An Ocean Shore Ride, 1952: Story by Erich von Neff

An Ocean Shore Ride, 1952

As you pass Romano’s Restaurant*, going south, you will notice, on the spit, the remnants of a road which is now slowly sliding into the sea. But, as some of us, at least, will remember, it was not always this way.

The Ocean Shore Railroad had rumbled along those curves., hugging the cliffs, and, then, when it had defaulted in ’20, the Old Highway One followed the line. Well, for the most part.

Rumor has it that a starlet had driven a Cord off the road, an apparent suicide. Undoubtedly other cars had gone over the embankment. But it is the young and beautiful whose death tends to stick in the mind.

On an overcast winter morning we had rendezvoused at the Old Velodrome near Tenth and Market Streets in San Francisco. We proceeded down El Camino, and had swung over via La Honda to the coast.

We must have looked like throw backs in time preparing for the 1929 Berlin Six Day Race, or the New York Six.

Our silk jerseys, while perhaps not as colorful as those of today, reflected our ethnic origins or hometown, and not some anonymous plastics or cosmetics firm for which we had no use.

They sported in woven silken letters: Unione Sportiva Italiana, Deutsches Velo Klub, Norsk Sykell Klubb, Pedali Alpini, San Francisco Wheelmen, Belmont Bicycle Club, … .

We rode track bicycles with fixed gears, breaking with leather gloves that had been reworded by Italian shoemakers**, who had also put on our cleats.

Effeminate men, or worse, — we believed — road bikes which were not allowed in races even on the road, those of who who toured rode our track bikes even then.

Our track bikes had German names like Durkopp, Bauer, Schuhmacher, ,,, , Or, if they were an American marquee, they were made by men who looked like clones of Lem Motlow on the Jack Daniels label.

They, — Oscar Watson, Ken Winkie, Dewey Maxwell, Pop Brennan, — smoked cigars and brazed their machines beneath 55 [ed. 55 degrees] velodrome bankings.

Riders like, Willie the Whale, weighing close to three hundred pounds, tested them, riding motor pace on the track. The bikers were fitted with Durkopp or BSA hubs and cranks, the rims were made of laminated wood.

There were about thirty of us. The blue colors of the Unione Sportiva Italiana dominating the field of jerseys. Our cranks churned nearly the same cadence as we all rode nearly the same low winter gears, between 66 and 72 inches.

The wind shipped our legs. We inhaled air heavy with ocean spray. I followed Oscar Juner’s Durkopp jersey. Oscar and his partners, Nick van Male, and Peter Rich had raced at the Six Day Bike Race in San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, and were now racing on Murphy Sabatino’s portable board track at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds.

We had passed Linda Mar and were now heading around the spit that lies south of Romano’s Restaurant. Beneath us the waves pounded the rocks. Ahead of the Durkopp jersey were other jerseys. Some of them I could not see through the fog.

One after the other, ominous shapes of riders drifted past me as we rotated pace.

We had rubbed our legs with Sloan’s liniment. They felt like fire at first. This subsided, then they were numb to the cold.

The pace slackened only slightly in the wind. We rotated more to maintain the momentum of the pace, than to insure that each of us took egalitarian distances. For instance, John Parks at six feet nine inches had enough wind in his face; he therefore, took shorter pulls at the front. Some, like Bruno and the Gatto brothers yelled oaths in Italian, when they felt the pace was not to their liking.

Riders swung off and rolled back to the rear of the pace line. The Durkopp jersey disappeared. I now took my pull at the front for about ten or twelve seconds, as I said, shorter pulls meant the momentum of our pace could be maintained even in thick fog and a head wind. Though this idea seemed on grate on Dan Kaljian who had formed his ideas of labor on his father’s farm near Avnik Armenia. When Dan took his turn he muscled the handlebars as if he still had a shovel in his hands.

The wind howled in my face as I tucked down for my pull at the front. I tore into the wind, yet was a particle in it.

Supposedly you do twenty percent more work at the front, but in the shifting head wind, it seemed as if that figure was greatly undeestimated.

I rolled off leaving the Norwegian sprint champion, Fred Fisk, to battle the wind. At some time in the latter part of the ride Fred had failed to hook John Parks’ wheel. At six feet five, reasonably Fred wanted to pace behind someone taller. At times I could hear him behind me cursing and swearing in Norwegian.

For John, of course, there would be no such pace line options.

I caught my breath now safely tucked in behind the Durkopp jersey again. Thankfully Dan Kaljian had suggested we warm up at the Boots and Saddles Bar in La Honda. Most of us had several belts of Christian Brothers brandy or Jack Daniels***. John Parks and Fred Fisk had vied each other for the attentions of the blonde. But, eventually, the ride had to resume, and she was left behind, but not alone.

Later in the ride we had refilled at Pete’s Cafe in Half Moon Bay.

I sucked more ocean spray and Sloan’s liniment into my lungs. We passed the spit . . . now slowly sliding into the sea, remnants of the curves still hugging the cliffs.

Beneath us, below the pounding waves, was the Cord.

—-
*Linda Mar, California, near San Francisco
**Such as Rosario Raieri of Balboa Shoe Service in San Francisco
***By Bartender and owner Oren Arms

An Ocean Shore Ride, 1952

As you pass Romano’s Restaurant*, going south, you will notice, on the spit, the remnants of a road which is now slowly sliding into the sea. But, as some of us, at least, will remember, it was not always this way.

The Ocean Shore Railroad had rumbled along those curves., hugging the cliffs, and, then, when it had defaulted in ’20, the Old Highway One followed the line. Well, for the most part.

Rumor has it that a starlet had driven a Cord off the road, an apparent suicide. Undoubtedly other cars had gone over the embankment. But it is the young and beautiful whose death tends to stick in the mind.

On an overcast winter morning we had rendezvoused at the Old Velodrome near Tenth and Market Streets in San Francisco. We proceeded down El Camino, and had swung over via La Honda to the coast.

We must have looked like throw backs in time preparing for the 1929 Berlin Six Day Race, or the New York Six.

Our silk jerseys, while perhaps not as colorful as those of today, reflected our ethnic origins or hometown, and not some anonymous plastics or cosmetics firm for which we had no use.

They sported in woven silken letters: Unione Sportiva Italiana, Deutsches Velo Klub, Norsk Sykell Klubb, Pedali Alpini, San Francisco Wheelmen, Belmont Bicycle Club, … .

We rode track bicycles with fixed gears, breaking with leather gloves that had been reworded by Italian shoemakers**, who had also put on our cleats.

Effeminate men, or worse, — we believed — road bikes which were not allowed in races even on the road, those of who who toured rode our track bikes even then.

Our track bikes had German names like Durkopp, Bauer, Schuhmacher, ,,, , Or, if they were an American marquee, they were made by men who looked like clones of Lem Motlow on the Jack Daniels label.

They, — Oscar Watson, Ken Winkie, Dewey Maxwell, Pop Brennan, — smoked cigars and brazed their machines beneath 55 [ed. 55 degrees] velodrome bankings.

Riders like, Willie the Whale, weighing close to three hundred pounds, tested them, riding motor pace on the track. The bikers were fitted with Durkopp or BSA hubs and cranks, the rims were made of laminated wood.

There were about thirty of us. The blue colors of the Unione Sportiva Italiana dominating the field of jerseys. Our cranks churned nearly the same cadence as we all rode nearly the same low winter gears, between 66 and 72 inches.

The wind shipped our legs. We inhaled air heavy with ocean spray. I followed Oscar Juner’s Durkopp jersey. Oscar and his partners, Nick van Male, and Peter Rich had raced at the Six Day Bike Race in San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, and were now racing on Murphy Sabatino’s portable board track at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds.

We had passed Linda Mar and were now heading around the spit that lies south of Romano’s Restaurant. Beneath us the waves pounded the rocks. Ahead of the Durkopp jersey were other jerseys. Some of them I could not see through the fog.

One after the other, ominous shapes of riders drifted past me as we rotated pace.

We had rubbed our legs with Sloan’s liniment. They felt like fire at first. This subsided, then they were numb to the cold.

The pace slackened only slightly in the wind. We rotated more to maintain the momentum of the pace, than to insure that each of us took egalitarian distances. For instance, John Parks at six feet nine inches had enough wind in his face; he therefore, took shorter pulls at the front. Some, like Bruno and the Gatto brothers yelled oaths in Italian, when they felt the pace was not to their liking.

Riders swung off and rolled back to the rear of the pace line. The Durkopp jersey disappeared. I now took my pull at the front for about ten or twelve seconds, as I said, shorter pulls meant the momentum of our pace could be maintained even in thick fog and a head wind. Though this idea seemed on grate on Dan Kaljian who had formed his ideas of labor on his father’s farm near Avnik Armenia. When Dan took his turn he muscled the handlebars as if he still had a shovel in his hands.

The wind howled in my face as I tucked down for my pull at the front. I tore into the wind, yet was a particle in it.

Supposedly you do twenty percent more work at the front, but in the shifting head wind, it seemed as if that figure was greatly undeestimated.

I rolled off leaving the Norwegian sprint champion, Fred Fisk, to battle the wind. At some time in the latter part of the ride Fred had failed to hook John Parks’ wheel. At six feet five, reasonably Fred wanted to pace behind someone taller. At times I could hear him behind me cursing and swearing in Norwegian.

For John, of course, there would be no such pace line options.

I caught my breath now safely tucked in behind the Durkopp jersey again. Thankfully Dan Kaljian had suggested we warm up at the Boots and Saddles Bar in La Honda. Most of us had several belts of Christian Brothers brandy or Jack Daniels***. John Parks and Fred Fisk had vied each other for the attentions of the blonde. But, eventually, the ride had to resume, and she was left behind, but not alone.

Later in the ride we had refilled at Pete’s Cafe in Half Moon Bay.

I sucked more ocean spray and Sloan’s liniment into my lungs. We passed the spit . . . now slowly sliding into the sea, remnants of the curves still hugging the cliffs.

Beneath us, below the pounding waves, was the Cord.

—-
*Linda Mar, California, near San Francisco
**Such as Rosario Raieri of Balboa Shoe Service in San Francisco
***By Bartender and owner Oren Arms

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About the author:

Erich von Neff is a San Francisco Longshoreman. He received his masters degree in philosophy from San Francisco State University and was a graduate research students at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Erich von Neff is well known on the French avant-garde and mainstream literary scenes. he is a member of the Poetes Francais and La Societe des Poetes et Artistes de France.

1960s: Biking thru Coastside Paradise & then… “Dysentery Stew” for Lunch

1960s: Biking thru Coastside Paradise & then…”Dystentery Stew” for Lunch

Story by Stephen Lubin

Email Steve: stl@lubin.net

Prelude: I actually saw more of  Erich von Neff at races and multi club rides than at Pete’s.  He belonged to the SF Wheelmen and I belonged to Pedali Alpini, which was centered more in the Woodside to Los Altos area.  We often rode over Hwy 92 (which was safe in those days) or over LaHonda Road and returned by 92.  These days we use Old LaHonda and Tunitas Creek.

When I first started riding in 1961, Pete’s was on Kelly Street behind Cunha’s.  The building next to Cunha’s was a funeral parlor and Petes was next door.   A few years later the building was demolished to make the parking lot which is there now.  Pete moved to the triangle at Main and Purissima.  I think he was where the little park is now.

Some of my new school clubmates refused to go in.  They called his fare “dysentery stew”.  The “old school “riders loved it.  He had photos of  Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali (Italian Pro Stars from the 40’s) on the wall.  If you arrived on a bike he would give you a heaping plate of spaghetti with meat sauce for 25 cents.  If any was left on the plate he would scrape it back into the huge pot simmering on the stove.  I imagine it being a continuous culture over the years.  Pete eventually got a mail order (?) Japanese bride.   I imagine that they couldn’t understand each other’s languages but she became a fixture at the restaurant.  He had an old Coca Cola top hinged cooler with a bottle opener on the front.  There was a supply of Cokes and Orange Nehi inside.

In the middle 60’s Pedali riders hung out in the windows of Peterson & Alsford’s in San Gregorio alongside Ken Kesey and the Hell’s Angels.  There was a bug eye MG Sprite among the choppers.  I went to architecture school in Eugene, Oregon in the fall of 1968 about the same time Kesey moved back to Springfield (across the river from Eugene) where his family owns the Springfield Creamery.  When Thalia & I returned to California in 1972 we missed Springfield’s Nancy’s Honey Yogurt.  Now you can get it all over.

One more memory: In 1965 and 1966 Tom Preuss put on the Tour del Mar Bike race (/originally /sponsored by Pedali Alpini/, but taken over by Belmont Bicycle Club in Tom’s era/). I think the race had been going on since 1956 or so, but in those days it was an early morning event so we wouldn’t get caught. Tom made it a well publicized festival of bike racing culminating in an awards ceremony and dance at the IDES Hall in Pescadero featuring the Qucksilver Messenger Service *and* the Grateful Dead.

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To visit Stephen and Thalia Lubin’s website, please click here

Coast Highway Race, 1951: Short Story by Erich von Neff

Coast Highway Race, 1951

Story by Erich von Neff

All of us, I’m sure, have, at one time or another, cursed or blessed the coastal wind. Constantly and incessantly it blows down the coast, though driving in a car it is no more than an annoyance. But jog or ride a bike along Highway One, at certain times of the day, and it is almost as if you are in a wind tunnel. Barely able to run or budge the pedals, or being accelerated at rocket speed, depending on which way you are going.

In early March of 1951 – in preparation for the real races to be held on Murphy Sabatino’s board track in San Jose – we began a race in Half Moon Bay.

The race, as usual, started in front of Pete’s Café on Main Street in Half Moon Bay. Chevy’s and Fords rolled up, their engines backfired and sputtered to a stop. Trainers and coaches began to unload bicycles. One could hear the swish, swish of air pumps, the clanking of cleats, and curses when something was amiss with the equipment.

Pete did a brisk business in undiluted black coffee. We strained the grounds with our teeth; we set our cups down, we asked for refills.

Soon riders began to assemble at the starting line. Bruce Svihus the Norwegian who lived at the Henrik Ibsen Park carried his bike to the line without tires. If credence can be lent to his story: In a drunken fury, Hans Larsen, a merchant seaman, had somehow shredded Bruce’s tires. He must have possessed brute Viking-like strength to have done this without a knife. However, there would be no redress, for Hans had sailed that morning. Sven Rognerude who, like Bruce, was a member of the Norsk Sykell Klubb, pulled two weather beaten tires out of the trunk of his car.

Bruce and Sven mounted the tires, gluing them on with road glue. This was a sacrilege as everyone knew. One raced with track tires cemented on with orange shellac. Done in layers this process took a week. But it was the right way.

Hopefully, some rituals can be dispensed with in an emergency, though one should be wary when breaking with traditions.

Soon Bruce’s chrome plated D.B.S. track bike was ready. A marque that, as I understand it, little Norwegian girls made innuendoes about; giggling when they did so.*

Cycling like any sport has its trade-offs. Ride against a headwind, or on hills too often, and your legs lose suppleness for the track. Yet, of course, you need strength. Balance is the key. We would be riding with a tailwind and over hills with reasonable grades. Steeper hills, with headwinds too, had been ridden with heavier tires in training earlier in the year.

Pete and some of his clientele lined up to watch the start of the race. Men in sombreros drank scalding coffee. Some of them wagered among themselves.

We went off by classes: In groups of novice, Class C, B and A. The reason for these groupings was that all of these classes, would, hopefully, arrive at the finish line at approximately the same time…rather than run a separate race for each class.

The effect of such handicapping being that each group would work together trying to stay away or to assimilate the handicapped group(s) ahead.

Lido fired his gun in the air. Novice, Class C, B, and A were sent off at five minute intervals, separated by shots from Lido’s revolver.

Bang.  Bang.  Bang.  Bang.

On the fourth pistol shot we were away.

Men beneath sombreros finished their coffee, then walked back inside Pete’s Café. We immediately formed a pace line, and began to rotate pace.

We rolled down Main Street and onto Highway One. Already men were working in the fields. A few of them waved to us. Had they been racers in Mexico, Brazil, or Argentina?

Proper etiquette, if it can be called that, dictated that we ride a synchronized pace line – no break- a- ways until class A caught all the groups ahead, then dropping most of them a few miles from the finish line in Santa Cruz. Those of us who were pluggers would, then, ceremoniously lead out the sprinters (almost always Sicilians or Italians) who would then contest the sprint among themselves.

This rationale we never questioned. We rolled on, our high pressure silk tires resonating against the asphalt. The pack becoming a force and life of its own. For a while all went well.

We came barreling down the hill toward Tinitus Creek. Short brisk turns were taken at the front. Suddenly Oscar Juner let out an oath in German. I could see his front tire flattening. He pulled over to the side of the pace line. The valve began thumping against the asphalt. The tire began to disintegrate and was torn off the wooden rim which now collapsed. Oscar’s bicycle skidded sideways, his pedal sending off a shower of sparks. No one looked back, following cars would take care of him.
The pace, though, had slackened slightly. Vince and Gus Gatto shouted something in Italian. This was followed by Fred Fisk bellowing in Norwegian. One of the Italians banged on the handlebars of a rider who had just finished his turn at the front, and was no drifting back to the rear of the pace line. Those taking their turn at the front got the message, the pace began to quicken.

Down and up the undulating hills, at times we could see and hear the ocean. At times we raced away from it. At all times accelerated by the coastal wind.

There were more flat tires, but none so disastrous. We carried no spares, or pumps, or water bottles. Why upset the purity of line of a track bike? A flat simply meant that one was not fated to finish that day. This — perhaps a sing of the times – we simply accepted. In any case, it was no disgrace., and besides, following cars took care of those left by the pack.

Finally, near Durigano’s Nursery in Pescadero we could see Class B ahead. Though no one knew it, the Norwegians had begun to conspire among themselves. Suddenly they – Fred Fisk, Bruce Suihus, Sven Rognerude, Max Starr, and some I do not now remember – formed a group alongside the pack. Their ringleader, Fred Fisk had let down the hammer and had ordered the others to follow. At first they were barely able to hang onto his wheel, but soon caught their breath and began to rotate pace.

This for most of us was worse than a sacrilege. It was mutiny. They would have to be taught a lesson.

I was, therefore, surprised to feel the pace slacken. Gus Gatto sat up in the saddle, looking around. He said something to his brother, Vince, which was in turn, communicated to the Sicilians and the Italians. The gap between the pack and the Norwegians widened.

At this moment, Lido’s Duesenberg drove up. The chauffeur kept abreast of the pack. Lido leaned out of the window, conferring with Gus. Gus nodded. The pace slowed some more.

The Norwegians had by now caught Class B. We were really in a pickle. Still the pace slackened.

Lido yelled something to the driver and to Antonio, the heavy set man sitting next to him. Lido and Antonio reached out the window each with a bottle in his hand. One was handed to the first rider, and so on. The other bottle started about the middle of the pace line; the first bottle would be consumed by then.

The bottle was passed back to me. Curious, I looked at the label: Fonseca’s Brandy, made in Half Moon Bay. I hadn’t heard of it; but this was no time to be finicky. I took a few swigs. Wham. Was this white lighting or what? Quickly enough I passed it back to the next rider. Thanks to Lido, other bottles of Fonseca’s Brandy were passed down the pace line. Transformed by this substance we shortly resumed our former speed, … plus. Our cranks turned even more reves as we accelerated and were reaccelerated by Fonseca’s Brandy and the coastal wind.

Thoughtlessly, the empty bottles were thrown in the brush; we knew nothing about ecology. Perhaps some day a bottle collector will come uon them, though by then our race will surely have been forgotten. This, however, is no more than a hope.

Lido kept a close eye on our progress, by having the chauffeur drive back and forth between the Norwegian and B group, then shouting the difference in time to us. At first we were two minutes down, gradually we edged up to one minute down.

Until Class B caught Class C and novice. Though many of these riders could not stay with the pack. Those that remained were to give us trouble.

Lido warned us from the Duesenberg that we were staying at one minute down. But, by now Fonseca’s Brandy was totally assimilated in our veins, and there was no stopping us, though some riders were blown off the back of the pace line.

Around Davenport we were upon them. Soon we were passing them Italians and Sicilians shook their fists and swore at the Norwegians. They would eat our dust.

Still there was no let up … until we approached the last mile when we began setting up for the sprint. Which in the course of things was predominantly a Sicilian affair, though the Italians did their best.

The pack fanned out into three groups. Because it is sometimes best to throw in with the probable visitors I and the rest of the San Francisco Wheelmen latched onto the Sicilian “train,” pulling for the Gatto brothers. The Italians were pulling for Harry Guidi. The Belmont Bicycle Club, the Deutsches Velo Klub and others pulling for Peter Rich.

Lido had been driven ahead. He sat in a director’s chair near the finish line, flanked by Sicilians, the brims of their hats turned down.

Bang! Lido fired his revolver in the air as we surged across the finish line. Not surprisingly, Gus Gatto won, followed by his brother Vince. Harry Guidi, an Italian, took third. The Deutsches Velo Klub had pulled their man, Peter Rich, to fourth place. And, as a reward for giving “their man” a lead out, I was pushed by an anonymous Sicilian for fifth place.
If Lido had observed this “indiscretion” he had said nothing.

Lido and his entourage now left. He never waited for losers. Those who were not loyal deserved an even worse fate. But he did not mete it out, at least not on that day.

Although it was of no consequence whatsoever Jack Casey, a fiery Irishman, won the field sprint of the combined novice C and  B pack.

Other riders straggled in, finally in last place came Bruce Suihus arriving with a spasm in his right leg, from a cramp duly deserved.

The following cars now took us back to Pete’s Café in Half Moon Bay.

Laughter could be heard as we drank Acme, Rainer Ale, and Anchor Steam. Lido sat in the corner smoking his cigar and playing poker with his cronies. He had his arm around the waist of a blonde, who occasionally threw her head back and laughed at a joke he had just made.

Pete collected the money in a cigar box. Some had been foolish enough to bet against Gus. Lido nodded, and Pete went up to Bruce.

“Here, you take last place, maybe still you gotta get something.”

Pete handed Bruce a bottle of Fonseca’s Brandy and a corkscrew. Bruce pulled out the cork and went to take a swig, but it was empty.

Lido, the blonde, and the others at the poker table began to laugh, and so did many of the rest of us.

Bruce it must be said, took it in good humor, especially since Pete now handed him a full bottle.

“Be glad you’re not Sicilian kid,” Lido said. “I don’t like wise guys who get out of line. You gotta understand. Some things, they gotta be.”

Soon the real races would begin on Murphy Sabatino’s board track in San Jose. There would be no coastal wind. And, most often, all would go according to plan.
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