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Old bikes stir memories

June 04, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - During the Great Depression, Rex Rinker's parents struggled to buy him a new bicycle. It was about 1934, when Rinker was 14 years old.

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"I idolized it," Rinker recalled Sunday, standing next to rows of 30-, 40- and 50-year-old collectible bikes on display at the Martinsburg Mall. "I kept it in real good shape. I kept it in the hall of the house, so it wouldn't get any rain on it."

Rinker only had his Elgin for about three years before his family sold it. He was drafted into the United States Army and served in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. He came home to learn woodworking and opened his own business.

Through it all, Rinker never forgot his cherished bike.

About nine years ago, he and a friend went to the Beaver Creek Antique Market in Hagerstown. There sat an Elgin.

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"I just fell right in love," said Rinker, now 79.

He didn't have the money to buy it then, but came back another time to find the price had gone down. He bought it for $175, he said.

It's not the exact bike - it's been identified as a 1942 model - but it's close. It has the same cruiser frame and balloon whitewall tires Rinker remembers.

Rinker said he and his friend, Myra Gail Carpenter, who had a 1963 pink and white Schwinn Fiesta, would go out riding together until she moved away last summer.

The heavy metal fenders and the thick rubber tires of the bikes on display this weekend trigged other nostalgic memories.

Strolling through the mall with his two children, Charles Peavler of Martinsburg said a red 1977 Schwinn Stingray reminded him of his bike of more than 20 years ago.

"I had one with a big 'sissy' bar," Peavler said, referring to a tall metal seatback.

Peavler said he also had a steering wheel on his bike, but traded it to another kid who had a galvanized water pipe and built his own chopper.

Wallace Reynolds, one of about a dozen owners showing their antique bikes, began collecting bikes about five years ago.

He had been riding an old Schwinn a half-mile to work each day, but he wanted a sturdier, more reliable bike to ride along the C&O Canal towpath. He settled on a 21-speed Trek Hybrid, with tires good for both smooth and bumpy surfaces.

Now, Reynolds, 64, rides about 700 to 800 miles a year on the towpath. It has become his spiritual sanctuary, a salve for his mental health.

Two years ago, saddled with a back injury, Reynolds bought a bike with a more forgiving aluminum frame, then added a spring-loaded bar to absorb shocks. These modifications have let him pedal as often as before, including a 26-mile trek a few weeks ago.

Reynolds takes in used bikes, cleans them up and sells them. At a Berkeley County Humane Society garage sale, he bought a bike that had belonged to Congressman Bob Wise's wife, Reynolds said.

He said a lot of people are looking for bikes just like the ones they had as kids.

Or they want bikes made the same year they were born. Reynolds said he sold a 1967 Schwinn Fleet for that reason. It was among the bikes at the mall this weekend.

The most unusual item at the show was Roger Gregory's 1940 Swiss Army bike, which was used by couriers during World War II.

It is all black, including a leather pouch under the seat to store packages. A smaller brown leather pouch is used to store tools.

It has a pedal brake for the back wheel and a handlebar brake for the front wheel.

Gregory said a member of his antique car club had done mechanical work on a Citroen for someone in New Jersey who used the Swiss Army bike as payment.

Gregory bought the bike from his mechanic friend about a year ago, promising that he wouldn't sell it for a profit, which he doesn't do with his bikes anyway. He guessed that it's worth close to $1,000.

Asked which of his 25 or 26 bikes is his favorite, Gregory said it's the 1946 Columbia that he bought for $35 at a garage sale in Hedgesville, W.Va. two years ago. This time, the promise was that he would "give it a good home."

The bike was in bad shape, but Gregory fixed it up to excellent condition last year.

He went back to the garage sale a year later with a picture of the restored bike. Gregory said the sellers were "just tickled to death" and had him pose for a picture.

As a kid, Gregory bought a Monarch for about $26 from the former Miller's Auto on Queen Street. He delivered newspapers so he could make weekly payments of 75 cents or $1.

Jay Hamilton, who restores and sells old bikes, brought five of his 32 bikes to the mall, including the Stingray, a model he said he had as a kid.

Some of his other display pieces were a 1964 Sears Spaceliner, a 1953 Schwinn Hornet and a 1957 Western Flyer with streamers hanging from the handlebar grips.

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