Chicago Chronicle, April 26, 1896
The bicycle rider takes his risks. He takes them on the surface, but verily he takes his life in his hand when he drives into a tunnel.
The pioneer underground bicycle rider took his first header last season. It was through the La Salle street tunnel. He was scorching northward, and it came into his mind that it would be just his luck, when in a hurry, to find the draw of the Fifth avenue bridge open and a mudscow floating leisurely out to the lake. Anyhow, he didn’t want to go a block out of his way. There was the tunnel. It was just the thing. Why should that great artery of rapid transit be monopolized by a soulless corporation? Why should such a splendid avenue be closed to the noble army of scorchers?Perish the thought.
“Make way for liberty,” he cried as he stood up in his pedals and glanced down the long decline leading north from Randolph street. Then, shouting the battle cry of freedom, and getting a double bowknot is his spinal column, he took the plunge. He kept to the right. In that direction lay the lair of the corporation and he proposed to beard the lion in his den. He could hqve carried the wheel down the steps leading to the foot way in the tunnel, but he was in a hurry and was looking for danger. Danger is something your true scorcher always seeks and never avoids.
A Mad Dash.
The minions of the corporation grew profane when they came upon the intruder. The horrified passengers looked upon him as one who tempted fate. But little cared he of what the world might say. The only fly in his ointment was the cable car he could already see tolling painfully along some distance ahead of him. He was in a hurry. Ding-a-ling went his bell. Frightened faces looked out of the rear window of the car, and seemed to appeal to him for mercy, but still he gained. Again and again he rang the bell, and at last brought his warning horn into requisition. The gripman put his last ounce of muscle to the lever and the train shot forward under the impetus, but still the bicycle drew nearer and nearer, until the wheelman made a supreme effort on the brakes and brought his wheel to a stand. The machine quivered like a living thing under the force of the reaction. The conductor swore. The gripman swore. A dozen passengers put their heads out of the windows and swore. But the man who swore loudest and longest of them all was the wheelman. He had lost five minutes in time and missed an appointment with his best girl on the north side.
But he had made way for liberty. Other champions of the wheel and of the rights of wheelmen flew to the breach he had made. Before the close of last season’s riding the wheelman in the tunnels had become a familiar figure. He was never a welcome guest. The carmen were his greatest foes, but among the passengers the recklessness of his exploits found no encouragement. It is not as pleasant to see a man killed by an accident as it is to see one killed in conflict, as anyone who has had opportunities of observation wil testify. Even the most hardened criminal will turn away from the spectacle of a man being run down and ground under the wheels of a train. Before the close of last season’s cycling there were a hundred narrow escapes every day made by wheelmen in the Chicago tunnels. This year, although the season is not yet well advanced, there at least 500 such escapes a day, and before the season closes there will be at least 1,000.
They Will Laugh At Death.
But there will be those who will not escape. It will not be long, as things are now going, until a horrifying death in a tunnel will be reported. Then, for a few days, or until the recollection of the horror of the thing has passed away, there will be comparatively few wheelmen found in the tunnels. It will be a period of comparative relief for the trainmen and the passengers. Perhaps even the life and accident insurance companies will breathe easier. But the national buoyance and bravery of the wheelmen will return to him. He will scorn fear and turn his back upon doubt and misgiving. And then there will be another fatality, and another, and another, until at last the wheelman will laugh at death and all its terrors, and passengers will come to consider it a monotonous trip which does not leave a dead wheelman at the mouth of a tunnel for a coroner’s jury to sit upon and find guilty of suicide.
Is this an overdrawn picture? A Chronicle writer stood at the mouth of the Washington street tunnel in the beautiful sunshine of Wednesday, which brought out the wheelers in force, and counted 355 wheelmen and thirty-two wheelwomen who took a header into that dark and dangerous pass. The Washington street tunnel is more patronized by the bicyclists than the tunnel under La Salle street. One reason of this preference is that the tunnel under Washington street leads out into Washington boulevard, the favorite crack course of all the wheelers. Another reason is that the streets immediately west of the south branch of the river leading to the boulevard are not in good condition for cycling and are given up largely to heavy traffic, and the drivers of heavy vehicles, particularly stake and stone wagons, have an innate prejudice against the wheelers, which nothing can eradicate. Only a block or two of such traveling, however, would lie between the cycler who would cross the river on the Randolph street or Madison street bridge and the opening of the boulevard. But your wheeler is always in a hurry. When he headed for the boulevard he is anxious to get there and begin scorching. So he elects to risk his life rather than run the gauntlet of bad roads and teamsters’ complaints.
Record of One Trip.
“These wheelmen must bother you a great deal,” was suggested to a motorman on the Washington tunnel route as his car passed out of daylight. The motorman made no response. His eyes were fixed steadily ahead of him. Suddenly he threw himself backward throwing his whole strength on the lever, and uttering a shrill “hi-yi.” A wheelman suddenly shot out fro behind the car going in the opposite direction. He wanted to get a head of it, so he had turned out to do some scorching and get ahead of the car in front of him. The space between the tracks in the Washington tunnel is not wide. When the tunnel was built wheels and wheelmen were not thought of, and while the engineers left ample room for cars to pass each other they did not figure on the width of a man on a wheel situated between the inside rails, As the tunnel was built and now stands there will be little, if any, more than a foot of space between two cars standing or moving opposite each other on adjoining tracks. The motorman brought his car to a dead stop. But there was no stop to the wheelman. The car he was trying to get around had passed on, and he followed it without waiting to offer thanks, explanations or apologies. It is safe to conclude that, after passing the car which had so nearly struck him, he he turned out again and got ahead of the car in his way. A little further on what was even a narrower escape occurred. A rider was running between the tracks, when suddenly, through one of the multitudinous accidents liable to overtake a wheel at any time or in any place, his wheel toppled and fell. It fell directly in front of the car on which the silent, but very active, motorman stood. Again he threw himself on the lever and again he brought the car to a stop.
This time he was given the award of thanks. But he resented the proffer.
“No thanks. I ought killed you,” he said as he pushed the lever forward again.
“You asked if they’re a trouble,” he said as we came once more into open day. “I didn’t have time to answer then, but you can see what they are. And this has been an easy trip.”
He Was a Thin Man.
On the return trip a nervous woman was continually looking out of the car windows. She said to her companion as the car came to a stop to allow a wheelman to turn out:
- Oh, I have seen so many people nearly killed in here. Once I saw a man caught between two cars. Oh, we were all sure he would be killed. He had got off his wheel, if he he hadn’t I know he would have been knocked over and killed. He stood at the head of his bicycle, and I tell you his face was as white as chalk as we went by. He was a thin thin man. If he had been fat he would have been killed sure. I know I’ll see somebody killed in here some day.
Cyclone Against the World.
A “scorcher” said:
- I can take care of myself. You want my picture for The Chronicle? What for? So I’ll be handy when I’m run over? Well, that’s a good one. So you are getting up a gallery of the tunnel ‘scorchers,’ are you, to have them on hand whenever one of us gets it? That’s enterprise for you. Well, I’ll send you mine, but you’ll never have to use it. There’s no machine can run me down when I’m on Cyclone. Cyclone is the name of my machine, you understand. They’re all in my way. Now, watch me give that fellow warning.
And as he spoke he dived into the tunnel’s mouth behind a car. And out of the darkness came back the jingle of his bell and the mellow notes of his horn warning the motorman to hurry up.
The Referee & Cycle Trade Journal, May 14, 1896
The Officer and the Scorcher.
To the catechism which meets all applicants for positions on the police force of Chicago a few questions must now be added. They should take some form such as this:
- What is a scorcher ?
By what signs do you recognize him or her ?
How would you distinguish between a bicycle rider proceeding at an eight-mile gait and one urging his way at the rate of a mile in 5:02-3/5?
If a speed of twelve miles an hour were to constitute an official scorch, by what data would you make a compilation that would result in tlie arrest of an offender?
If you arrived at the conclusion, after a mathematical consideration of the mater, that a woman was scorching, what would you do about it?
Some of the recent antics of the scorch-suppresing police of Chicago have tended to promote a doubt in the mind at large of the community as to the efficiency of the common sense allotment that is supposed to go with every officer. There has been a number of unwarranted arrests of men for too speedy riding. There have also, it is only right to say, been those that have been thoroughly justified. The whole trouble is that the average copper has no proper conception of what scorching really is. The attitude of a man awheel is far more eloquent to the gentleman with the club than the rate at which the wheels are turning. The man who wheels along the boulevard at a fifteen-mile gait with his vertebrae not abnormally horizontal and his head fairly erect is further removed from possible police interference than is he who, traveling at a far less speed, ducks his head and horizontalizes his backbone.
As a matter of fact about the only way in which satisfactory official limitation can be placed upon speed is for the authorities to place upon every wheel in use some combination of register and fire alarm by which instant and vociferous notice can be given as soon as a given speed is attained.
The arrest of girls for scorching is nonsensical. There may be now and again seen a bloomered scorcher on our streets, but she is such a rara avis that she may be left out of the calculation. Furthermore, the helmeted one should remember that womenfolk, whether awheel or afoot, are liable to attacks of “nerves,” hysterics, or whatnot, and that what he takes for malicious scorching may be nothing more nor less than violent agitation of the tibial muscles resulting from sudden nervous derangement and causing temporary hysterics of the feet and consequent great rapidity of pedal propulsion.
In any case, however, there is no excuse whatever for the slim-brained official idiot who would follow the arrest of a girl for scorching by calling the patrol wagon and sending her rattling off to a cell as if she were a sister of the most detestable beldame within the city limits. The officer guilty of such brutal misconstruction of his duty in the premises should be unstarred and sent at his own expense to some place where a specialty is made of hammering horse sense into unlikely places