american journeys   


To The Golden Gate
George Nellis' 1887 Wheel Across The Continent

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 Day 26, June 18
 Iowa City, Iowa to Marengo, Iowa. 36 miles, 6 hours
Despite an early start we did not secure breakfast till 8 o’clock at Tiffin and push on over some horrible hills and sandy roads to Homestead, a genuine old fashioned Dutch settlement in time for dinner. Here all is on the real old fashioned German scale. Large brick houses with sand on the floor, and wooden shoes, which ground and crushed the dirt in a nerve racking manner. Two hours sufficed to fill us so full of Germantown, we could hardly pedal to Amana in one hour. We did and pushed into Marengo one hour later, about done up. It was one of those hot spells, which usually precede a thunder storm. Hardly had we housed our cycle when the storm burst in a great fluster of wind, dust, hail and rain and kept up its onslaught for two hours.

 
Day 27, June 19
 Marengo, Iowa to Grinnell, Iowa. 38 miles, 5 hours
Sunday we donned our best garb, which we carefully wear during the week also, attend church, hear a devout old preacher expatiate upon the wisdom of “Casting thy bread upon the waters.” Mounting our wheel at 1 p.m., ride out in company with one of our craft in the direction of Brooklyn and push on to Grinnell. Of all bicycle centres yet encountered, Grinnell takes the cake. A place of some 3,000, it has seventy-five riders of the silent steed and we unanimously dedicate it as the “Great American Cycling Centre.” Riders of all ages and of all machines are here met – enthusiastic and alive to the issues of this delightful pastime, and ever ready to stretch for the hearty hand of welcome and good cheer. “Long live the Grinnell Bicycle Boys” is the burden of our song as we leave their cozy club rooms.

 
 Day 28, June 20
Grinnell, Iowa to Newton, Iowa. 24 miles, 5 hours
Monday dawned dark and dismal, and it was eight o’clock before we struck out. After running and walking, at intervals, for seven miles, a grand thunder shower comes up and relegates us to an old forsaken and dilapidated shanty that once did service as a house. Along came a belated farmer to share our portly hovel. Our compulsory companion was inclined to be talkative, and we were inclined the other way, so there was no love lost between us. The rain took pity on us and passed away in time for a walk to Kellogg. A good bath and dinner set us to rights – me and my bi and at 3:30 we launched out for Newton. Here another shower set in and we put up for the night.

 
 Day 29, June 21
Newton, Iowa to DesMoines, Iowa. 36 miles, 6 hours
The march was resumed and the hills were also resumed. Twelve miles thro’ mountain and dale brought us to Colfax, a summer resort of on little prominence, and we take dinner at the Grand Hotel, now filled with watering people. At 7:30 we wheel into Des Moines, the capital city of Iowa, and register at the Aborn [Hotel]. Meeting several cyclists, we took a run around the city and its beautiful parks, saw the Capitol, and got posted on our journey. Iowa lays claim to the third finest Capitol building in the country [completed in 1884] and it is certainly a fine structure. Some extra fine people were encountered at Des Moines, and we treasure many pleasant recollections of Hawkeye’s Capital.

 
 Day 30, June 22
 Des Moines, Iowa to Menlo, Iowa. 60 miles, 10 hours
A run of 17 miles landed us in Waukee with a tremendous gale blowing us back all the way. A short distance from the city we met Mr. William Buck and his estimable wife, former residents of Fairfield, Herkimer county. Mr. Buck removed to Iowa about 25 years ago, and now owns one of the finest and best farms in the State. Herkimer grangers ought to come out here and get a few points on tillage. Everything is done by mechanical process. Iowa is the great corn producing State, and immense fields line the roadway on either hand, while wheat, oats, rye, barley, and timothy grass thrive equally well. We proceed to Adel to dinner and thence to Dale City and Glendon. Supper over at 6:15 we set out for Casey and until 7:00 o’clock rush over miniature mountains in a direct southwest bee line, when suddenly the road comes to a full stop. To the right, the left, and on all sides appears the same barren waste – no path. No fences have guided us for miles, nearly all this way the road is simply two beaten wagon tracks. Just as Old Sol is making great shadows creep along the crest of each adjacent hill, and evening is waning into twilight, we espy away to the left a telephone line. That settled it, and quicker’n Jack Robinson we pointed for those ‘phone poles knowing they went somewhere. They proved to be on a wagon road running south and that we took, coming out, in thirty minutes in sight of a small town. It proved to be Menlo. We do not begrudge the five miles for the excitement of our chase was worth more than that. Ah, ‘tis sweet and soothing to the cycler to get into exciting predicaments. If you ride a bike, you will recognize at once the immense sport we had in being actually lost on the prairie.

 
 Day 31, June 23
 Menlo, Iowa to Avoca, Iowa. 65 miles, 10 ½ hours
Leaving Menlo early next morning we ate breakfast at Casey and thence encountered the most terrific hills imaginable. We push into Anita, at twelve, tired and hungry as a starving bear. We wheel into Atlantic, the best country town by all odds we have seen in Iowa. Here we meet several cycling men – all bankers and secured some points ahead. It is a remarkable coincidence how many bankers out here ride bicycles. You can find one or two in about every institution and it sort of runs in the family. Under the advice of Messrs. Tarshay, Whitney, and Midles of the local bicycle club, we push on via Marne and take supper. The gentlemanly proprietor of the Marne house will accept no remuneration for the privilege. From Marne to Walnut we have fair sailing, and still better to Avoca, where we pull up for the night at 8:30.

 
 Day 32, June 24
 Avoca, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska. 38 miles, 5 hours
Waking up with the sun making great columns of fire on my chamber walls, I found it 5:45 and by the time I got down in the office six o’clock. I decamp and take a run of ten miles to Minden for breakfast. I push on to Neola and thence to Weston. Riding has thus far been fairly passable, but I’m now promised a good twelve-mile run to Council Bluffs. I am whisked over the river and into Omaha in short order, and at 1:30 am taking dinner and digesting a half bushel of mail at the Metropolitan Hotel. One hour later I am shaking hands with such wheelmen as Prince, Peabody and a host of others of more or less cycling celebrity. All is expectation and excitement over the coming races and tournament on the morrow. The afternoon was spent in seeing the city, and in the evening a big illuminated bicycle parade was inaugurated. Chinese lanterns were fastened to our handle bars and pedals, and these bobbing up and down in a line of 100 wheelmen, made a merry, grotesque, and attractive appearance. All over the city’s fine asphalt paved streets we wheeled to the lively music of a brass band, and formed the center of attraction for thousands of people lining the streets. This over, the visiting wheelmen to the city, myself included are handsomely entertained by these Omaha hosts, until a later hour.

 
 Day 33, June 25
 Omaha, Nebraska
Saturday was all that could be desired as a racing day, and with good track, etc., some fine sport was looked for. First we saw Sailor of Minneapolis take a gigantic tumble in the 3:30 class that settled his racing for the day. Stockdale walked off with this race in good shape. Peabody captured the three minute gait. Smith got away with the 3:15 event. The chief enthusiasm centered in the one mile professional handicap, with Price, Whittaker and two other starters. “Whit,” as he is fraternally known, had twenty yards start, and took the first heat. Refusing to avail himself of the handicap on the second heat, he also won. “Whit” is a dandy from way back and a rough ‘un to tackle when in his black silk tights.

The Omaha Bicycle Club treated their guests right royally at their spacious club rooms on Saturday evening, and several pleasant hours were spent around the festive cycle camp. [Because of his journalistic background Nellis must have been pleased to learn that Omaha had three daily papers, two weeklies, one tri-weekly, and one monthly]

 
Day 34, June 26
Omaha, Nebraska to Fremont, Nebraska. 37 miles, 5 hour
Sunday Whittaker again came to the front and carried off the laurels in the ten-mile championship race, thereby precipitating a challenge for a $200 match from Prince, his plucky adversary.

At eleven a.m. we wheel out of Omaha under the guidance of about a dozen knights of the crank and take an easy run of five hours to Fremont. Fremont is a fine little town of over 4,000 souls and wholly given up to business. But it contained an attraction of far more interest to us – the shape of an old Herkimer boy [Irv McKennan] we had not seen for five years. We were soon exchanging reminiscences of by gone days when Irv was trying to beat the stock holders of the Herkimer bank out of their jobs and I was loafing in Howe & Ackley’s store just next door, where the New York Store now stands.

 

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