Friday, September 15, 2017

Pastimes: by Maylon Rice

Tandem bikes for rent

           Please forgive my recent absence from submitting some Pastimes from Bradley County. Many of you have contacted me to keep writing, so here goes…
          Somewhere after the summer of 1964-65, or thereabouts, a fitness craze came across the nation spurred by the nation physical fitness campaign of the late President John F. Kennedy.
          A group from Warren, walked all the way to Pine Bluff one Saturday, as recalled by the local newspaper editor of that era. He noted that many of those walking that 47-mile distance, that day, had sore feet from the excursion. But each participant received a Presidential Physical Fitness certificate for their efforts.
          As part of that national program, at least one entrepreneur, Thomas Peek, who ran an Esso Gas Station (later the brand was changed to Exxon) right along First Street, the one-block long north side street of the Bradley County Courthouse.
 My memories of that facility was it was a simple, two-bay service station, two-gas pumps with an air house on the central island.
The bathrooms were on the outside of the station. There was a rack of tires for sale. Other than Mr. Peek, there were about one or two other young guys as employees.
          A national promotion worth remembering was the Esso gasoline – you could “put a Tiger in your tank.”

          Once on a fill up of my mother’s tiny 1965 Ford Fairlane, two-door sedan, we got a fake “Esso Tiger” tail to hang off the radio aerial antenna. What a national ad promotion that was – still a memory fresh from 52 years ago.
          Aside from the standard fare of selling gasoline, tires, oil changes, light auto repair and ice – for a while in the late 1960s, Peek rented two tandem bicycles.
          That’s right, rented, for a nominal fee, a pair of two-seater bikes. A rarity in Warren - that was for sure.
          One Warrenite I called for information begged the question if these were Schwinn’s or Huffy models – of that, I am not sure.
          The bikes were of a blueish/seafoam green hue – a popular color in the day. And I think, if my memory serves me correct, both were, as we said back in the day, “boys” bikes without the sloping front frame support.
          Why on earth, Maylon, are you thinking about this?
Well, I have been seeing more and older folks on bikes here in Arkansas of late and the state have suddenly become a mecca of sorts for bike trails and biking contests. The bike riding craze around Warren was one of fun and little and not much cost.
          The rent on the bikes, as best as I can recall was $1 for an hour. Some have said it was $1.50, but the 50 cent deposit was refunded when the bike came back.
The rental was cheap and lots and lots of tandem fun was had by all back then.
          One such infrequent rental bike rider was Lisa Davis Stringer of Mandeville, La., a wonderful friend, who is now a hospital pharmacist in south Louisiana. She recalled how she and her life-long friend and ever present side-kick, Lynn Leslie, (another WHS graduate who became a pharmacist) rode the twin-bikes on the red-brick streets of Warren.
          “All I remember is, that I was, as the most adventurous one, in the front and Lynn was behind me yelling for us to “slow down.”
“The rental couldn’t have been much (money wise) because a kids we never had any money.”
          That was very true.
          I do remember, living almost seven miles out of Highway 63 (back then it was state Highway 15 going North to Pine Bluff), seeing a pair of high school seniors (two guys and two girls) riding the bikes that far out, sort of on a dare. They rode all the way to the Old Streel Bridge, (long since gone) and back to Warren.
          My brother and I once, attempted the tandem rental.
We didn’t last the full hour.
Somehow, we kept tipping over; surely it was my inability to be as adept as my younger brother at bike riding. I probably soured our ride over my inability and lateness to learn to ride the two-wheel bike on my own.
We did, however, make it down to the train park, a couple of blocks away past the center of town and all the way back up by the YMCA.
          Most everyone I have corresponded with on these bikes remembers the time the rental program was in force.
When it stopped is anyone’s guess. I can surmise that not long into the early 1970s the Peeks move the garage and assorted businesses out on the busy Monticello Highway and the bike rental, I guess went away.
My first bike, from C.W. Hankins & Sons Hardware was less than $40 but still a great cash outlay for a birthday present.
A tandem bike, priced on-line these days starts about $300 and goes up fast.
A Schwinn Twinn Tandem 20-inch bike with a grey frame on one of the biggest of cyber-websites is $434.74, if in stock.
My personal bet is gathering up speed riding down their red-brick streets will still give you a thrill like few others – riding single or a tandem rental.
That bike ride is still a Pastime worth remembering.

1 comment:

  1. Maylon, you are right on all accounts, my Dad was committed to Warren after he got out of the service. He served the wonderful folks in Warren with hard work and determination....he was an entrepreneur, giving many a young person a chance at a job( and as they all say "If hard work would kill you, Thomas Peek would have been dead long ago")Hard work and customer satisfaction was his way of making a difference in our town.
    At his funeral it amazed me as so many folks said "your Dad gave me a chance at a job or I used to work for your Dad" As a veteran he knew the hardships of returning home and making a living for your family.
    Thank you for remembering and giving this vivid account from your memories, it gave me a big smile and laugh as I remembered how many folks gave it a try! Maybe if we had this for kids today, the exercise would be good for them and get out and know the town you live in by taking a friend and sharing a bike(oh those days of no cell phones, ipads and bluetooth)Sincerely, Randy Peek