Opinion: Whizzing through a short summer


By Ward Degler

I once owned a Whizzer motorbike. I was 12 years old, and we lived in a small town in central Missouri.

I hadn’t considered it until someone told me the kid who owned it hit the railroad crossing too hard and broke the front wheel fork. It was sitting in pieces at the Western Auto garage.

While I was standing there in the garage looking at it, the store manager came by and said, “Hey, you can buy that and fix it up for $75. Hardly got any miles on it.”

“Haven’t got $75,” I said sadly.

“Can you make payments? Say $10 a week? Have it paid off before school starts.”

Did he know that I worked at the local dairy in the morning and mowed lawns in the afternoons? Probably. Like I said, it was a small town. My summer income was about $20 a week. He probably knew that, too.

I gave a tentative yes and walked home, trying to figure out how to sell the idea to my parents. Mom would be against it. She thought roller skates were dangerous enough. Dad, however, just might just go for it. After all, he had encouraged me when I was building a go-kart out of a discarded door and an old washing machine engine. When it actually ran, he said he was proud of me. I decided to remind him of that.

He said yes with the proviso that I keep to the streets and never drive it on the highway. The next day, I was the proud owner of a broken motorbike. 

The Whizzer consisted of a one-cylinder engine bolted to the frame of a regular bicycle. The gas tank attached to the top bar of the bike, and a rubber drive belt ran from the engine to a rim attached to the rear wheel. I already had a bike, and I could use the original for spare parts.

Halfway through the summer, the drive belt broke and I discovered a replacement cost $30. I was still making payments to Western Auto, and it hadn’t rained for several weeks, which dried up my lawn mowing jobs. I discovered that for $3 I could buy a farm tractor fan belt the same size. But just before Labor Day, the exhaust pipe burned out, and I set my pants on fire a couple of times. Mom was understandably upset about that. “Blue jeans don’t grow on trees, you know!”

By September, my Whizzer lay in pieces in our garage, and I had resurrected my bike. My dad made the last two payments to Western Auto, and I was left with memories of the saddest, sweetest and shortest summer ever.


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