1886: NOBC Tour from NOLA to Boston in 30 Days

Thomas_Stevens_bicycle130 years ago, three members of the New Orleans Bicycle Club set out east from New Orleans on their penny farthings, following the railroad tracks out of the city and into the Louisiana swamp. Their destination: the annual meeting of the League of American Wheelmen in Boston. They had 30 days to get there. The first half of their journey would take them across the Deep South, where there were no long-distance roads and few local ones, across territory that had never before been traveled by bicycle.

This summer, as part of Biketastic Summer New Orleans, historian Lacar Musgrove will release “Astride Lofty Wheels,” a novella-length work of literary nonfiction that narrates in rich detail the historic journey of these three New Orleans cycling pioneers.


The assembled three now headed down the broad avenue of Canal Street towards the Mississippi River, where they turned left and proceeded up Decatur Street toward Elysian Fields Avenue. Wishing to avoid riding on the cobblestones of the French Quarter, the oldest part of the city, the trio walked their bicycles along Decatur Street through the market district. To their right were the wharfs along the Mississippi River . . .

 To their right were the wharfs along the Mississippi River, where docked steamships packed with produce to be sold in the markets and riverboats full of cotton to be bailed in the cotton presses and shipped across the Atlantic to Liverpool. The three gentlemen, followed by a crowd of fifty admirers, pushed their slick machines past the market stalls heaped with dry goods and produce, and the fruit stands presided over by dark-eyed Italians, and the white marble tops of the coffee stands, littered with bright china. The longshoremen, dressed in blue work pants and red flannel shirts, the stall merchants in their aprons, the coffee stand men in crisp white shirts, buttons gleaming, and the raven-haired market women, gathering their faded calico dresses to lift the hems out of the filth of the market floor, and their thin bare-footed children, and the little maid girls and errand boys of the city, clutching straw baskets, and skeletal dogs, eyes bulging, tongues hanging limp, lined the street to gaze at the heroes of the hour.

. . .

Several hours later, they came to a town called English Lookout, an island once used as a staging point by the British in the War of 1812, now a fishing resort.[1] Hoping for supper, they found only bread and coffee. Having traveled forty miles, walking across the trellis-work of the railroad through swamps and marshes, they took a short rest before continuing on. As the light of day grew dim, dark clouds rolled in, the air turned cold, and a heavy rain began to blow in on the stiff winds. They pulled their rubber coats from their packs but found them no match for the wind-driven showers, and their jackets, knee britches, and stockings were soon soaked and heavy. For the next three hours they stumbled along the railroad tracks, in such darkness that they could not see the tracks at all, falling repeatedly headlong into the ditch.[2] Only by the sound of their voices and the flashes of lightning could they find each other. Their bellies were empty, their clothes soaked, and their feet sore. They began to doubt they would reach Bay St. Louis that night. Spotting an abandoned wood house near the tracks, they talked about trying to camp there, giving up hope of warmth and food and settling for shelter and rest until the light of morning. But then, in a flash of lightning, Harry thought he could make out a group of houses in the distance. It was Waveland. Finding the shell road that led to the little neighborhood on the beach, the travelers pedaled swiftly toward what would be the heaven-sent hospitality of Mr. T. Beck, his dry cabin, his hot supper, his roaring fire.

[1] L.A.W Bulletin, Vol 3 October 29, 1886 Page 450

[2] Ibid.

See the story site on New Orleans Historical




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