One day in 2007, Roger Goodrich asked his mate, Peggy Eisenbraun, if they shouldn’t start collecting Massey-Harris bicycles instead of adding to the 150 Massey-Harris tractors he had collected through the years. “I started collecting Massey-Harris tractors in about 1990 because we’d had some on the farm when I was growing up,” Roger says.
The challenge of collecting Massey-Harris bicycles was intriguing. “The decision wasn’t that difficult,” Roger says, “considering the problems of keeping tractors in running shape and transporting them to shows. And we both thought it would be easier.”
But everything is relative. “Easier means it’s not as heavy and bulky as tractors,” Peggy notes. “But it’s not easy transporting the bicycles, which are light and small. You have to be careful when you’re packing them not to catch fenders, break or bend spokes and keep the lace guards intact. You have to be more careful and precise in how you put them in a trailer.”
When transporting bicycles to shows, the couple wraps up each one like a newborn baby. “We tie them to the walls of a box trailer so they won’t bounce around and scratch each other,” Peggy says. “We use blankets, quilts, Styrofoam padding – whatever we can find to keep them from rubbing against each other.”
The bicycle buddy system
Once the couple made the decision to collect bicycles, they shifted into high gear. But antique two-wheelers don’t exactly grow on trees. Roger found the first one through an Internet search. About two months later, he found another online. After that, it was very slow going. Since Massey-Harris was a Canadian company, Roger reasoned the bicycles might be easier to find in Canada, so the couple went to a tractor show in Canada. There, they found what they were looking for – and more.
“We’ve made some very dear friends in Canada,” Roger says. “They hear about bikes and pass word to us. We’ve been introduced to people who know a lot about the bicycles and they’ll hand us off to people we’ve never met, and we become friends with them. It’s great when we gain more knowledge from those friends, because it’s extremely difficult to find information on Massey-Harris bicycles.”
Roger readily admits that one of the joys in collecting Massey-Harris bicycles is the thrill of the chase. But the relics also draw attention at shows. “Everybody gets to see tractors at shows,” he says, “but nobody around here gets to see Massey-Harris bicycles.”
Massey-Harris seizes the moment
Although the bicycle dates to the early 1800s, decades passed before a bicycle craze swept North America in the 1890s, driven by invention of the “safety bicycle” with its chain drive, and the pneumatic tire. Massey-Harris was Canada’s leading agricultural machinery manufacturer when, in 1895, the decision was made to diversify into bicycle manufacture. By 1899, Massey-Harris joined Canada Cycle & Motor Co. (CCM). After that, all Massey-Harris bicycles were labeled “CCM Massey-Harris.”
The rarest and most difficult Massey-Harris bicycles to find are those with shaft drives. The cranks are pedaled just like any other safety bike, but the cranks turn a bevel gear instead of a chain, a more challenging maneuver. Shaft-drive units were manufactured to keep women’s long skirts from getting caught in the chain and spokes.
The shaft drive is a particularly unusual bike. “They’re hard to find because there weren’t many built,” Roger says. “Because of the cost, performance and maintenance, ultimately the chain drive won out over the shaft drive.”
Accommodating the ladies
Bikes of the 1890s had a unique method to keep women’s skirts out of the bicycle’s working parts: silk laces. “They put silk lacing over the back wheel and the chain to keep dresses out of the chain and spokes,” Peggy says. Unfortunately, silk being silk, it was a temporary solution at best. The lacing on the couple’s Massey-Harris bicycles now is made of regular string.
That netting is the most unusual part of the ladies’ bikes, Roger says. Bikes with coaster brakes – brakes that engage when the pedals are rotated in reverse – were also unusual too. Some bikes had curved “spoon” brakes, a curved plate that pressed down on top of the front wheel to slow the bike. One of the couple’s oldest bicycles is an 1897 Model B. The only braking system on the 1897 model is a spoon brake on the front wheel, and many had no brakes at all.
Over the course of the past century, tires and tubes remain a constant. “Not much has changed from the late 1890s to today,” Roger notes. “Sometimes in those old bikes you find a tube tire, where the tire and the tube are all one unit that you fill with air.” Twenty-six-inch tires were the norm; 28-inch tires were also available.
Scant information for the collector
For the collector of Massey-Harris bicycles, there are two major challenges: First, finding replacement tires, and second, finding information about the bicycles.
In general, little information exists on Massey-Harris bicycles. “There are some books with information on them, but it’s difficult to find those books,” Roger says. “Some of the literature is a little more common in Canada.” Questions on production runs and specific models remain largely unanswered.
Roger prefers bicycles in original condition. Occasionally he has to fix a chain or tires, and he has repaired a couple of wooden rims, no easy job. “When we get new Massey-Harris bicycles, they are in riding condition,” he says. “I’ll fix the rims and clean the bicycle. If it’s in real tough shape, I’m not so interested in it.”
The couple is still looking for a unique pair of Massey-Harris bicycles: a quad-cycle and a motor-powered unit. “The quads were used for deliveries of heavy stuff,” Roger says. “Many were shipped to Australia, where they were used as transportation for troops, and to European countries.”
Putting a premium on patience
One thing they’ve learned: The two are equally stubborn collectors. “We won’t give up until we find what we want,” Roger says. Peggy agrees. “You learn how much patience you have, because it’s not like working with a tractor on a trailer,” she says. “You have to have patience in the hunt for the bicycles, and patience to load and unload them. They are much more fragile then a large tractor, and you don’t want to destroy what you care for and bought. As we age, it’s fun to continue to learn. For me, researching and learning about these old bikes has expanded my mind, and in the process, we’ve learned information about the past that we can pass on to later generations.”
For now, the hunt continues. When Roger and Peggy started the collection, the bikes cost at least $2,000; some sold for as much as $3,500. Since then, prices have risen; most sell for $5,000 or more. “If you want a good bicycle,” Roger says, “you’ll pay that amount to get one. And if you want a shaft-drive bicycle, like two of the 25 bicycles that we have, it will cost twice that, if it’s in good condition. I only know of four total.”
Related memorabilia completes their display. Pants clips for men, tire pumps and gauges, wrenches and locks lend context to pieces built more than a century ago. “The whole thing is our part in preserving history,” Peggy says. FC
For more information: Roger Goodrich and Peggy Eisenbraun, 53231 213th St., Lake Crystal, MN 56055.Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.