I have many memories of my grandfather, Harry S. Blaine, one of Dr. Blaine’s sons. He was ever present during my childhood as a quiet, studious man whose interests ranged from clocks to genealogical research. By the time I was a teenager, I was taller than he was. Nowhere in my wildest imaginings did I picture him as an athlete.
But when I recently reread his recollections of growing up in Attica and Toledo, I discovered, to my surprise, that he was an avid bicyclist in his youth. And we’re not talking about short rides around the neighborhood here. At the age of 18, my grandfather took on the challenge of what is still called today a Century Ride and accomplished not only the required 100 miles or more in a 12-hour period, but added even more, accumulating a total of almost 200 miles on his bicycle before he was finished!
With the invention of what is called a “safety” bike in the 1880s, the bicycle craze took off around the world. With two wheels the same size, these bikes were easy to control and became a popular alternative form of transportation for both men and women. In fact, their popularity among women encouraged not only new styles of clothing, but also more independence and wider participation in society.
In the summer of 1898, Harry conceived of his plan to bike from Attica to Canton, OH, and from there all the way to Pittsburgh, PA, where his grandparents lived. As a warm-up for that long trip, he and a friend rode from Attica to Toledo, a distance of about 70 miles. With that successful venture behind him, Harry then took on the Century Ride. Dressed in a cut-off pair of old trousers and packing only a coat and a small kit of tools, Harry started off early one July morning on the 100-mile trip to Canton.
The roads were the biggest challenge. They were mostly unpaved and poorly maintained. Harry was kept busy weaving from side to side in order to avoid large holes and other obstacles. At one point, he glanced too long at some harvesters in a field, hit a board in the road, and tumbled over the handlebars into a shallow ditch. Fortunately, the only injury was to his dignity, as the farmers guffawed loudly upon witnessing his spill. After 11 1/2 long hours, he arrived at the home of some cousins in Canton, tired and with numb wrists after all those miles of pressing down on the handlebars. But the sense of accomplishment made up for the temporary discomfort. He had mastered the Century Run!
That was only the first leg of his grand adventure. After resting a few days in Canton, Harry turned his sights toward Pittsburgh. It was smooth sailing until the relatively flat landscape morphed into small hills, then large hills, and then mountains. This was before the invention of coaster brakes and gears on bicycles. Going up involved pumping with more and more effort; going down with no way to control his speed became an impossibility. By the time he reached the state line and saw the mountains of Pennsylvania looming before him, Harry realized that he could ride his bike no further. At the nearest town, he bought a train ticket to Pittsburgh, checked his bicycle, and rode the rest of the way in comfort.
He did manage to ride his bike part of the way home in between stretches on the railroad, therefore obtaining his ambitious goal. But as he noted in his recollections: “This was the last trip of any consequence I made per bicycle.” Now that sounds more like the grandfather I knew!