cycling utah April 1999


Even the name, Spitfire, was perfect

By David R. Ward


I was 5 years old that Christmas. And if memory serves me right, I knew what Santa would bring. I had certainly written him enough letters, and had told my parents what I was lobbying Santa for.

As usual, Christmas Eve night was an ordeal. My older brother and I could not fall asleep for the longest time. We laid down, closed our eyes, and tried so hard to sleep. But the effort proved too much, and we were soon talking. Finally, though, around midnight, we dozed off.

Several hours later, say about 1 or 1:30 a.m., we awoke with a start, just knowing that Santa had come. We lay in bed until we could stand it no more, and then went flying upstairs from our basement bedroom to see what treasures Santa had bestowed.

As expected, but no less exciting even though expected, there sat a bright red and cream-colored Schwinn Spitfire. I could hardly believe my good fortune, and went barging into Dad and Momís bedroom to inform them that Santa had come through.

It was a long time till daylight, when I was finally able to take my new treasure out on the ice and snow-covered road to give it a test ride. It was perfect in every way. Even the name, Spitfire, was perfect. And in my mind, my friendís new bike, a black and white Hawthorne, did not even come close to measuring up.

That maiden ride on Christmas morning was the first of a countless number of wonderful explorations with my Spitfire. It became my constant companion as it opened a new world of wider boundaries and far-ranging adventures.

Most memorable, perhaps, were the trips to the old Indian school. This was a collection of several three story buildings located on the Fort Hall Indian reservation, five miles from my home. It was where the Indian children attended school prior to World War II, and had housed German POWs during the war.

They had now sat vacant for ten years since the war ended, and provided my friend and me with many hours of great fun. We would pack a lunch, and head to the old school where we would slide down the fire escapes from the third floor (far longer and faster than any playground slide), and practice our aim by throwing rocks to break out the small shards of glass still poking out from the window frames that had held windows long since shattered.

One day, after finishing our fun and going to retrieve our bikes, we were horrified to find them missing. Here we were, miles from home, and our treasured bikes gone. There was an old home located on the school grounds that we had not paid much attention to before. So, we walked to it and knocked on the door. An older Indian lady answered, and we asked her if she knew anything about our bikes.

She told us she had put them in her cellar, and then proceeded to rail on us as juvenile delinquents who had nothing better to do than break out windows. She informed us that we would have to walk home, and that she would have "Panky", the Fort Hall policeman, return our bikes.

My friend was prepared to leave and hoof it home, but I was more determined. I started to cry, begged forgiveness saying how we did not know we were doing anything wrong, and blubbered promises about how we would never come back. It worked. She let us have our bikes, and we went riding off home, never to return.

That old Spitfire permeates the memories of my pre-teen years. I rode to kindergarten on it, and later to grade school. I rode it to our churchís weekday primary classes, and to countless rendezvous with friends to play in the dirt and sagebrush of our rural neighborhood.

I would take my Spitfire to the top of the hill next to our dairy barn, come flying down the hill and, upon reaching the flat, stomp the coaster break and skid in the gravel for ten yards before sliding the rear wheel around to a flourishing finish.

I would also steal clothes pins from my motherís outdoor clothes line and used them to pin playing cards on the fender struts. This created a great sound as the spokes would strike the cards while I flew along on my Spitfire. Then it really sounded like it was "spitting fire".

Sadly, as I reached my teenage years, the faded Spitfire was laid aside, first for a bigger and better bike and then for a car, and forgotten. Cars, college and family followed in the ensuing years, but then a funny thing happened. I started to get an urge to ride a bike again.

I have now had several bikes in the last 15 years, and like the old Spitfire, they have carried me on many exhilarating adventures. Tours, training rides and races with my marvelous machines now permeate these years, much as the old Spitfire does the memories of my youth.

Still, as I get older, I somehow feel incomplete. I have my sleek road machine, my high-tech mountain bike, and my flaming red tandem. But I would like to find that old Spitfire which long ago disappeared, or one like it, and go for a ride.

If I could, I think I would pack a lunch, find a lonely road, and ride out to a small hill where I could I sit among some sagebrush and eat my lunch.

P.S. If anyone knows of a red and cream colored Schwinn Spitfire I could buy, please give me a call. Thanks.

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