, I would find better riding by so doing. When I came along, however, all that country was under water, one might say, so I decided to follow the route of the Northwestern Railroad past Ames, from which a spur of the road runs south to Des Moines. For the credit of the country, I hope the southerly route is better than the one I followed. On the whole, Iowa gave me as much vile traveling as any State that I crossed. I left Council Bluffs at 6:30 a.m. on June 13, and, in spite of what Mr. Smith had told me, I felt glad to know that I had crossed the Missouri, for, with the "Big Muddy" at my back, my journey was two-thirds over. I started on the roadway and followed it nearly 40 miles to Woodbine. The June floods had preceded me surely enough and the roads were so muddy that I could hardly force the bicycle along. I took a snapshot of my bicycle in one place where it was kept upright by the mud. Where the roadbed was not muddy it had dried with deep ruts and "thank you, ma'ams" in it. I frequently had to get off and walk for short stretches, wading through the mud or getting over the ruts. I had gone about 10 miles from Council Bluffs, riding and walking alternately, when I got off to foot it past a bad piece, and discovered that the jolting over the rough places had loosened the bundle in which I had my tools and parts and they were all gone. I did not care to leave my bicycle by the roadside for any tramp or small boy who might come along to fool with, so I trundled it along back with me hunting in the mud for my lost tools. I do not believe in profanity, but my unbelief in this respect was greatly helped by the experience. In the course of two miles I recovered everything except the pump connection and a small bundle of battery wire. After regaining my tools and starting to ride again I had not gone a mile before I ran into a rut and the machine slewed and hurled me into a slough of mud about 10 feet away. The mud along that part of the world is of the gumbo variety, that sticks like glue when it is moist and dries as hard and solid as bricks. I held quite a good sized tract of Iowa real estate when I arose, but I reflected that it was better to have landed in a soft spot than it would have been to have struck a place where the flinty ruts were sticking up five inches like cleavers with ragged edges. This philosophical reflection served to modify my exclamations at the time, and I went on carrying the mud as a badge of membership in the grand order of hoboes, to which I felt at this time that I belonged. Nor was the mud, both wet and dry, the sum of my troubles. It was a rolling country, with plenty of farms about. Through which I was traveling, and I met quite a number of wagons. Motor vehicles of any sort are not common enough thereabouts as yet for the horses to be unafraid of them. Eight out of ten horses I met wanted to climb a telegraph pole or leap the fence at the sight and sound of my harmless little vehicle, and the farmers used language that would make a pirate blush. I was frankly expecting any one of them to pull a gun and take a shot at me during all my 40 miles on the road that forenoon.

One experience of the road that day, in which I tried to play the part of a gallant, mud-covered though I was, but succeeded only in becoming unpopular and ridiculous, occurred when I met a buggy containing a couple of maiden ladies past the boom of youth. At an eighth of a mile away or more, the animal they were driving began to cavort and show insane alarm. The women screamed, and I dismounted as quickly as I could, and laid the bicycle down in the gully at the roadside. One of the women got out and tried to lead the animal. He did not lead very well, either, and I approached, intending to take him by the bridle, quiet him and then let the lady return to the seat and remain there while I led the refractory brute. Usually I get along well with horses, but this one went crazy when I got near him. He acted like a rocking horse, standing first on his hind legs and then on his front ones, and kicking out in the rear to the accompanying screams of the women. I supposed I smelled motory or looked it. At any rate, he would not be quiet as long as I tried to hold him, and I had to shamefacedly retire from view and let the spinster return to his head. I felt foolish, and must have looked it, for the woman in the carriage glared at me with manifest contempt and indignation while her partner in single blessedness led their good steed forward. The beast did a hornpipe as he passed the place where my bicycle lay in the gully, and the last I saw of him he was ambling along and shying every 10 yards after both women were again in the buggy. I started on my journey again, wondering if they bred fool horses especially for old maids in that region.

About 20 miles from Omaha, at Lovelands, I took a picture of an orchard and field still under water from the rains. This was not the only place of the sort by a great deal, but it gives an idea of how the country suffered and how I suffered. At Woodbine I concluded to take to the railroad tracks to escape the affectionate hugging of the gumbo mud and the objurgations (sic) of the farmers, a number of whom told me I "ought to keep that thing off the road altogether." I went on the tracks of the Northwestern, and had not ridden far before I was ordered off by a section boss. This was the first time this thing happened to me, but it was not the last time. The railroad waves in and between the bluffs there, so that there is hardly a straightaway stretch a hundred yards long, and It is because of the danger due to the many sharp curves that no one is allowed on the tracks. After making a detour through the fields, I returned to the tracks, but I was chased off a second time, and then I shifted my route over to the tracks of the Illinois Central about 50 feet the other side of the Northwestern rails, and I had no more trouble with the section bosses. I reached Denison at 8 p.m., after covering only 75 miles in 13½ hours. I found a comfortable commercial hotel, with modern improvements, at Denison, and had It not been for the roads I would have thought I was well out of the wilderness. I had to have my driving belt sewed again that night, and it was midnight before I went to bed.

I started from Denison at 8 a.m., taking to the railroad. After going five miles the roadbed became so bad that I could not ride, and I sought the highway. This did not help me much, for I was able to ride only a little way at a time, and then walk anywhere from 100 yards to a mile. My coaster brake, which had begun to give me trouble the day before, became on this day a coaster broke. The threads of the axle were stripped, and, while the brake would not work, the coaster worked overtime, so that I could not start the bicycle by pedaling; I had to run it along and then hop on. This day, July(sic) 14, was the hottest I had yet encountered. My clothing was drenched with perspiration, and it was hard to decide whether it was easier and cooler walking or riding. I hated the task of dismounting every half mile, walking in the gumbo mud and pulling my feet out at each step as if I was breaking them away from the hold of a rubber rope; yet when I was walking it seemed about as easy to keep at it as to start the motor by running along with it and jumping on, knowing that I was apt to fall immediately, as I did several times because of the ruts, and knowing, also, that if I did not fall as soon as I mounted that I was likely to be compelled to dismount after going 500 yards. One fall that I got through performing this stunt of running with the bicycle and jumping aboard on the rutty road nearly laid me up, I fell and struck my knee so hard that I had to sit down and nurse my strength for a quarter of an hour. My leg was lame for a couple of days. It was all I could do to keep going, and had the blow been a little harder I would have been crippled. It may be tiresome to react about the hard luck passages of my trip, but it is less tiresome than enduring them; arid they all come back to me so vividly that the story would

seem incomplete without some of these mishaps. At best, the hard knocks pale in description. and I try to state them mildly. In actual fact, some of them were sources of real agony. It was not a sentimental journey at any stage, nor a humorous one, and often I was too sadly used up to perceive what humor there might have been in a situation, though usually I am not slow in catching any glint of humor there may be abroad. I must have appeared comical at many times, but unfortunately we have not been blessed by the gods with the gift "to see ourselves as others see us," and so missed many a laugh and smile at my own appearance. A part of the aggravation of this hot day was due to the remarks of those I met on the road. “What's the trouble?" "Puncture?" "Motor busted, eh?" These were some of the queries and comments I had hurled at me as I floundered along through the mud.  Sometimes the remarks were uttered from sincere solicitude, sometimes from mere curiosity, and occasionally from a desire to ridicule. "Why don't you ride?" was several times asked by persons who really did not understand why a motor bicycle could not go through anything. There is, in fact, a great deal of ignorance still remaining among the farmer folk as to the limitations of a bicycle. They seem sometimes to think that it must be able to skim on the surface of sand and mud, run through water, or on a telegraph wire, or anywhere; yet, on the other hand, there is great incredulity as to the ability of anyone going any great distance. The worst taunt I got while walking and pushing the bicycle came from a grizzled farmer old enough to be more polite to strangers. He called out: "Hey, young fel'! Is it any easier walkin' in that gumbo when yer push one o' them things along-side?"  The paradoxical ideas of the farmers about my bicycle were revealed in the evening when I arrived at a small place called Ogden after covering 76 miles. While I was talking about my trip and telling of the troubles of the daunting journey there were several expressions of disbelief in my story of having come from San Francisco, and I was told that I couldn't get to Chicago with a "little thing like that." At almost the same time a man solemnly asked me why I didn't avoid all the bad going by riding on the steel rail, he having no doubt of the ability of a me to ride right along on a rail without any attachment.

At Ogden I found a blacksmith, and had him cut a new thread on my rear axle, and we wedged the lock-nut of the coaster on with pieces of brass so that it would act properly. Ogden is in a fine farming district on rolling land, and going out of the place there it fine view across the mountains. I had a good chance to look around, for it was 11:30 o'clock before I got my coaster brake fixed so that I could start. I rode 11 miles on the road to Boone, a town with model asphalted streets, and there I had luncheon, after which I sought the railroad tracks. After a while I met a section foreman, in the person of a big Swede, who ordered me off the track bed. No amount of blarney would persuade him even to let me continue to a crossroad. I must get off the railroad property right then and there. The harshness of this edict became apparent when I had to climb through a barbed wire fence, drag my motor cycle after me and then walk with it for half a mile through a grain field before I reached a road. The prospect of being caught by the farmer while I was in the act of trampling down his grain did not add to my cheerfulness of mind during this enforced detour. Shortly after I got started at riding on the road again my wheel twisted in a rut and I fell in a heap with the machine. In this fall I broke my cyclometer, the fourth one smashed since leaving San Francisco. I had been thoroughly subdued by my two days experience with the Iowa gumbo, and I did not swear over this mishap. I was taking everything with becoming humility by this time, and my most fervent hope was simply that it would not rain until I got safely out of the country. Fortunately it had not rained since I left Council Bluffs, and the mud I was encountering was simply that left over from the flooding storms of the previous week. I knew that if it rained before I got out of the region I would be laid up for days, for the roads get so bad during a rain that horses cannot make their way along them. Horses have been stuck in the roads out that way so badly that it was necessary to hoist them out with tackle. After my fall I returned to the railroad tracks, determined to take a chance with the section hands in preference to the chances of the road. I had no more difficulty with the railroad men, and eventually reached Marshalltown at 7 p.m. with 71 miles to my credit for the day. By following the railroad tracks I missed passing through Des Moines, which is on a spur of the road down from Ames. At Ames I stopped and got a new screw for my carburetor valve, which was damaged by the same fall that broke my cyclometer. At Marshalltown I registered at a hotel run by a widow and her sons. After supper I gave my belt a lacing and went to bed.

With my nerve fortified by a resolve to brazen it out with the section hands on the railroad, and a stock of interesting stories arranged in mind for their benefit, I left Marshalltown at 7 a.m. on July(sic) 16, and proceeded to the tracks of the Northwestern. Imagine a man so anxious to ride a bicycle over railroad ties that he would lie awake at night planning how to prevaricate to the section men! My luck in the gentle art of telling fairy stories was variable. Some passed me on with a doubtful look, but others were rude enough to refuse me credence and order me "back to the highway." Although I was east of there, I was like the man going to Omaha, who persistently returned after being put off the railroad train. Some section bosses and track walkers I went past, others I went around, and by using road and rail bed alternately I kept making headway. In this section of the country I saw more Indians than I did in all that portion of the country west of the Missouri. There is a reservation at Tama, Iowa, through which place I passed and most of the Indians I saw were from there. They were tame redskins, given to the wearing of shirts and coats and trousers, and to agricultural pursuits. In fact, one sees few blanket Indians in this locality. Once, while I was on the road I tried to get a snapshot of one of the parties of Indians that I met in wagons. There was a squaw in the party, and she yowled like a coyote when I pointed the camera at her and made haste to cover herself with a blanket, for most of the Indians have not gotten over the superstition that, like the man's watch in the photograph gallery, their soul is taken in any picture of them. This squaw waved her arms and threw herself about so that I thought she would fall. I persevered, however, and got a snapshot; although it was an unsatisfactory one, because, after all, it shows only the Indian lady seated in the wagon with a blanket over her head.

Five miles from Cedar Rapids my batteries got so weak that my motor began to miss and finally gave out. When I tried to pedal the clumsily repaired coaster brake it broke again and I had to walk into Cedar Rapids. The rapids, which I passed as I entered the city, were pretty, but I, plodding along and pushing my bicycle envied their rapidity more than their beauty. I traveled about 77 miles this day, though the distance by rail from Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids is only 69 miles.

When I reached Cedar Rapids my bicycle needed attention more seriously than at any previous time, and this was not to be wondered at, for it had carried me more than 2,300 miles. I went to a bicycle store on Second Avenue where I soldered the loose sprocket lock nut on to the hub. My handlebars were cracked near the head, where holes are drilled for the wires, so I brazed a piece of reinforcing onto them. Leaving Cedar Rapids, I found the roads still muddy, and, as the country is of rolling character, I sought the railroad, but I found the bed so strewn with sharp rocks that I returned to the wagon road. Why I did not get lost several times In this country I do not know. The telegraph poles branched off at every crossroad, and it was simply a toss-up to decide which was the line of poles to follow. The roads were a little better east of Cedar Rapids, which itself has splendid roads, but they were still wet and in places sandy. Darkness overtook me before I reached Clinton, and, being afraid of smashing into something. I walked the last few miles into that place, arriving at 9 p.m., after having covered 85 miles. 

At Clinton I was nearing Chicago, within 150 miles of it, and on the morning of June 18, when I left Clinton, Iowa, at 6:30 a.m., I hoped to reach it before noon on the following day. Shortly after leaving Dixon(sic. Clinton)  about two miles, I crossed the "Father of Waters" and was at last east of the Mississippi and into Illinois, where I was told at the start I never would get with my motor bicycle. The roads improved at once after crossing the great river, though I had some difficulty finding the correct one going out of Fulton, Illinois. The country in general also improved. The soil was darker and more fertile looking, and the farms had a thriving look about them that was superior to anything I had seen since leaving Sacramento. I chose the road on the north side of the Rock River, and remained on that side until I crossed the river at Dixon.

Persons of whom I made inquiry at Dixon advised me that the best thing I could do was to take the old Chicago stage road. I did so, and that road will be ever memorable to me, for on it my troubles broke out afresh. I rode from Dixon, which Is 99 miles from Chicago. Southeast about 45 miles to Earlville, and then rode northeast about 25 miles toward Aurora.

A great part of the road was so poor that I wished I had stayed on the railroad, and I learned afterward that I might have ridden on roads much nearer the tracks. Still, other parts of the road were good and I made fair time. I was getting near Aurora when the crank of my motor broke. This was the most serious accident that had happened to me, and it meant trouble. There was no possible way of repairing the damage, so, like the steamer that breaks its engine and hoists sail, I resorted to the pedals, and mighty glad I was that I had fixed the coaster brake at Cedar Rapids, so that I could pedal and did not have to walk. I pedaled about 10 miles before nightfall, and then put up at a little store at a crossroads, where they gave me accommodation for the night. I was on fine stone roads by this time, and only 25 miles from Chicago. I pedaled Into the Windy City in five and a half hours the next day, June 19. As may be imagined, I was tired after pedaling 25 miles, and not only physically weary, but I was mentally dejected because of the accident to my motor. On the outskirts of the city I sat down on the curb to rest and meditate, and I was aroused by a local rider who, fancying I was in trouble, stopped to offer assistance.

Once I was fairly in Chicago I sought to get a new motor crank, but found there was none to be had, so I telegraphed to San Francisco for one. The motor crank was the last thing that was expected to break. I had parts of every sort excepting that one along with me, and these were unused, while the one thing I could not replace was the one that broke. This showed that one never can tell what to expect in a cross-country journey of this sort.

After telegraphing for the motor crank I knew I would have to lay up in Chicago for a while, so I went out to engage lodgings. I found a nice-looking boarding house, and chose it in preference to a hotel. I engaged board for four days. When I made a light in the room, however, I found I had company - insects in the bed as big as canary birds. At least they looked that big to me. I hastily decamped with my few belongings, and walked the streets for three hours, feeling timid about making another attempt to get accommodations. I was thoroughly disgusted with Chicago from that time on. I eventually went to a hotel where everything was all right, but my dislike of Chicago increased during the five days of my stay there. It rained nearly every day, and the soot from the soft coal smoke nearly strangled me, after my being accustomed to the pure air of the mountains. The things that impressed me most in Chicago were the way that the inhabitants ran about the streets as if they were lost or going to a fire, and the number of drunken men and women in the streets. I never saw so much drunkenness In my life anywhere before. I went to some of the theatres, but my impression of the city was not helped by that. I simply abhorred the place. It was not until the morning of this day, June 23, that I got my new motor crank by express, and it took me nearly all day to fit it and get the engine together again. I lost no time in getting away from the Windy City. I did not want to stop there one hour longer than I was obliged to do. I left there that same evening.

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