Last Ride of the Red Flyer

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    It was red, with stripes and a meteor streaking down the center on both sides. My Murray Red Flyer presented my first taste of freedom as a fourth grader at David A. Weir Elementary School in Fairfield, California.

    The Red Flyer – h/t Randy Tucker

    It came with headlights powered by three D batteries. I “tricked” it out with a front, spring-loaded luggage carrier and for a few years a speedometer.


    I put several decks of cards through the rear spokes with a clothespin to produce noise that my buddies and I thought sounded cool.

    It’s come to the end of the line as of today.

    As I pulled it out of the front shed for one more push to the recycling trailer, my youth flashed in front of my eyes. It brought First Corinthians Chapter 13, verse 11 to mind.

    “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”


    It took me a while to give up this “childish” thing.

    I took it on a final ride a long time ago, sometime in 1972. It made the trip to Wyoming from California in 1971, but there wasn’t much need for a bicycle on the hard-packed, rutted dirt and gravel roads on the farm. I rode it to the mailbox that first year in Wyoming, but when I turned 16 in November of 72’ and passed my driver’s test. I never rode it again.

    That didn’t mean I didn’t love that old bike, I still do.


    It reminded me of my second favorite Rocky movie. The original remains the best, but in Balboa, an aging Rocky makes this succinct observation, it’s not biblical, but it is nonetheless true, “You know, the older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that’s life.”

    You accumulate things for most of your life, then it dawns on you that it’s just stuff. We don’t want our kids and grandkids to have to deal with it.

    Downsizing will be a difficult challenge. Sue is an elementary teacher, and by nature, keeps every bulletin board, reading lesson, chart, manipulative, and musical instrument she used in a three-decades-long career. Add to that file cabinets packed with music from a life as a music teacher and church organist, and a substantial amount of dishes, pans, plates, and kitchenware inherited from her mother, and her hoard is sizeable.


    It pales in comparison to mine.

    Yes, I was a teacher and coach, but I was also an IT Director, a farmer, a contractor, and a farmer/rancher. My stuff fills a shop, two sheds, a big section of the garage, and the office where I write.

    We have a couple of open days this week, so trips to the dump, recycling runs, and gathering usable items for a garage sale next month are on the agenda.

    That’s where the Red Flyer came in.

    That bike was a Ferrari, a jet fighter, a ticket to independence, and an integral component of my first entrepreneurial effort.

    My mom and dad gave it to me on my eighth birthday when we lived in Blytheville, Arkansas. We lived on a busy highway that connected Blytheville Air Force Base to town, so I wasn’t allowed to ride on the blacktop. There was a narrow lane separating our house from Mr. and Mrs. Wheat’s place next door. That’s where I conquered the balance of a two-wheeler.

    Accidents were frequent, but only one was spectacular. I loved Westerns as a kid, and I still do. One day I tried to mimic my heroes on Rawhide, Rowdy Yates, and Gil Favor. I tied a rope “hard and fast” to the handlebars and roped a fence post as I rode by. It was a clear and present experience in how an ejection seat must work.

    Skinned, and bruised, but unbroken, I got back on and rode up and down that quarter-mile lane until Mom called me for dinner.

    We moved to Fairfield. Dad bought a place in town outside Travis Air Force Base, and it was wonderful. Quiet residential streets, long slopes to get good speed, and an abundance of scrap boards and plywood for building ramps.

    In fifth grade, I bought a speedometer that worked with a cable and counter on the front tire. I pegged it out at 35 miles per hour many times on that long slope. By the time it broke at the end of seventh grade, I had 2,300 miles on the bike.

    It was in sixth grade that the bike became a tool. You had to be 12 years old to mow lawns at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, and I eagerly awaited the day.

    In Northern California, it rains all winter, and the grass continues to grow. They have the same short days of sunlight that we do in winter, so the grass doesn’t grow that high, but come March, it explodes.

    I was ready to make a little cash. I used my dad’s push lawnmower and picked up clients quickly. By the following season, when I was in seventh grade, I had 35 to 45 lawns to do each week at $1.50 to $2.00 per lawn.

    I tied the mower and a rake to the back of my bike with just the rear wheels touching the ground and made my rounds. Each afternoon, or all day on the weekends, I set out for the convenience store at the top of the hill.

    For a quarter I filled a metal, one-gallon gas can that fit in the front luggage rack, bought a seven-cent Shasta Orange, and headed out. Yes, gas was 18 cents a gallon on base.

    I made almost $1,100 those three summers, roughly $9500 today.

    If I had a flat tire, I repaired it with a Monkey Grip patch. If I bent a spoke jumping too high, I replaced it and tightened it back to specs. If I bent the rim on a jump that was too high, which I did a couple of times, I bought a new tire at the PX and repaired it.

    Those are lifelong skills you can’t learn from a touchpad or a joystick.

    When we came to Wyoming, there wasn’t much demand for mowing lawns on the nearby farms.

    I switched from yardman to farmhand, milking cows, irrigating, stacking hay, and operating equipment.

    Sports, cars, and girls beckoned and my bike just gathered rust. I kept her all these years out of pure sentiment, but the time has come.

    As Don Henley so eloquently sang, in his hit, The End of the Innocence, “Remember when the days were long and rolled beneath a deep blue sky.  Didn’t have a care in the world

    With mommy and daddy standin’ by, but “happily ever after” fails and we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales …”

    The Red Flyer – “Into the sunset” h/t Randy Tucker

    Thanks for the memories. 


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