Kids in Ames felt free to go anywhere a bicycle could take them. Most kids had bikes. I was lucky enough to have an early English model with a gear shift (three gears), but the usual was a big Schwinn with a heavy frame and fat balloon tires. These had a big tank like a motorcycle gas tank in the frame, and these tanks were fitted with a buzzer and a big button. That was usually the first thing to rust out. Some Schwinns had big chrome headlights, and they rusted too. If you were fancy, you had plastic streamers flowing from the handlegrips. I think some kids even jammed squirrel tails in their handlegrips. The Schwinns had one gear only, and you braked them by reversing the pedals. They were big, fat and crude, something like the cars Detroit was making at the time. The more desirable "English bikes" with the gear shifts were a lot lighter and easier to pedal. The nice thing about a Schwinn was that you could ram them full speed into a curb and just bounce over it. That would have destroyed the wheel of an English bike.
When I was a kid, people still had clotheslines in the backyard, although many families had driers and were beginning to use them in preference to clothes lines. Kids would attach playing cards to the frame of their bikes with spring type clothespins. You’d stick about two to six playing cards to the frame so they would flap against the spokes of your bike wheel as you pedaled. The bike would really roar if it had a few cards on it like that.
Kids on bikes could go just about anywhere they wanted to go. I think we considered the Izaak Walton League Lake within range of our bikes. Boys and girls alike just pedaled all over town. If you owned a bike, you really didn’t need a car to get just about anywhere.
Steve Grooms is a freelance writer residing in St. Paul, Minnesota. His influential The Return of the Wolf is now in its third edition. Steve grew up in Ames, living at 1006 Carroll, 822 Douglas and 702 Brookridge. George Grooms, his father, designed stuffed toy animals and school mascot emblems for Collegiate Manufacturing Company.