All the farm kids in Wakefield had their own transportation. I was a city kid. I had to walk. That was no big deal, as Wakefield was not that large. It was eight blocks east and west, up and down a long hill, and six blocks north and south, up and down another hill. As it was almost square, that’s a total of 48 blocks. You could walk anywhere in town in ten minutes, but the farm kids could drive home in that time. It just didn’t seem quite fair. Besides, I had just turned 14, and was legally old enough to drive in Kansas.
On discussing this situation with the old man, he was sympathetic, but claimed the family budget would not support a second car. I didn’t want to take no for an answer, so I proposed to help pay for a Whizzer. A Whizzer is a motorized bicycle, a poor man’s motorcycle. They were a hot commodity in the late 1930s, and could be purchased new for about $200. As I already had a bicycle, that part of the deal fit nicely with my current status. The motor part and cost were the elements requiring parental consent. When I offered my $50.00 to support the deal, Fred went along with it, but suggested I should look for a used one. For the next two months I was glued to the classified ads in the Sunday Topeka Daily Capitol.
Eventually I struck pay-dirt. An ad offered a three-year old Whizzer with heavy-duty wheels and frame in good condition. $75.00. It listed a telephone number in Topeka, and asked for calls after 5:00pm. We called and said we would buy it, if our inspection supported their claim of good condition. That weekend we made the two-hour trip to Topeka, inspected the bike and gave it a test ride. We made the deal, removed the front wheel so it would fit in the car, and drove back to Wakefield. At last I was motorized. It was not a class act, nor was it adequate for a date, but it reduced the travel time around town, and eliminated the hills.
Shown above is a new PBS Whizzer fashioned after the 1930’s model. It has heavy-duty wheels and a frame tailored to include the engine installation. It shows a front-wheel fork assembly designed to cushion the impact of increased weight and road vibration. As will be illustrated, this detail is a key addition to a Whizzer. Add a speedometer, light, and horn, and you are in business day and night. It had a pull starter like a lawn mower. With its mechanical clutch, you could also start it by rolling downhill, or by pedaling and engaging the clutch. The clutch control and throttle levers were on the handlebars.
Like all the boys at the time, the first question is often “How fast will it go”? On a level, straight road its top speed was about 40 miles per hour. It went a little slower uphill, and a little faster downhill. Its four-cycle engine was particularly efficient, making 75 to 100 miles to the gallon of gas. At 13 cents a gallon, I could go six to eight miles on a penny’s worth of gasoline. It was a pretty good deal for getting around town, and was vastly superior to hoofing-it.
As it turned out, I was not the only person in town with a Whizzer. Gary Lumb, who lived on a farm 4 miles south of town, had a Whizzer, too, but his needed minor repairs. His Whizzer was installed on standard bicycle wheels and a frame without any of the extras suggested by the Whizzer people. As soon as I fired mine up, I provoked Gary into making the necessary repairs and joining me. We soon became the bloody Whizzer buddies, and produced beautiful exhaust music all over town. When riding together, we produced dual exhausts, a classy upgrade to any street rod at the time. Our dual exhausts created quite a stir in town, until we came into sight. Somehow, our bicycles just didn’t carry the right tune.
From about 10 mph a Whizzer had great acceleration, achieving top speed in just a few seconds. As luck would have it, at top speed Gary’s Whizzer was a mile or two per hour faster than mine. We raced them uphill and downhill, through the alleys and across the fields. Like today’s road-bikes, we went everywhere, and Gary was always ahead. I tried to figure out why this was true. Was it my heavy-duty frame and wheels? Was it because Gary was a lightweight? Maybe it was my battery pack, which weighed an additional 10 pounds, while Gary’s ran from a magneto. Could it possibly be Gary’s tax-free farm gasoline? Whatever it was, Gary was always ahead
After a while you acquire a thing about coming in second, so you try harder. I tinkered with, repaired, or replaced everything that might make a difference. I fiddled with all the adjustments on the carburetor, the points and sparkplug. I waxed every surface to make it aerodynamically slick. I crouched into racing position and wore slick clothes to enhance the airfoil. Nothing I did seemed to make a difference. Then one day the unexpected happened.
It was a perfect day for having a go at it. Gary came into town on his Whizzer, having nothing better to do, and we rode around town a while. Then he figured it was time to show me his Whizzer was faster than my Whizzer one more time. By this time, I was tired of the game, but refusing to play was worse than losing. We headed for the Republican River bridge which was the only hard-surface road out of town. Just beyond the ball-field the road turned 45 degrees, then went diagonally across the railroad tracks and all the way to the Republican River bridge, before it turned to dirt again.
As soon as we turned onto the diagonal, the race was on. We both shoved the throttles to the max, and headed for the bridge. As expected, Gary moved slowly ahead, and by the time we reached the railroad tracks, he was leading by two lengths. He hit the tracks at full speed and bounced into the air several inches. The bounce was just enough for his front wheel to come completely out of the fork. The fork stuck into the blacktop road surface, stopping the front of the bike immediately. The rest of the bike flipped Gary tail over breakfast, then along the road surface like a rag doll for another 30 feet.
After that brief moment I was ahead for the first time! After a victory lap, I turned around and stopped quickly, but not nearly as quickly as Gary. I had no idea what to expect, but anticipated the worst. Slowly Gary moved on the road surface, so I knew he was not yet dead. Then he struggled into a crawling, then a standing position, and took a careful inventory of what remained. He was deeply bruised and oozing blood from his head and both arms. He discovered he could walk, and seemed to have no broken bones. His bike was in two pieces, and without tools, he dragged the bike into the grader ditch. Then he walked back into town to call home for a pickup truck.
All this time he was mumbling several things which sounded like “heavy-duty frame” and “that forking front wheel”, and other expressions straight off the farm. He even said several things not fit for fourteen year old ears, so I forgot them immediately. Then in a moment of weakness he admitted he wanted a Whizzer just like my Whizzer; heavy-duty, spring loaded, and slow.
After that race, Gary was never quite so heavy on the throttle, and he morphed into a little old lady when crossing rough surfaces. From my perspective, this was the only occasion when I actually pulled ahead of Gary in a race, so I proclaimed it a victory through de-fall.