Pea Pod Prototype

Black and White image of Delibike in Buenos Aires

Image via Wikipedia

The Pea Pod Prototype

During the second semester of freshman year I befriended a boy named Frank, who lived in Roseland. He also rode his bike to school every day. He told me about a really great after school job he had delivering groceries for Tumey’s grocery store at 115th and Wentworth. Frank said the store owner could always use help on a part time basis. He probably wanted to quit his job and needed to recruit his replacement.

At home, I approached Mom with the idea of allowing me to work at Tumey’s after school. I already rode my bike to school, and the store was just another half mile further. She agreed and I went to Tumey’s with Frank to apply for the job.

My bike had a big basket mounted on the front from my paper route, and it was ready for the job. Mr. Tumey hired me for two days a week. At first I didn’t get to deliver anything. Mr. Tumey handed me a broom, and told me to sweep the floor. I did a great job of it. Next, he asked me to stack cereal boxes on the top shelf. I used the tongs on the end of a long pole to put them up there. The next time, he gave me a bucket of ammonia water, a brush on a pole, and a large squeegee. He took me outside and showed me how to wash the windows. Each day I went, he had another job for me.

Eventually, a telephone order came for groceries. Mrs. Tumey made a list on a paper-bag. When the list was done she wrote the address on the same bag. The Tumey’s knew all of the phone customers very well because the same people also shopped in the store when they could.

Mrs. Tumey ran around the little store collecting all of the items on the list and put them into a box. Mr. Tumey cut the meat items and wrapped them. Once she completed the list, she added the bill and recorded the amount on a receipt in her book. One copy went to the customer, the other stayed in the book.

It was time for delivery, and they called me from my sweeping job to take the order. Finally, after a couple of weeks at work I would be delivering groceries on my trusty bike.

The box looked very large, but I put both arms around it and lifted. Wow! That box was heavy. I could barely make it out the front door. Outside, I stood in front of the bike holding a box which made the veins pop out of my head. How do I get the box into the basket when the bike is leaning over on the kickstand? I took the box back in, then came out and propped the bike against the building. I wrestled the box up into the basket. It hung up on the wires half way in. That’s stupid, I told myself, the next time I’ll fit the empty box into the basket before she loads it up.

During the next challenge I rode three blocks with this huge load up front. My Sunday newspaper loads were heavy too, and I was accustomed to a loaded front wheel, but this box was at least double the heaviest paper load.

With every bump I heard bottles clinking against each other. Now, I know why Schwinn sells a delivery bike with the small front wheel and the huge basket. I wished I had one right then and there! My basket stood high above the wheel and made the bike unstable with a high center of gravity. On a delivery bike the load is low to the ground. A delivery bike also has a kick stand that holds the front wheel straight and off the ground. It keeps the bike rock solid. The basket is lower and wider making it much easier to load and unload.

My first delivery went to a customer who lived on a block of two and three flats. This lady lived on the third floor. I had to use the open back stairway for delivery. Somehow, I wrestled the box out of the basket. The road vibration had settled it in place. Miraculously, the bike didn’t tip over while I pried the box from the basket, and nothing fell out.

The box weighed at least thirty pounds, and I weighed ninety. The climb up the stairs was like climbing Mount Everest. By the time I got to the last landing my arms were tired, my legs were shaking, and I could feel the box slipping out of my fingers. What did I get myself into, I kept thinking?

God was with me all the way because I made it. I pressed the bell with a knuckle and then rested by pushing the box against the building. The lady took her sweet time to answer the door but finally came. She told me to place the box on the kitchen table. I politely handed her the bill and she paid. Ceremoniously, she awarded me with a quarter.

As I rode back, I felt a cold breeze drying the hot sweat from my back.

That first trip taught me a lot about packing boxes, and making them lighter. It made sense to split a large heavy load into a couple of trips.

The Tumey’s had a son named Gil. He didn’t work in the store. Gill came home from school in his baseball uniform. He played on the Fenger High School team and practiced after school. He came in, kissed his mom, said hi to his dad, grabbed a snack, and disappeared to the apartment upstairs.

When the store closed at 5:30 I rode home taking every short cut I knew and rolled in at 6:00 p.m. just as Mom put supper on the table.

The ‘AV’ or Main Street America

High school gave me a freedom to explore.  Classes ended at 1:50 p.m. and basketball practice didn’t begin until 3:30,  that gave me an hour to walk up to Michigan Avenue.  It is a brisk five minute walk from the school, and up the hill to the “Av.”

The “Av,” short for Michigan Avenue, formed the central business district for the Roseland, and surrounding neighborhoods.  The “Av” and “Main Street America,” were one and the same. Walking down MIchigan Avenue between 103rd St and 115th St was the same as walking down the Main Street of Lowell ,Indiana, or Morris, Illinois. Small businesses covered both sides of the street from 107th to 115th.  There were clothing stores, shoe shops, a shoe maker, drugstores, Gately’s People Store, Walgreen’s, a small bike shop, barber shops, photo studio, and more.  Anything needed for life could be found on the “Ave”. There were restaurants, taverns, Dentists, and Doctors mixed in between and above the stores.  At the top of the hill on the corner of 111th and Michigan stood the Mocambo Night Club.

One of my favorite places was the soda fountain at Walgreen’s.  After a day in class, a coke hit the spot.  Mom shopped at Gately’s whenever she needed a special dress. Gately’s ran a bakery and food shop on the lower level.  One of their specialties was the French doughnut.  These were made on the automated donut machine.  I could watch that thing for hours.

The machine consisted of an ovular trough filled with hot cooking oil.  The start point was a dough dispenser, which plopped a ring of raw dough into the oil. The plop cooked in the oil as it moved around the oval.   A new plop followed as soon as the first was out of the way.  Once the plop reached the halfway point, a submerged basket lifted up and flipped it so the uncooked side was in the oil.  The half cooked donut continued to the end where it was again lifted and flipped out of the oil onto a tray as a fully cooked donut.  A worker arranged the finished donuts on the tray. She gave a final touch by sprinkling them with either powdered sugar, dipping them in chocolate frosting, or into plain sugar. When completed, she traded the full tray for an empty, and moved the full tray to the display case.  The process never stopped moving. Today, if you go to a Krispy Kreme donut shop you will see the same donut maker amazing people the same way it amazed me fifty-five years ago. It is also the same machine that amused me  in Hillman’s basement sixty-five years ago.

The Cianci Photo Studio was on the west side of the Ave between  at 113th.  They always featured examples of their work in the window.  High School graduation pictures were among their specialties.  When I graduated Mendel I had my studio picture taken there too.  My ugly face was one of the pictures they put into the window.  That was great from a girl chasing point of view, but I took a lot of flack from the guys.

I often visited the bike shop to look for parts to customize my bike.  There was something about the smell of the shop that turned me on.  The shop was not one of the modern sterile bright show rooms of today.  It was more like an old hardware store where the aisles and walls are stacked with shelves loaded with parts.  The difference being a hardware store didn’t have bikes squeezed into every inch of available floor space.

The owner of the shop was a gray haired man who wore an apron. His hands were black with dirt and grease.  The looked liked my hands when I cleaned my chain or rear wheel with a strong solvent.  The dirty grease gets into every pore and every fingerprint.  It was at this shop that I bought an eleven-tooth cog for my rear wheel.  A classmate from Roseland introduced me to the mechanical advantage offered by sprockets. He told me that putting a smaller sprocket on the back wheel would make the bike faster.  What he taught is correct but that “faster” also requires more torque.  Torque is required to turn the crank.  The force exerted on the pedal transmitted through the crank arm is torque.  The smaller gear required more torque, and since the crank arm is a fixed length, the force has to increase.  I found myself standing on the pedal to get enough force converted to torque to pull the chain that turned the small sprocket.

Once I got the bike moving with this sprocket, pumping continued to be harder. This extra effort got me to thinking that a bike really needs many sprockets on the back wheel. For starting from a dead stop or for climbing hills, a large rear sprocket is needed. Once you gain speed the sprocket can be smaller.  A multiple speed bike, what a novel idea(1952).

In 1972,  I bought a bike for my wife at the Schwinn shop in Evergreen Park.  I bought her a ladies model 5 speed, exactly what I had invented in 1952.  I told the shop owner that if Schwinn was smart they would add the multiple speed rear wheel onto a fat -tired cruiser.  The guy told me it was a dumb idea and that no one would buy it.

A hardtail mountain bike.

Image via Wikipedia

Two years later a kid name Gary Fisher from California put a 5 speed wheel on a cruiser and started riding it up a mountain just so he could have the thrill of coasting down at high speed.  The mountain-bike caught on, and a fad began which pumped new life into a failing bike industry.  The new sport of mountain biking became a rage.  Schwinn finally woke up in the late seventies and sold a crude mountain bike.

The Av was a major commercial area until the late sixties.  By then, shopping malls displaced Main Street.  On the Southwest side of Chicago, Evergreen Plaza became the new hot spot for shopping. One by one, the businesses on the Av closed. The street became quiet, and the storefronts boarded.

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