Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Velocipede for Two

In 1894, while working at a small bike shop in New Castle, Indiana, Charles Teetor built a fine bike for his wife. Soon after, the Division Superintendent of the Chicago and NW Railroad, Charles Hartley (also cousin of Mrs. Teetor), saw the bike. "Build me a bike that will ride the rails!" Hartley requested.

You see, the only way Mr. Hartley's inspectors could perform their rail inspecting jobs was by walking the tracks or firing up a locomotive, neither very efficient. At the height of the industrial revolution however, efficiency could not be thrown under the train. A year later the Railway Cycle Manufacturing Company was founded in Hagerstown, Indiana by the Teetor brothers.

The cycle debuted with much debate. Inspectors were sure biking the railroad would be a hassle. It would be too much work to pedal the bike and just plain inconvenient. However, almost immediately after its debut, the lightweight quad cycle was adopted by railways across the nation and also the mines.

With underground tunnels spanning miles, mine staff covered large distances on foot (or perhaps if lucky, catch a passing ore train) to reach different designated working areas within the tunnels. In Telluride, these distances could sometimes be more than five miles and increase in elevation by 1600 feet. That's a lot of beat for a shift boss.

The rail mounted cycle began use in the Telluride region around the early 1900's, but was abandoned in the 1930's. Some thirty years later, the Idarado Mine Superintendent, Dick Swerdfeger, revived the use of a mine bike after walking a visiting geologist through miles of the Idarado Mine. He knew of the quadcycle from early mine drawings, but hadn't known he could order the fantastic invention until the visiting geologist made the connection for him. He put Dick Swerdfeger in touch with the V-Plex Clutch Corporation, the successor to the Railway Cycle Manufacturing Company and makers of the Teetor Light Inspection Car. Mr Swerdfeger ordered one.

1919 Teetor Light Inspection Car

A mine bike hadn't been used in the local mines since the depression era, and with industrial improvements on diesel powered mining locomotives, the mining crew was greatly amused by the prospects of running over the Superintendent on his "quadcycle." Determined to prove the crew wrong, Swerdfeger took off on a mine bike pilot test a few minutes ahead of the first morning crew train. Two miles later he arrived at his first stop, the main service raise location. The train arrived ten minutes later with a surprised, and maybe somewhat disappointed crew, saddened because they didn't have the opportunity to give the Superintendent a good bump on the bike tail.

Our 1919 Teetor Light Inspection Car now exhibited in the museum was rescued from the Atlas Mine dump above the Ajax mine and donated to us in 1970. Ten thousand rail bikes were still in service in 1971. They often transported more than one mine employee by piling as many as the peddler could withstand on the back platform.

FUN FACT: Despite an accident that left him blind at the age of five, Charles Teetor's nephew, Ralph Teetor, became a brilliant automobile engineer and invented the speedostat (more commonly known as cruise control). What year did cruise control debut? 1958 on the Chrysler Imperial.

~ Cameo
Exhibit Manager
Telluride Historical Museum