Today, a bicycle ride from Fort Worth to Weatherford, about 30 miles to the west, would hardly be worth a newspaper story. Members of the local randonneuring club – those elite cyclists who might ride 300 miles in a single weekend – would consider it a short warm-up, nothing to boast about.
But in the 1880s, when rural roads were little more than dirt tracks and bicycles were primitive, a ride from Fort Worth to Weatherford was a considerable bit of derring-do.
Friend and writer David V. Herlihy, author of The Lost Cyclist and a definitive reference book for cyclists, Bicycle: The History, sent to me by e-mail a clipping from the Fort Worth Daily Gazette of Sept. 12, 1887. It tells of a ride from Fort Worth by a trio of local bankers. The destination was Weatherford, but one of the cyclists failed to make it.
A copy of the story from the Gazette, which at the time was the only North Texas daily west of the Trinity River, is shown above. Here is the full text:
Special to the Gazette
WEATHERFORD, TEX., Sept. 11. – This evening about 4 or 5 o’clock Messrs. J.M. Logan of the Fort Worth National Bank and C.M. Brown of the State National Bank of Fort Worth arrived in this city on bicycles, having made the trip from Fort Worth to-day. They started out this morning from the Fort, accompanied by Mr. T.N. Slack of the First National, but he failed to reach here with Messrs. Logan and Brown, and they were unable to say just where they lost him. THE GAZETTE correspondent learned from Mr. Logan that bicycle riding in Fort Worth is very common, and on Sundays the young men make considerable distances on their bicycles, but none of them have ever made the distance they made to-day coming to Weatherford. He says the roads between these two cities are not at all adapted to bicycle riding, and the next time he starts to Weatherford, he will leave his bicycle and walk, that it is easier to walk without the rolling machinery than it is to walk and roll the machine. The feat is certainly one that few could perform and these young gentlemen certainly should be proud. They did not seem to be very fatigued over the trip. They took the evening train back to Fort Worth.
A few items worth noting:
The ride took all day. The road was so bad that one of the cyclists said it would be easier to make the trip on foot.
The story doesn’t say so, but David Herlihy surmises that the Fort Worth bankers were riding “high wheelers,” bikes with a huge front wheel and small rear wheel; sometimes called “penny-farthings,’ they preceded the “safety bicycle,” a machine with front and rear wheels of equal size.
Bicycle riding in Fort Worth was “very common” 125 years ago; it’s about time it’s making a comeback.
A train once ran between Weatherford and Fort Worth. I’d bet that some of the folks who commute daily to Fort Worth might wish they still had a train to ride to work.