Bernard A. Drew: A well-wheeled Berkshire merchant


By Bernard A. Drew

GREAT BARRINGTON >> Clarence H. Hubbard already had a day job. He was ticket agent for the Fitchburg Railroad at the depot in North Adams, having taken the position in 1887. In August 1895, he purchased H.E. Blake's three-year-old Berkshire Cycle Co. and began a second career.

"The establishment is situated in the rear of the Hoosac Savings bank," the North Adams Transcript said Aug. 1, 1895, "where it occupies a large amount of room, comprising an office, a spacious and well equipped machine shop and a hall in which bicycle riding is taught. The business consists of the selling and letting of bicycles, also repairing and the sale of bicycle sundries." It was the only cycle business in town.

Hubbard, who had graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1882, was a cyclist himself. Not long after he acquired the shop, he and the former owner went on a "century," that is, a 100-mile ride to Kinderhook, N.Y., and back.

They had an immediate problem when Hubbard smacked into a flock of hens on the road, caroming off one fowl into a rock. The rider sprawled, bruising his wrist, denting his front wheel. Hubbard turned back, carrying his bike. Blake continued on. Landlord Savage of the Idlewild in South Williamstown, where Hubbard stopped to rent a cart, offered use of a spare tire. And suddenly, Hubbard was back on the road.

At Lebanon Springs, the borrowed tire leaked. Hubbard patched it. On a steep downhill, he came up fast on a farmer's hay tedder, being pulled behind a wagon. The rider tumbled into the ditch. Remounting, Hubbard passed the farmer and yelled out his opinion of the road hog. The farmer replied with a large spit of tobacco juice.

Hubbard caught up with Blake just as the latter was leaving Kinderhook for the return. They rode home without further incident.

Hubbard had a new cycling partner the following July, when he and Ralph M. Dowlin set a record on a tandem wheel bike from Greylock House in Adams to the State Street bridge in North Adams. They did the 6 miles in 17.5 minutes, shaving 1.5 minutes from the previous record.

Hubbard sold his last ticket as railroad agent in March 1896, and devoted all his energies to the store. He became second president of the Associated Wheelmen, relating at their dinner meeting in January 1897 a number of bicycling anecdotes about fellow riders — and supporting his stories with photographs.

In 1897 Hubbard became agent for the stylish Wolff-American bicycle line; R.H. Wolff & Co. made bicycles at East 118th St. in New York City. The units were pricey — as high as $100 — but reliable — "Every wheel is thoroughly tested before leaving the factory, and any that show flaws are rejected by the experts," according to an advertisement.

The local newspaper noted another century ride in its issue of Aug. 9, 1897. "C.H. Hubbard and the Messrs Blake on a triplex, Taylor and Mosher on a tandem and Wm. Cott of Briggsville left Sunday morning at 8:15 for Troy. After stopping at Petersburg Junction for a half hour they proceeded, reaching Troy at 11:45, a distance of 52 ½ miles, making it in just 3 ½ hours. Petersburg Junction, a distance of 17 miles, was made in one hour and five minutes. The rear tire on the triplex gave out on the return trip causing some delay. The men finished their 'century' in good condition, the triplex team returning by rail from Williamstown."

Hubbard in 1898 gave out pocket notebooks in which customers could record trips and distances of cross-country runs. That year his store had 75 models on the showroom floor, including Stearns, Keating, Cleveland, Zimmy and the Century.

The proprietor noted strong interest in models selling for $50 and $75. And he saw increased sale to women riders. He continued his popular riding academy, offering instruction to beginners.

Hubbard outgrew his company and became general agent for Wolff-American in New England. He left Kane in charge of the North Adams store. Hubbard "will go to all the New England cities and towns and establish agencies," the Transcript explained Sept. 21, 1898. "Mr. Hubbard, while selling the Wolff-American wheel will also push the sale of a rack for bicycles which is made and patented by the Berkshire Cycle Manufacturing company of this city."

Hubbard returned to North Adams in March 1899 to again take charge of an autumn bicycle relay race. But come October, he went on the road again for Wolff-American.

And thus he pedaled out of sight of this writer's immediate resources.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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