Monday, July 19, 2010

A Unique Bicycle in Chilliwack

Count Van Rechteren's Fongers
My first bicycle came from an auction in Nova Scotia. With its high handle bars, banana seat it was the epitome of bike fashion, circa 1970. I remember how I had injured my wrist that same summer and with a cast on my arm my Dad took me out onto the sidewalks to learn the art of balance. To my astonishment, and more likely his, when I said to let go I was already sailing down the path on my own.

Now, 40 years later, while I was walking through a park I saw a mother with her daughter gainfully attempting to teach the same art on a highly colourful bike. There was a lot of giggling and laughter and as I walked by there was great joy as the daughter managed to pedal a few feet further on her own. These days of magic are all too familiar and once again it beckons to another bicycle, one that came to the Chilliwack Museum in 2006.

The Fongers’ bicycle had sat in storage for a number of years but its colourful history was known to the donor. The bicycle once belonged to Count Van Rechteren, a well-known Chilliwack personality who was born in the Netherlands. The Count’s bike was unusual as it had an elongated peg attached to the left side of the rear wheel, and the driving gear was fitted to the left side of this unique velocipede. These modifications were made as the Count did not have the use of his right leg and these alterations allowed him to transport himself around town. The Count was careful to look after the bicycle and regularly took the Fongers in for work. In 1943 a professional bicycle mechanic named George Paris worked locally and perhaps his careful adjustments over the years ensured that the bike was used and saved.

When the bicycle came into our collection, we had one researcher who shared a particular interest in bicycles and was quite pleased to see this particular Fongers. Together, we had several discussions as to how to care for the bicycle and eventually agreed to have the bike returned to riding form. Over a short period the Van Rechteren Fongers was cleaned, and its wheels tuned. We were fortunate that our researcher was also a skilled bike mechanic, with all the appropriate tools, and so we had little difficulty in agreeing to most requests for the bike’s restoration. Our researcher was so eager to contribute to the preservation of the Count’s bike we were overjoyed with his enthusiasm! After all our bike mechanic of 2006 was the same mechanic from 1943, none other than George Paris himself!

Image: Count Van Rechteren's Fongers' Bicycle.

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