July 4, 1976, was the culmination of 2 years of intense planning on the part
of many members of the Wheelmen. As we rode in formation to the front
facade of the Henry Ford Museum, a cheering crowd of thousands watched the
spectacle. It was the realization of a dream for most of those assembled,
for this was the send off to the long awaited 13 day cross country trek to Philadelphia.
Upon receiving official greetings from Governor
Milliken of Michigan which were to be presented to Mayor Rizzo of
Philadelphia, the formation of some 75 bicycles rolled by the reviewing
stand and out onto the streets of Dearborn. The 25 miles from
Greenfield Village to Waltz was ridden under police escort, so within 2 hours we
were at the Louis Niemann residence enjoying a little rest and preparing for the
next two weeks. Everyone's primary interest was to see that his or her bike
was in top condition for the long trip ahead. After a potluck dinner there
was a meeting in which the activities of the next two weeks were outlined.
About 9 P.M. all departed to their quarters in preparation for the first
About 6 A.M. the first of the bicycles rolled
out of Waltz on the way to Oak Harbor, Ohio. The riders took a route
through country roads on their way to Toledo. We were treated to lunch,
courtesy of McDonald's Restaurant. At 12:30, under police escort, we
rolled out over the streets of Toledo and out onto the Southern shore of
Lake Erie. It grew very hot that afternoon, and the sag wagon got a
real workout. About 4 o'clock that afternoon, the first of the riders
rolled into Oak Harbor. We were greeted by a welcoming committee, but
most were too tired to care. A distance of 72 miles had been covered
that day. To make matters worse, we were informed that we had a short
ride to our campsite. That short ride turned out to be a distance of 4
miles out of our way. Well, after a good shower at the local school,
everyone was in much better spirits for the evening show.
The next two days of riding would be the most
level we would enjoy for the duration of the trip. Our next two stops
would be Wakeman and Streetsboro respectively. The weather stayed fair as we
passed on roads south of Cleveland. As we neared Streetsboro on the
7th of July, we began to encounter our first hills. These proved to be
quite a challenge to those who were used to the level Michigan and Ohio
Unfortunately, this was only a foreshadowing of
things to come. As we rode out of Streetsboro on July 8th, the hills
became more defined and we began the task of walking up many of them.
At 11:00 A.M., the first riders crossed the Pennsylvania state line.
It was the wish of the town council of Sharon to provide us with an escort.
It was a long, slow trek into Sharon, about 8 miles covered in 2 hours.
The riders then proceeded to the campgrounds at one of the local churches.
After the evening show, we were treated to a banquet put on by the town
bicentennial committee. It was a very enjoyable welcome to the state
By this time many people were becoming
mysteriously ill at a rate of about 2 or 3 a day. It was a heavy bout
of the 24 hour flu as we would soon discover and in the next week almost
everyone would fall victim to it. That morning as we rode out of
Sharon in a heavy fog, some 3 or 4 riders had fallen sick.
By mid day the fog had passed and the riders
began their descent into the Allegheny River Valley. Just outside of
Emlenton we experienced the steepest hill of the entire trip. It was a
terrific drop of some 500 feet to the river below, all within 1 mile.
Descending such a steep grade even on foot was a real trick. One
heroic rider did choose a swift descent down the hill and witnesses report
he nearly died in the process. At the bottom of the hill ran the
Allegheny River and 500 feet up on the opposite side of the gorge was our
campsite. It made for a very beautiful setting with this town
scattered up and down the deep gorge cut by the Allegheny. By far,
this was the most beautiful town we would encounter.
The next two days we saw our hills turn
into the steep slopes of the Allegheny Mountains. The ride from Lock
Haven to Milton, a distance of about 45 miles, was over four lane roads.
No one had much of a problem with the ride to Milton since by now most of
the major hills had begun to subside and the short choppy hills turned into
long, gradual ones. There was one serious injury that did occur that
day, however. Dr. Jim Thompson of the California Wheelmen suffered a
major fall that resulted in two broken arms. Doc spent two days
recuperating in the hospital, but happily he did rejoin the group at Brickerville two days later.
The ride to Millersburg on July 14th would
be one of the most enjoyable encountered. The scenery was beautiful
that day and the roads were good. To get to Millersburg, it was
necessary to cross the Susquehanna River. There is however, no bridge
crossing the Susquehanna at Millersburg. It was therefore our fortune
to be taken as passengers aboard the Millersburg ferry. This was an
experience that I am sure no one will forget. There was a note of
pessimism in the voices of those boarding the ferry. Nevertheless, the
old boat made it safely to shore and we departed onto the eastern bank of
the Susquehanna. The Millersburg City Park was designated as our
campsite. There was even a dance held at the adjacent city pool and
the music serenaded us until 11 P.M. That night was also one of the
highlights of the trip. Harold and June Swihart of Bourbon, Indiana,
newlyweds of just about one month, were treated to an old fashioned chiverie.
Most did not get to bed until late that night, and all those sleeping in
tents got wet. About 11:30 P.M. the rain started and continued all
The morning dawned cold and damp.
Soon the sun did come out and warmed things up a bit. As we pedaled on
almost a southerly course, we began to see signs that we were entering the
Amish country. Horse and buggies became a common sight as well as
Amish families hard at work at their farm chores. Late in
the morning we bypassed Harrisburg and began angling east toward the town of
Hershey. At Hershey we enjoyed a lunch break.
Many took the time to visit Hershey's Chocolate World.
From Hershey it was a 30 mile ride to the Brickerville Youth Hostel.
The big topic of conversation that evening was the next day's ride. It
would be our last long hall, for tomorrow we would ride into Valley Forge.
That last push to Valley Forge went by
quickly, and about 1 P.M. the riders began pulling into Cabrini College.
That day was heart breaking for one man. Twenty five miles outside of
Valley Forge, Michigan Wheelmen Richard Porath took a serious header that
resulted in a broken arm. Nevertheless, Richard remounted the bike and
rode some 12 miles before being virtually pulled off the bike by Wheelmen
who were concerned for his welfare.
As the majority of the riders pulled into
Cabrini, a light rain set in. No one cared though, since everyone knew
that for all practical purposes the ordeal was over. Soon those
Wheelmen who had not been along for the tour began to arrive. There
was much reminiscing and talk of the past two weeks as those new arrivals
queried the cross country riders. That evening about 30 people enjoyed
a bus ride into Philadelphia for a sound and light show given at
Independence Hall. Others enjoyed a slide show given back at the
college by Bob McNair.
Early the next morning saw the riders up and
ready to go for the final assault on Philly. Wild jubilation broke out
among the cross country riders. It was finished. They had
conquered the eastern half of the continent! When the final tally was
taken, it was discovered that the tour riders between them logged 17,365
miles and each had ridden an average of 668 miles of a 700 mile course.
The youngest rider to complete the ride was Michigan Wheelmen Mark Niemann,
age 16. The oldest rider was Dr. Thompson who was 68. Doc,
before breaking his arms rode 460 miles. Along the route 8 riders took
serious falls, 6 people were taken to the hospital (4 for X-rays), 2 people
suffered broken arms and 2 received minor fractures. Repairs to
bicycles were numerous. Tiring had to be replaced or rewired 25
different times. There were over 60 broken spokes, 6 broken pedals,
and 5 serious breaks that had to be welded or replaced completely as well as
10 loose cranks that had to be repaired.
We returned to Cabrini late that afternoon. That
evening a banquet was held. The major part of the banquet was devoted
to the presentation of awards to those completing the entire tour. A
ribbon was presented to each rider to be worn as part of their uniform and a
bar was added to the individual's name tag identifying his or her feat.
After the banquet, a swimming party was held at nearby Eastern College.
A barbershop quartet entertained and a gay 90's swim suit competition was
Breakfast Sunday morning at Cabrini was the scene
of the Wheelmen Annual Business meeting. The high point of the meeting
was the election of the new Wheelmen officers. After breakfast, all
riders departed to Fairmount Park in Philadelphia for the final 4 mile ride
to Independence Hall. A group picture was taken at Memorial Hall, the
only building still surviving from the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial.
The 4 mile tour, held in conjunction with the Antique Carriage Club, was
attended by over 100 cyclists. This was the largest high wheel tour
ever to be assembled in modern times. The ride to Independence Hall
was a proud moment for all. We assembled in front of the building
before a fairly large crowd. Here, greetings were received by a
representative of Mayor Rizzo from Governor Milliken of Michigan and
Governor Walker of Illinois. A gift was then presented from the city
of Philadelphia to be presented personally to Governor Milliken. After
a brief Wheelmen demonstration, the group returned to Fairmount Park.
The great Philadelphia tour was over. It was indeed a fitting end to
an epic journey that will probably not again be repeated.
By Michigan Wheelmen John Niemann
Reprinted from The Wheelmen Newsletter
Vol. VI No. 3, September 1976