The Barefoot Boy - Part One, Bicycles

THE BAREFOOT BOY (Author Unknown)

‘Twas midnight on the ocean, Not a streetcar was in sight.

The sun was shining brightly As it rained all day that night.

It was a winter’s day in summer And the snow was raining fast.

And a barefoot boy with shoes on Stood sitting in the grass.

I don’t know if Funny Grampa recited this poem or just drew a comic with the title “The Barefoot Boy With No Shoes On,” but, in Grampa’s honor, I always recite the last line of the poem as follows:

And a barefoot boy with no shoes on Stood sitting in the grass.

My Daddy, Richard Francis (“Dick”) Heitzman, was born in Gainesville, Florida on 29 June 1921. Daddy always told great stories about growing up on a poultry farm in Gainesville, his adventures in the Army, and his engineer friends at “G.E. Work”.

About 30 years ago when Daddy was in town helping us fix up the house we had just bought, I spent a great deal of time during our “off” hours trying to convince him to write his memoirs. I had in mind we should title the book:

The Barefoot Boy, Memoirs of a Florida Farm Boy

Recently I located some of Daddy’s notes on my computer—only 10,000 words, but such great stories! It’s high time these stories were published. In the next several months, I’ll post a few of them on my Blog.

The Barefoot Boy - Part One, Bicycles

Baba and Kids

Dick, Kitty, Baba, Mary, Joe, 1928

The Secorras gave my brother, Joe, and me our first bicycle. It was an old clunker, made of a strange metal which grew and didn’t provide enough room for the wheel to turn in the bearing. The cones needed grinding down. That bicycle also had the only carbon duplex coaster brake that I’ve ever seen or heard of.

Helen Sneeringer taught Joe and me to ride when I was 10 or 11 and Joe two years older (Note: Joe was always two years older). Later on I bought a bicycle for myself for two dollars and it was in working condition well enough to ride it home—though I had to stop every three blocks to put air in the tires.

Chinese Red

When I was about 14, Streits Bicycle Shop had a beautiful 26" balloon tired, Chinese Red, Arnold Schwinn with a lock—but I couldn’t afford it. So I ordered a pretty dandy aluminum bicycle from Wards on time payments—hopefully to be paid for by a paper route (which I hated). The new bike came very well crated in a sort of boxy crate, and when we opened it the last thing we could get to was the instructions for uncrating it.

The first night I had the new bike, I rode it to the Hi-Y meeting. When I came out, the bicycle was gone, and I never saw it again. Mom took pity on me and paid out the remaining payments to Wards and I went back to Streits and bought the Chinese Red Schwinn. I used that bike a lot.

There was a time when we had no car in the family and I did some egg deliveries and a lot of grocery shopping on the Chinese Red. Unfortunately, one time, I was carrying a basket of eggs and I crashed into the car ahead of me and ruined a number of the eggs.

I built a big box to go across the front of the bicycle and made a waterproof cover for it. And I made a kind of shower cap for the leather troxel saddle. I got “aholt” of a GI poncho–it rained every day–and when I started at the U of F a few years later, I was still riding that bike across town, with plenty of room for books and the poncho.

Back to the family shopping, Mom would check newspaper ads for three or four stores and then give me a list of what to buy and what to check prices on. This worked real well except for times like when they advertised hamburger 15 cents a pound, but were all out.

I rode a lot with other guys and also by myself. It was like nothing to ride 20 miles to go swimming and then 20 miles back … even by myself. Or to detour another 15 miles if the weather looked better up thata way.

I’d usually spend a week or so on the Douglas farm every year. That was 23 miles. Invariably I’d go home with a cured ham in the box. And sometimes Donald Douglas would come home with me for a while. If we just had the one bicycle, why we’d hitch and ride. I’d ride the bicycle down the dirt road a piece—balloon tires were good for this—and I’d lean it up against the fence and start walking. Donald would walk up to the bicycle and ride it past me, and that way we’d hitch and ride. When we got to a hard road or a nice hill, we might be able to double up and ride together. Usually the extra rider rode side-saddle on the bar.

One time I road a bicycle to Jacksonville 70 odd miles to spend a week with Belle Blahah, my unrelated aunt. On the way back I went way out of the way to go by little towns and mail a post card back to her from each one.

Another time I rode to Salt Springs. A girlfriend, Connie, was visiting another friend, Bernice, and they’d be there at Salt Springs on Sunday. That would have been about 45 miles, so I rode to Ocala, changed into my Church clothes and went to Church, then changed back into my riding clothes and rode on to Salt Springs. Come time to return home that evening, I found I could hold onto the running board of the girls' car and not have to pedal the 40 miles back home.

That bicycle got misused when I was away off to the Wars, but I still have some of it. Maybe I’ll get Chinese Red back together someday.


On one occasion when the college boys formed an informal oom-pah band, somebody from a bicycle shop paraded on an Exercycle. This was a great big overgrown scooter with a 20" front wheel and a 29" back wheel, mounted way off-center. The foot board was kind of flexible and the steering column was long for leverage. Pumping your weight down on the floorboard and pulling the handlebar toward you in rhythm would cause the machine to go forward and maybe even backward—though I never tried that. I understood that it was made in Chicago and some guy had ridden one clear from Chicago to Florida. Anyway it was a lot of work, I could see that.

A couple of years later I happened to see that Exercycle—more or less a wreck—at the bicycle shop, and asked what they’d want for it. The guy said “Shucks, five dollars.”

Barefoot Boy

The Ingobike (trade name for the Exercycle)

I got that Exercycle and cleaned it up. There wasn’t that much mechanical about it except it had the lopsided rear wheel. And Streits surprised me by being able to re-spoke the wheel and put a new tire on it (strange size) and I used that for some years just for fun. I took it out the Newnans Lake when the Boy Scouts went out there bicycling one time. Took it out to the Devil’s Millhopper which used to be the turn-around point for the Boy Scouts' 14 mile hike.

I didn’t necessarily enjoy being different, but this was different. When I was in the 12th grade, I palled around somewhat with a summer priest, Father Benedict Wiegand. Father Benney was a Benedictine and he had been in the Benedictine Abbey somewhere down toward Tampa or such. He’d sometimes ask me to go with him on a drive, maybe for company or maybe hoping to lure me into a profession. But one funny picture would be worth some more words and that’s Father Benny riding my Exercycle down the street in his Church clothes.

Barefoot Boy

Daddy in 2008

Watch for the next installment of The Barefoot Boy - Part Two, Family