Building a New Home for My Surly LHT

When we moved into our house in West Palm Beach in 1976, my wife said, “You’re not going to unpack all those boxes of books until we’re sure we’re staying here.”

After renting a storage unit for several months, I built a 10′ x 20′ shed in the back yard, mostly from leftover materials from my dad’s construction company.

Half of it was storage for the books, prints and other stuff I had accumulated, plus the growing fleet of bikes. 10′ x 6′ was a workshop and place to put tools and manly things. The remaining 4′ x 10′ space was for a sprinkling system water pump (so we could water our sand) and garden tools.

It’s 2009 and the books are still boxed

Instead of book worms enjoying my collection of books, we found that the shed had been infested by termites this summer. We paid to have the building tented to kill the bugs and we brought in Brother-in-Law John to fix the place up, make it bug and waterproof and to install an air conditioner to keep the temperature and humidity down.

Life, Look and Saturday Evening Posts

The renovation was relatively simply, particularly when you have someone like John doing the job. PREPARING for the renovation is another matter. Remember those boxes of books? Oh, I forgot to mention the Life magazines going back to the early 60s. I’ve got ’em all. The assassinations, the moon landing, The Beatles, all of it.

I gave most of the magazines to former coworker Jan Norris this summer. She may try to do something with them. I don’t care. At least I’m not going to be the one putting them in the dumpster.

THEN I found six more boxes. Niece Laurie of antique fame said she wants them. Do you have any idea what it costs to send something like that back to Missouri? Trust me, it’s pretty close to the stimulus package.

My yard looked like my shed had thrown up

Every time I’d move one box, I’d find something else. A box that I thought contained only bug-eaten paperback books was half-filled with old prints going back to my high school days and newspaper clippings from Ohio and North Carolina.

It’s amazing how many things I’ve seen, photographed, written about and I can’t remember a single detail about them today.

A newspaper photographer’s day is so fragmented that the same roll of film may contain a cute kid picture, a professional sporting event and a tragedy that has changed someone’s life forever. To the guy covering history on horseback, it’s just another day on the job.

A window that’s “affordable” and “hurricane resistant”

I’ve had plywood over the Plexiglas window I put in the original shed for at least seven hurricanes. My wife and Bro-in-Law John suggested replacing it with a hurricane proof one. They came home from a big box store with a frosted window (so folks can’t see all my tools) with a sticker attached that proclaimed it to be “affordable” and “hurricane resistant.”

I hope their definition of “hurricane resistant” is more accurate than their definition of “affordable.” Maybe it was affordable in the pre-Bernie Madoff days….

Space for the LHT, two Treks and a no-name

When it’s done – and I’m not sure I’ll ever live to see it finished – I’ll have more space for my Surly Long Haul Trucker and the three other family bikes.

My old prints and negatives will have proper storage and I’ll get started digitzing almost 50 years of photographs. (Closer to 100 years of photos if I count one taken by my grandparents.)

That’s my excuse for being behind in my blog

Give me another week and I’ll be out on the road, not wading in roach pellets.

EcoVelo: The Best Bike Porn on the Internet

Alan and Michael run EcoVelo, one of my favorite bike blogs. Alan shoots some of the best bike porn on the Internet.

I’ve been a photographer for most of my life, but on any given day EcoVelo runs a picture that causes me to wish my name was under it. He has made me looking at cycling in a different way.

EcoVelo promotes commuter cycling

From the About section:

This site is the public expression of our personal commitment to reduce our impact on the environment by employing bicycles as our primary mode of transport. By sharing what we learn from this endeavor, while also providing an aesthetically pleasing experience that celebrates the beauty of the bicycle and the joys of everyday bike riding, we hope to inspire others to make a similar commitment.

Positive reviews about bike accessories

The site is anything but boring.

There are great product reviews. Alan and I differ in our philosophies about negative reviews. He would rather think of his reviews as “recommendations” and will refrain from writing anything negative about a product. I argue that you have a responsibility to your readers to point out both the good and bad things. He’s been doing this longer and more successfully than I have and he had a lot of readers who defended is point of view, so there’s a good chance he’s right. I may have become too jaded from too many years of raking muck.

The copy is well-written, graphically interesting and generates lots of comments, which indicates that others follow the site as closely as I do.

He’s got some of the best links in the business for just about any bike or accessory you want to know about. After you’ve finished reading all EcoVelo’s content, work your way through his list of blog links. One of these days I hope we earn a spot on his list because it’s a collection of some of the best I’ve run into.

What about that photo contest?

Here’s the official annoucement from February 12:

In these winter doldrums I thought it would be fun to run a photo contest to brighten our moods a little. The rules are as follows:

  • All are welcome — amateurs and pros alike.
  • No more than four entries per person.
  • The work must be your own.
  • The photos must have some bike content.
  • Your entries don’t have to be current photos; pick your favorites from your collection.
  • If you can, please size your images to no more than 1200 pixels on the long side. If you can’t, send your full-size entries anyway.
  • Send your entries as e-mail attachments to and please include your name (first name only is fine if you prefer to remain anonymous).
  • All entries will be posted on EcoVelo!

The call for entries starts today and we’ll close it off on March 15. I’ll publish the photos on the blog as they come in, just like I’ve done for the EcoVelo Bike Gallery. Once the entry period is closed, we’ll pick a winner by jury and announce the winners here. I’m still working on the prizes, but there will be a few and they will be pretty cool but not extravagant — this is for fun!!

Competition is going to be tough

This is not going to be an easy contest to win. The early entries are impressive.

Sears Spyder, Schwinn StingRay and Velodromes

Before retirement, I used to be active on a telecom manager listserve. Telecom, as you might suspect is mostly Old Technology, inhabited by old farts. There are exceptions, like Jess G, the 20-something editor of Voice Report, who thinks I should be Twittering, but she doesn’t count. I have Power Bars in my bike bag older than she is.

The Sears Spyder was perfect for that demographic

At the risk of going seriously off-topic, which I’m known to do, I posted a link to the story about Bro Mark’s Sears Spyder to the group. (I slipped back on topic by pointing out that my mother still has the rotary dial telephone that we used to talk on when Mark was riding his bicycle. She had been paying a monthly charge on that phone from the late 50s until the 80s when I happened to look at her bill.)

A Schwinn Stingray, not a Sears Spyder

Within minutes, Don, a list member chimed in:

This is almost a newspaper story….

In 1963 I got my first paper route at the age of ten. 86 papers, twice a week, 1.5 cents per paper, wore the over-the-shoulder double bag (pull from front till empty, spin it around). I was gettin’ rich and used the money to buy a new bike.

Enter my shiny new single speed Schwinn StingRay – knobby rear tire (white sidewalls), sissy bar, padded banana seat, riser bars, chrome fenders, the works. Somewhere there are photos of me lovingly washing that blue and chrome steed, but can’t put my hands on them.

Thanks for drawing a memory from deep in the banks. Oh, and we’ve talked cycling before, thought you might like to see what my latest crazy passion is.

I currently hold the 55-59 age record for fastest lap at 9.636 seconds (once the good guys get to the track it will be shredded I’m sure). I’m also sporting some scrapes from a couple of spills so wondering just how foolish this is for an old man…

Hope retirement is serving you well, and glad to see you still posting. Ride on!

Velodrome has 45-degree banking!

I had seen some of the Tour de France stages end in a track finish, but I never had any idea about how steep the banks are.

There is just something wrong about wanting to ride your bicycle on a slant a mountain goat couldn’t negotiate.

Don’s a better man than me.

The Aussies weigh in

Two members of an Australian biking forum came up with suggestions.

hey Ken
I’m with you there, my brother tore up my Felix the Cat comic back in about 1958, still can’t let him off for that. At least the bike looks complete, which is always a good start, maybe you’ll have a change of heart after thinking about it for a while.

Haunt ebay and craigslist

Another Aussie had a better idea:

… bugger him, restore it for yourself or your kids. Collect more for parts, then restore them after finding more for parts, spend up big geting a stupidly rare one for your “partner”, dont worry if they protest they dont like riding it, it will look great in the shed under a white sheet next to the others, start buying some NOS stuff , start hording it just in case, spend hours on ebay searching for that special mild steel bolt you need to finish the complete NOS frame you found on craigs list (you know the bolt I mean, the one that has a squiggly line on it, not like the one at the local bolt shop for 10c without the squiggly line)…… etc etc etc……………….

Spyder claims a tooth

Bwana, a poster in another group didn’t have happy memories about his Spyder:

I lost a tooth riding a Sears Spyder in the mid-60s. The handlebar hadn’t been properly tightened in the stem, and I was pedaling out of the seat. Next thing I knew, I was doing a faceplant. After that I didn’t much care for the Spyder/Stingray look.

When I suggested that he at least learned a valuble lesson: make sure your bolts are tight, he replied:

Well, I was like 8 or 9 at the time, and I’m fairly sure my father didn’t have any tools other than a hammer and a screwdriver. But a few years later, with what I’d learned from my maternal grandfather and some tools he gave me, I did start doing my own wrenching. Still, tall handlebars like on the Spyder seem inherently unsafe, lots of leverage there to rotate them in the stem.

My Brother’s Abused Sears Spyder Bicycle

Kid Brother Mark sent me a crankygram all the way from frigid St. Louis yesteday complaining that I hadn’t updated the site in a couple of days. I didn’t really owe him an explanation, but I said that I had been busy with mandated projects around the house. One of those is cleaning out a storage shed behind the house. It was tented for termites this summer and Wife Lila’s brother John is coming in a week to repair the damage.

This fell out of a box

While shuffling boxes around that hadn’t been touched in 20+ years, this clipping fell out. It looked like Bro Mark’s Sears Spyder bicycle that shows up as a header on this site from time to time.

Yep, big tire in back, tiger-skin banana seat, sissy bar, high-rise bars, that’s it all right.

Don’t you agree?

No doubt about it, THAT’S the bike.

Just to be sure, I pulled it out of the shed where it had been collecting dust since last summer.

What was it doing there?

That’s a long story. It seems like Bro Mark must have gotten tired of his faithful steed at some point and it was consigned to an outside lumber shed at Dad’s construction company’s complex at Dutchtown, MO.

You may have heard of Dutchtown on the national news. It has a minuscule population, but it tends to have a 100-year Mississippi River flood about every 10 years.

Here’s Mark – who was a whole lot cuter when he was riding his Sears Spyder – in a canoe surveying the four feet of flood water in the mechanic’s shed during the Flood of ’93.

He has that look because I had just pointed out that water moccasins were probably perched all around looking for high ground.

I rescued it

A couple of summers ago, I rescued it and hauled it up to St. Louis on one of our visits. I thought he’d like to make a wall hanging out of it. (He collects old and worthless things. Perhaps that’s why he always makes me feel welcome.)

That’s when I started feeling guilty

A really considerate brother would have restored it to its original beauty before delivering it. I mean, let’s overlook the fact that he trashed all my 50’s comic books, broke all my toys and tried to kill me on a bike ride a few years back.

I had Matt bring it to West Palm Beach

Kid Matt was back in the Midwest, so I had him swing by and pick up the Spyder and bring it here for restoration. He threw it on his bike rack and hauled it 1,100 miles. Unfortunately, the tiger-skin material on the saddle didn’t like being buffeted by hurricane-force winds and deteriorated a bit more on the trip home.

What the heck is this thing?

At first, I thought it might have been a Schwinn Stingray.

Then I actually looked at the bike. It had a Sears logo on the head tube.

Patience isn’t my strong suit, Wife Lila likes to point out, so I immediately started Googling Sears vintage bicycles. A gazillion hits popped up, but none that looked exactly like Mark’s bike. It SOUNDED like a Spyder, but most of them had top tube-mounted shifters that were short-lived because they made too many riders change gender. I was confused.

When in doubt, LOOK

Right there, just barely sticking out above the rust enough paint survived to spell out Spyder name on the chainguard.

Apparently they made a single speed model in addition to the three and five-speed ones that were more common. Santa Claus probably figured that a one-speed was all he could handle.

Mississippi River mud ain’t lube

Somewhere along the line, one pedal came up missing, the tires are rotted (but look like they might have been the originals) and the front crank has many coatings of Mississippi River mud.

The seat tube has a pretty severe bend, but the metal’s not broken. Either Mark was chubbier than he looks in the black & white picture or someone heavy rode it at some point.

Fenders have a nice flare

Despite all the rust, the fenders still have a nice flare to them. This is NOT a light bike. Even though it’s a lot smaller, it feels about as heavy as my base Surly Long Haul Trucker. It’s definitely heavier than Mark’s Trek Madone.

So, what do we do with this thing?

My first stop was to see Wayne at Bicycle. He likes working on old bikes and making something out of nothing. I figured he’d say something like, “I’ve got just the thing that’ll make that look new. It’s gonna be fun.”

Actually, what he did was let out something like a low whistle and started talking about sandblasting it down to bare metal and taking it to a place where they would do powdercoating and how much of a challenge it was going to be to come up with the tiger-skin fabric.

When he reached for the calculator I knew I was in trouble.

There were too many commas and zeroes in the numbers I saw him punching in. Before it overheated and set the shop on fire, I turned and slowly (which is the only way it goes with those dry-rotted tires) pushed the bike back to my van.

In reflection (bad pun of the day)

You hit the point where the lottery numbers continue to elude you and your 401K is more like a 199.5K, so you have to make some hard choices. Yep, you love your Bro Mark. But not THAT much.

Now, if you hadn’t torn up all those vintage comics books, THEN I might have been able to restore your bike for you.

Too bad. That’ll teach ya.

Snow in Florida, Ice in the Birdbath

When I went out to call the cat this morning (stupid cat starting meowing to be let out at 5:30 A.M), I was suprised to see ice on the birdbath. I haven’t seen that in several years. It didn’t look like any of the foliage around it was burned, so maybe not much damage was done.

The Kid’s garden looks like it survived

Kid Matt planted a backyard garden last week and is showcasing it on his website, complete with live TomatoCam.

Brings to mind January 19, 1977

I was director of photography for The Palm Beach Post and The Evening Times back in those days. We knew it was going to be cold, but not that it was going to drop to an all-time record of 24F. It was a night to bring in the brass monkey.

Shortly after daybreak, my phone rang, never a good thing. It was George Hathaway, the overly-excitable city editor for the afternoon paper, The Evening Times.

“It’s snowing!!!” he was screaming into the phone

“George, this is Florida. It doesn’t snow in Florida. It’s just the Florida Power & Light power plant clearing its throat and blasting some ash into the air,” I explained rationally.

“It’s SNOWING!!!!” he repeated, louder this time.

I live 1.9 miles from the office, but I’m pretty sure that this time I didn’t need the telephone to hear him. I looked out the window.

“It’s SNOWING!!!!!” I hollered to Trying-to-Sleep Wife Lila.

The next 10 minutes were spent on the phone and radio dragging the photo staff out of warm beds. “No, it’s NOT the bleeping FP&L plant, it’s bleeping SNOWING!” I kept repeating.

Lab tech Hilary got the only snow picture

Much to the chagrin of my high-powered photo staff, Hilary Johnston (now Carmichael), the chief lab tech, was the only one who managed to get a picture of the actual snow before it melted. As I recall, she snapped a quick shot of a few pellets of snow on her car windshield before they disappeared.

The event was immortalized on a popular coffee mug that was sold to the public.

Amusing to us, disastrous to the farmers

While we coastal city dwellers were having fun laughing at a local K-Mart that had received a shipment of snow shovels and sleds by mistake and put them in front of the store, farmers in The Glades were facing a disaster.

At some point, they had to give up attempts to keep their crops above the freezing point with smudge pots, flooding and helicopters. When the sun came up miles and miles of produce like these peppers were burned beyond saving.