american journeys   


Charles Theron Gray - 1887

By Charles Meinert
Web Site Bicycle History Consultant
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Until recently little information was available on Gray. It is now known, however, that he was born in the farm hamlet of East Springfield, New York, located about 50 miles west of Albany on the Western Turnpike. Members of the Gray family were prosperous farmers who had been in the Cooperstown region since shortly after the Revolution. In 1858 a Daniel Gray married Dorothy Springer and they became the parents of three sons: Martin born in 1861, Charles Theron (later called Theron or C. T. Gray) born in 1863, and George born in 1870. It is not known if Martin was a cyclist, but Theron was riding a Columbia by the mid 1880s and George had a 52" Victor by the end of that decade. Theron may have been a member of the Pioneer Bicycle Club in Cooperstown that was 10 miles south or he may have gravitated to the wheelmen circle found in Herkimer that was 20 miles north. He probably knew riders in both communities.

He left East Springfield in late May 1887 and went to New York City where his transcontinental ride began on June 1. He proceeded to Boston, perhaps in recognition that Stevens had ended his ride in that city. He then left for Chicago and he must have made considerable use of the train for he arrived in Porkopolis on June 8th.

A postcard mailed home to his grandmother Springer on that date read, "Hello E.S, I'm all right. Do not hear from you, hope you are all well and taking your rations…It looks pleasant this morn, quite warm. Was riding some yesterday in the parks. Cyclometer showed 40 miles. NN (Hadley) and I are going out for a trip today, going to run out of the city. Nellis hasn't arrived yet. (?) have probably held him back. Wishing you all good health and luck. I am yours, Theron." This was an interesting message for it indicates that Theron had met Mr. Hadley when he had ridden through the Mohawk Valley on a trip from Vermont to Chicago. It also suggests that Gray had probably hurried to Chicago to meet George Nellis so that they could discuss the possibility of riding together. It isn't clear why this matter wasn't worked out well in advance or why Gray didn't leave Herkimer with Nellis on May 24th.

The two men did meet in Chicago on June 11th and they rode out of the City together on June 13th. They soon separated, however, for Nellis wanted to travel at a fast pace to establish a record time and Gray was interested in a more leisurely sightseeing trip. Gray followed the normal route through Iowa and into Nebraska where he began to bear southwest toward Kansas. He mailed another postcard, dated June 29, from South Bend, Nebraska, which said, "Arrived here at 6. Started from Omaha at 9 - only 35 miles today. Bound for Lincoln, Red Cloud, Hoxie, or Kenneth, Kansas. Crossed the Platte river bridge ¼ mile long. Feel better out of city, roads not very good today. Write me at Hoxie, Sheridan County, Kansas. Am feeling good, eat much. Theron." It is nice to imagine that young Willa Cather may have looked out of the window of her Red Cloud home and watched Theron ride past.

Gray passed through a corner of Kansas and entered Colorado so that he could visit Pike's Peak, Denver, and Hot Springs. He then traveled northwest to reach the Union Pacific line in Wyoming Territory. A card was mailed home from Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory that indicated he was well and thinking of home, "would like to be there now to go to Cromhorn with you." (The Crumhorn Mountain House was a small resort in the hills of Otsego County)

He followed the tradition of previous wheelmen by making a detour from the railroad at Ogden to visit Salt Lake City where he spent a few days investigating the Mormons. Gray and other wheelmen disliked crossing Nevada. According to the San Francisco Evening Bulletin of October 14, 1887, he, "found the worst roads met with on the trip, the sand in many places being so deep that for miles at a time he was obliged to dismount and push the bicycle before him." His September 20 postcard from Lovelocks, Nevada said, "Here I am, been working half an hour to get cleaned up. Managed to get some of the dust off. Tis very dusty traveling on these roads. No rain since spring."

Gray followed the Central Pacific route through the Sierras and had an uneventful trip through California to arrive in San Francisco. The newspaper article cited above stated, "On October 11th he arrived in this city, and after resting for a day or two, made a trip to the Big Trees, proceeded by boat and rail to Milton, and there taking to his bicycle. On his return he rode as far as Stockton, and then took the boat back to the city." He then went south to Glendora, west of Los Angles near the San Gabriel Valley, to visit a friend or relative named Frank. The two young men rode bicycles and visited the local fruit groves.

Gray soon departed, however, on the Southern Pacific Railroad for New Orleans. His last surviving postcard was mailed from a train stop at Winslow, Arizona. "Dear Friends, 23 minutes for supper. Rode all day. This fore noon thru canyons, rocks, timber. At about 2 PM emerged out again in the desert plain. Has been cloudy most all day. Have lots of time for meditation. Get birds eye of country as go skipping along. Am over thousand miles from San Francisco. Expect to be in Orleans Friday and maybe Thursday. Yours with love, Theron."

Gray was back in East Springfield by the end of October 1887. He married the next year and owned a fine farm. A daughter Mabel was born in 1890 and a son Harold arrived in 1893. An old damaged photograph from 1891 shows Gray resting against a tree in front of his handsome home holding Mabel. His wife Ella is standing nearby and appears to be holding a pie. Leaning against a wall in the corner of the photo is another object of pride, his high wheel bicycle. Gray died in 1931.

There is no known record of the ride other than what is recorded in seven postcards and three short newspaper articles.

Photo:  Theron Gray in Des Moines, Iowa, 1887.   Source:  Collection of Leslie Gray.
 

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