To fix warped wooden bicycle rims, Terry Todd placed bricks on top of a half-inch piece of plywood and underneath that set the rims. Then he waited. Weeks of pressure left straightened rims.
Wait…wooden bicycle rims? What is this—the 19th century?
Not exactly. The rims are on a bicycle called The Liberty, an 1896 Model 35 built by the Liberty Cycle Co. out of New York in the same year that William McKinley beat William Jennings Bryan to be president. It’s one of dozens of bicycles Todd has rehabbed through the years. But not for riding.
Instead, he displays the antique bicycles in a backyard shed, which he calls a shop. It’s more akin to a museum, though, taking a visitor all the way back to a time when combustion engines were few and people relied on horsepower—real horses— or their own two feet to get around.
The bicycles are a labor of love that have captivated Todd for more than three decades. Sixty-seven years old now, Todd said he was in his middle-30s when his wife, Nancy, told him he needed to get a hobby. He went to an auction and bought a 1948 Hawthorne bicycle and decided that would be the hobby to pursue.
“That’s the one I learned a lot on,” he said.
From there, his hobby took off. He later found a 1962 Schwinn Jaguar. Then it was The Liberty—“I knew it was old with the wooden rims”—and later a 1941 Deluxe Elgin.
There was a red Elgin, a 1920 Speed King, that he found at an auction in Anton, Ky.
“This one here,” Todd said, “it was a piece of junk.”
His oldest bicycle is the Rudge Roadster built in 1887. With solid rubber tires, a huge front wheel and a small back wheel, it is the type of bike that comes to mind when thinking of antique bicycles. A man with a handlebar mustache riding the Rudge Roadster would complete the picture.
In all, Todd has more than 20 bicycles. He found them in all sorts of places. The Liberty was found at a yard sale in Evansville. He bought it for $100.
Word of mouth has helped. He learned of the Deluxe Elgin from a man on Oak Hill Road in Evansville who was going to restore it, but bad health prevented him from it. Todd has also attended scores of antique shows and made connections with antique dealers who alert him when something interesting comes into their shops.
He said he’s also been lucky.
“I love the hunt,” he said. It’s not just the hunt for the main frame, but also the research and quest for the parts needed to rehab the bike to its former sheen.
The research that has come along with the hobby has also led to publishing an article about bicycle culture in Henderson in the 1890s and a bicycle salesman, Jacob Zimbro, Jr. Todd with help from his wife first published the article in “The Wheelmen” magazine. The Hendersonian re-published their article in the September print edition.
Todd also collects other unique memorabilia connected to bicycles. He’s got old bicycle licenses, including his oldest, an 1896 Evansville bicycle license. He also searches out old tire patch kits “because I always had to fix my tires when I was a kid.”
In his collection, there are several bicycles he’s still not refurbished. Some in his shop are missing parts and are rusty. They seem to be in waiting. In fact, they are.
“You never know when you will find stuff,” Todd said.
Part of the reason they’re still waiting revolves around finding the correct parts, which could have come from thousands of different bicycles.
“In the early 1900s, 1910 or so, there were over 2,000 brands,” he said.
When Todd sets to work on a bicycle, it’s not something that can be completed overnight.
“It takes me sometimes six months to a year” to complete a rehab, he said.
Which is the reason he’s starting to pass up some bikes. These days, Todd looks for something unusual or bikes made in Kentucky. Or, after retiring from Alcan/Century Aluminum in 2018 after a 42-year career, he’s interested in finding aluminum bicycles.
“I just want to do the ones that have to be done,” he said.
But his pickiness could have something to do with the amount of space left in his shop—there’s not much room left to fit any more.
“I didn’t dream it would be this big,” he said.