Brownie sold thrills to last

If there ever was a popular retailer in downtown Fort Dodge, it was a guy commonly known as “Brownie.”

He certainly had the eyes and ears of most, if not all, young people during the days following World War II.  Brownie was the owner of the “Cycle Shop” offering Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Schwinn bicycles and Cushman scooters located just southeast of Central Avenue.

When a new customer entered Brownie’s store, he was immediately greeted with three new Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a 74-cubic inch, a 61-cubic inch and perhaps a small, 45-cubic inch bike.  All machines sported glistening chrome and bright paint.  

Further back in the shop, the popular Schwinn bicycles were everywhere. In the next room to the east and through a double door, an array of new red Cushman scooters were displayed.

In the year of 1941, our neighbor, Mr. Steve Zerbs, of Churdan, bought his children, Hobert, Helen and Eva, a used Cushman scooter equipped with a sidecar. Most kids in that day considered themselves lucky to have a bicycle, but here were kids with a motorized machine. Memories of the Great Depression were not far behind.

During Christmas of 1946, my father took my younger brother Dale and me to Brownie’s and ordered a new Cushman scooter costing $335, including the 2-percent sales tax. It was supposed to arrive from the factory at Lincoln, Neb., in about two months. However, scarcities following the war still persisted on many items. Our scooter arrived on June 5, 1947.

Driving our green K-5 International farm truck, my father, our housekeeper, Grace Green, and we kids climbed aboard and headed for Fort Dodge. Dad and Grace sat in the cab, Dale and I sat in the 8-by-14-foot Omaha truck box partially filled with straw bedding.

At top speed there was a constant whirlwind of flying chaff.  

Once at Brownie’s we found the new Cushman scooter shined up and ready to go. We were greeted with a light rain on the way back to Churdan, but it was no bother.

During that summer, we shared the scooter with many of our friends and neighbors — and as one might guess, we had a few close calls.

One of the closest was in late June, shortly after an eight-inch rainfall, when we rode through a snow fence road barrier near Lohrville and almost into a rushing creek.

My brother and I took one large trip with the Cushman to Webster City, where we once lived, to visit some old friends. It was in July, so we went swimming at the local municipal pool where many of our school pals had gathered.

When leaving for the 70-mile trip back to Churdan, we noticed many were riding small scooters called “Doodlebugs.”  On the way west out of town, a new Cushman like ours passed us with considerable speed.

Pictured is what I believe to be the same Cushman scooter Brownie sold us in 1947.

I accidently stumbled across it (in pieces) at a garage in Ocheyedan, Iowa, 30-plus years ago. Since then, I have had it restored, and recently I fabricated a homemade sidecar for it tailored after the sidecar the Zerbs kids had for their scooter.  

Today, at age 86, it is still a thrill to take it for a ride.

I do not know whatever happened to Brownie and his “Cycle Shop.”

The last thing I bought from him was a new Schwinn bicycle to ride between classes at Iowa State.

Lyle D. Spencer, of Goldfield, was born and raised in Greene County near Churdan.

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