The Trolley Bike of 1900 by N. Frederick
"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
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.
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
"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
"You too, Joe? I—"