I remember visiting my grandparents' farm as a child. We didn't get to their place very often because they lived so far away, but being a 'city boy,' I always had great fun when we did. My grandfather had lots of interesting old junk lying around, and he always had a story to go with each piece.
I remember one exploration when I came across what appeared to be some sort of motorcycle. It had steel wheels with cleats like a farm tractor and a wood (mostly rotted away) and metal frame. It also had such a big motor I wondered how anybody could ride such a contraption.
I asked my grandfather what this thing was, and he told me that the pile of rust I was looking at was at one time a 'Farm Cycle,' built by the Harvey David & Son Co. and made in the late 1920s. This machine, he told me, was built for people who could only afford one farm engine, but had many chores a long distance from each other.
The Farm Cycle
The Farm Cycle had a wood frame with iron bracing and mounting points. The wheels were steel, about 30 inches in diameter with V-shaped cleats. It used a Fairbanks-Morse 2 HP, Model Z engine, and a leather belt ran from the engine directly to the back wheel for power. The clutch was an idler pulley that pressed against the belt to make it tight (like modern riding mowers). It had no suspension, which made for a bone-jarring ride. The seat did have a spring under it to help some. The water hopper had a special cover to keep hot water from splashing on the rider, but the cover didn't always seal well and some owners would wear leather chaps to keep from scalding their legs. This may have started a trend.
I did some research and found that the Harvey David & Son Co. built the Farm Cycle for only a few years. Located in Velos City, Ohio, the company started out in the clothes hanger repair business. This soon grew into clothespin and safety pin repair. Harvey David & Son decided to branch out into other areas, and the company saw there was a need to transport farm engines from one job site to another. Most people put them on carts and pulled them by hand or horse, which was a lot of work -something needed to be done about it.
The company first tried a three-wheel, pedal-powered bike to haul engines on, but the engines proved to be too heavy to pedal very far. Harvey David decided to put the motor in a motorcycle so it could be ridden to the job site using power from the engine itself.
The Farm Cycle was ridden to the spot where it was needed, then a center stand swung down from the frame, lifting the back wheel off the ground. The operator then belted the engine to whatever was needed to run. There were two ways to start the engine; one was with the hand crank and the other was to hope you were at the top of a hill so you could coast down and release the clutch.
There was a second, less successful model that came with an attachment near the back wheel. This attachment swung down next to the rear wheel, and with the rear wheel engaged you could put tobacco in and it would chop it up. This model was known as a Harvey Chopper.
Farm Cycles did quite well until rural electrification came to the farm, but after that they just rotted away. My grandfather told stories of how much fun he and his brother had riding all over the farm on the Farm Cycle. He said it started to catch on big with other youth in the area, so much so that the local authorities had trouble with gangs that were forming. One such gang, the 'Hills Angels,' was always causing trouble out on the farms. They did all sorts of rotten things, from cow tipping to hiding fake eggs in the hen house.
My grandfather told of a boy down the road, Seavel Carneevel, who liked to live dangerously. He changed out the pulleys on his father's Farm Cycle to make the cycle go faster (they only did about 10 miles per hour). He was able to get his Farm Cycle up to 30 miles per hour (down hill with a good back wind), and he liked to jump over things. His favorite was jumping over sheep, and he set a record of six sheep, side by side. He might have gone for a higher number if he hadn't broken the wood frame on his last jump.
It was as this point in my grandfather's story that he looked at me and said, 'Boy, you know what today is?' I said, 'Nope.' He said, 'Happy April Fools.' And then he just walked off.
Contact engine enthusiast Vernon Achord Jr. at: 14218 3rd St., Santa Fe, TX 77517, (409) 925-8029.
'My grandfather told of a boy down the road, Seavel Carneevel, who liked to live dangerously'