Friday, February 04, 2011

Velocipedic experiments in Gorham

In reading through Hugh McLellan's History of Gorham (1903) I found a tidbit about the venturesome attempts of some local citizens to find out what those there new-fangled velocipedes were all about. It sounds like they created a monster! I can only imagine what it looked like.
About the year 1820 an attempt was made to manufacture a velocipede in Gorham. The idea was suggested by a rough woodcut in an English magazine which had come into the possession of some one in the village.

A number of men subscribed small sums toward defraying the expense, and Mason Frost and George Hight undertook its construction; their only guide being the picture and its description in the book. The machine was built in the shop afterwards owned by Capt. Bailey, and which at that time stood close to the street, but was moved back about 1840 to its present location in Alfred Bailey's yard. Mason Frost, who was a carriage maker, got out the frame and wheels, while George Hight undertook the iron work.

The machine consisted of a stout piece of white oak, supported at each end by a sturdy oak wheel. The rider sat astride of this backbone, and propelled the vehicle by striking his toes against the ground. There were no pedals or other machinery to it. It was steered by an iron bridle, attached to the forward wheel; and, as represented, was able to go up hill as fast as an active man could walk, while it could spped down a moderate slope at the rate of about ten miles an hour, and on level ground nearly as fast.

At last the thing was completed, and a trial was made of it in the presence of a throng of interested spectators, but no one could do much with it, excepting to amuse the crowd. At this time there was no saddle or seat on it, but one was afterwards added. Frost was the only one able to make any headway at all on level ground, and he but little, while as to riding up hill, it was no go. The velocipede was finally stowed away in some corner, and the experiment abandoned.

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