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The Trolley Bike of 1900 by N. Frederick Carryl

 

"A letter, Uncle Tom! From the New Jersey Consolidated Traction Company, as sure as I live. Now we can start any minute."

"Right you are, my boy," said the brisk old gentleman of close on sixty.

Joe heaved a big, contented sigh—not considered a very healthy proceeding, by-the-way—and made a short speech. "Uncle Tom," said he, "it may surprise you a little to hear that father has decided he must stay home and attend strictly to business for at least a month. By that time my vacation will be at an end. Now I have set my heart on this trip, but who can I get for a comrade?"

"Well, Joe, what do you say to the idea of taking your old uncle along?"

"Why, Uncle Tom, you dear man, you are the very next best to father. My! What a jolly time we will have!"

Joe's father and I had arranged it so that he could stay at home, believing, as well he might, the boy was safe in my hands.

Since all traction companies are owned by States (and, of course, subdivided into counties), it is a comparatively easy matter to get permits to use the company's trolley-wires, have your meter inspected, locked, and dated.

The universal application of electricity to the bicycle, tricycle, and other road vehicles—not by batteries, which are still too heavy or short-lived for long trips, but by the trolley-wire and connecting track—is of very recent date. Minor difficulties still exist, and should anything serious happen, I am mechanic enough to hope to repair damages.

Our machine was a very simple affair—after all is said and left unsaid. At first glance it looked not unlike an ordinary tandem—as in fact it was, but with a very much wider tread forward, where the electric motor was handily placed and most effective in operation. The treadles remained connected, but could be operated in the forward direction only. Coasting, with the pedals as foot-rests, whether going down hill or driven at high speed by the motor, was thus possible and easy. The electric head-light was supplied from the same source as the motor, viz., the trolley overhead wire. Of course we had a kerosene lamp to use when disconnected from the street current. Since 1896 the overhead trolley has been abolished in large towns and cities in favor of the underground method of electrical connection, while the overhead system is still used (as so much cheaper for long distances) in the country, between towns and all distant points.

We used a light bamboo pole, built up of five three-foot sections, to reach the overhead wire. Inside was the connecting wire leading to the starting, stopping, or reversing switch, thence to the motor. Another wire, leading from the motor, passed through a light hinged shaft, upon the end of which was a two-foot metal wheel, thus completing the circuit with the rail. The current passed through a reduction coil before reaching the motor, and was thus brought down to the proper resistance at which the motor was built to run, otherwise a burned-out apparatus would be the certain result.

This was not the first time I had handled the Fleetwing, having made any number of short trips, none exceeding a hundred miles. Joe's route was: Starting at Jersey City, New Jersey, we were to cross the State, and keep as near directly West as the trolley-wire would take us, taking in Chicago (now the first city in population in the United States) and other important Western cities, with Denver our turning-point.

Joe kissed his mother, gave his father's hand a hard shake, jumped up behind me, and we were off. Look back once more, my boy; a mother's tearful eyes no longer see you, but your image is always in her heart!

We had been sadly mixed without our good map of all the trolley-roads. They cross and recross, and seem to shoot out in every direction in the eastern part of New Jersey.

AT THIRTY MILES AN HOUR. AT THIRTY MILES AN HOUR.

On a good straight road at last, with a clean run of thirty miles before us! How we do spin! The motor hums not unlike a swarm of angry bees. For a bright June morning the weather seems a trifle cool. A light overcoat in summer? Well, just face a mild westerly wind, early in the morning, sitting quietly on an electrically propelled bike at, say, thirty miles an hour, and you will find an overcoat is not to be sneezed at, or, rather, some sneezing will result if you try to do without it.

Space will not permit to give you many details of our trip, which caused two weeks to pass so quickly. Mishaps we had, repairs to make, but the same machine was bringing us nearer home each minute. Two o'clock now; by six we are due in New York.

A Chicago chap—we met him—seemed rather smart and all that, had a contrivance for working an air-ship by trolley-wire. His scheme was to sail along near enough the ground to drop a trailer on the street wire, and so obtain a current to run his aerial machine.

"My son," said I, "how do you expect to make a complete circuit with but one wire?"

"That is part of my invention," said he.

Whether he made a success of it or not I have no means of knowing, but I liked the idea.

We crossed the Pavonia bridge from Jersey City to New York on time, had just reached the terminus when the Express Air-ship Maxim rose from the depot at Union Square and headed for Albany, looking very much like an immense shooting-star.

The railroads have had a severe setback since Maxim has perfected his aerial engines and light machinery. Freight they still carry, but railway passenger traffic has fallen off to a marked extent, even with trains running at one hundred miles per hour.

Who would care nowadays to spend an hour and a half in the cars between New York and Albany when the Maxim will do it in forty-five minutes!

Strange creatures, to me, these women. I have never married. Joe's mother wept when we left, and I am blamed if she is not crying this minute. "What!"

"You too, Joe? I—"