Bike restoration brings back childhood memories
Ann Holsinger wasn't spoiled as a child growing up on a Frederick County farm. Even Christmas was kept simple, with mostly small, inexpensive gifts made or bought by her mother.
However, one present always stood out: a 1940s-era Sears, J.C. Higgins model bicycle. It was a girl's cruiser -- hunter green frame, fenders and chain guard with sleek white-stripes and a matching rack on back.
Her father bought for it her when she was 10 years old.
"He wasn't the one who bought us gifts, that was my mom, that's one reason why it means so much to me," Holsinger said. "I got a glimpse of the fender one morning while he was showing it to my older sister a few days before Christmas.
"I persuaded him to give to me right away," she said with a laugh.
Holsinger rediscovered the bike, which she'd figured was long gone, after clearing out a shed by her parent's home following her mother's recent death. Her father died three decades ago.
After prodding from her husband Dan, she decided to see if The Bicycle Escape in Frederick could rehabilitate the rusty, crudded-up old machine and help recapture childhood memories and those of her father.
"I have two older sisters and one younger brother, but I was the one always with my dad in the cornfield. Wherever he went, I went," said Holsinger, who grew up in Frederick.
"I helped him make hay and straw -- and milk the cows, which we did by hand at that time. We all did. Instead of it being boys, it was girls."
Holsinger loved the animals on the farm, and she loved the bike. Her older sisters did not have bicycles, she said, adding that she'd learned to ride from her cousins. The bike her dad gave her, she said, was used. Not that it mattered to her.
"I don't know where he got it," Holsinger said. "I rode it all over the farm, it was probably a quarter-mile from our lane to the road. Once I got to be 14 or 15, he'd let me ride on the road with my girlfriends."
The restoration was not easy.
"It had been sitting in a barn for decades, and the condition really had gotten terrible," said Tom Rinker, owner of The Bicycle Escape. "But we like to do these projects. They're fun. It's something special."
Rinker said the handlebars, stem, crank, front wheel, grips and seat all needed to be replaced, but they were largely to keep the bike "period correct," as he put it.
The heart of the bike, the frame, the fork, the custom rear cargo rack, the chain guard -- and the unique skip-link chain and rings were saved and brought back to life.
"It took a lot of soaking and scrubbing, and the old grease had to be chiseled off -- it was so caked on," Rinker said.
The new seat required special metal work to adapt to the bike, and dents in the chain guard were sent to a motorcycle shop to be pounded out perfectly.
"Everybody who comes in the shop loves it, it has an authentic retro-look," Rinker said. "There are a lot of reproductions made today but it's never quite the same thing as the original.
One of the contrasts between bikes today, Rinker said, is that most after-market products -- racks, fenders, grips are bought separately,
"Back then, everything matched," he said. "That's the difference in the look."
Monday, Holsinger, who now lives in Fairfield, Pa., got a look at the restored bike for the first time Monday afternoon.
"Jeepers, it looks wonderful," she said as she walked around the bike inside the store. "I couldn't wait to see it. It looks perfect, just like I remember it."
Except for one thing, she suddenly recalled.
"Do you have a bell?," Holsinger asked Rinker.
"Yes, we do," said Rinker, grabbing a silver bell from the nearby accessory rack and then placing it on handle bar.