Goat Heads and Bicycle Inner Tubes

Nothing says summer like goat heads and patching bicycle inner tubes.

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There are a few who will argue the good Lord never made a mistake. This is not true, and I offer the “goat head” and the grass burr as prime examples. I challenge any reader to send me a legitimate reason for the existence of either one.

I learned to hate these abominations as a child while playing with toy cars in the driveway. Few things could halt a charge against entrenched enemy positions like a good stand of grass burrs barring the way.

That shiny new bicycle received at Christmas was rendered useless once the summer’s goat head crop matured. The only good thing I know about goat heads is that they forced parents to buy shoes for their offspring who otherwise would have gone barefoot until maturity.

I can’t write about goat heads without mentioning inner tubes. The pace of my life picked up considerably after the advent of inner tubes. My first bicycle removed most of the limits and restrictions of early life. No longer did I plod along in play. I now moved at the speed of my imagination and reveled as the wind blew the hair back from my face. That is, until I had a flat – caused by a goat head.

Early bicycles had both thin treads and thinner inner tubes. Each day’s ride was prefaced by patching tubes and pumping up tires. It certainly took much of the fun out of great anticipation. But wait: There is another side to the inner tube story. Few cast-offs held the value of a used automobile inner tube, at least to us kids.

With scissors in hand, cutting strips of inner tube, the theory of propulsion was born. By carefully snipping narrow bands of rubber from an inner tube, all sorts of neat stuff came to life. Attach two bands to the forks of a limb, and the device became a slingshot capable of getting the bearer into all kinds of trouble.

Inner tube rubber bands became ammunition when shot from the L-shaped handle of a wooden pistol triggered by an ordinary clothespin. Though not capable of inflicting injury, they did sting when a victim was hit. The stretchy bands held packs and weapons when at play and sent arrows off into the blue, making them hard to find, especially in tall weeds. Dad used inner tube washers to patch all sorts of holes, and bearings on farm equipment were often protected when wrapped with this all-purpose material.

A photo was taken of me when I was 4 years old, swimming in our horse tank. Grandpa Trew is watching nearby as I use an inner tube as a floater. I am wearing a band of inner tube around my head with white leghorn chicken feathers inserted, making an Indian headdress. Talk about a scraggly headpiece: Geronimo would have fallen off his horse, laughing at the sight. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.