You Coast Downhill

-by Greg Hoots-

As a child, I often heard stories from my folks of what they always called “the bicycle trip.”  The bicycle trip took place three years before I was born, but the stories were lavish with details, making it more memorable to me than some things which I really experienced.


Frances and Carl Hoots pose with their son, Steve at their West Plains, Missouri rural home, circa 1949.

Daddy had returned from overseas in the summer of 1944, and he and Mama were married within a week of his arrival in St. Louis. In 1945 they established their first home on some property owned by Daddy’s parents located southwest of West Plains, and in 1946 my brother, Steve was born. It was in the first few years of their marriage that they established a chicken ranch; that, however, is another story.


Daddy, Carl F. Hoots, feeds a young chicken in this view from about 1950.

In 1952 Mama and Daddy decided to take a bicycle trip from their home in southern Missouri to the north across the United States into Canada, returning by way of Michigan, where an old Army buddy of Daddy’s lived.

So, in the spring of 1952 they held a farm auction and sold most of their possessions and vehicles. Mama often remarked when telling the story that they “sold everything they had except the kitchen table, because no one would buy it.”  They purchased “two Dutch three-speed bicycles” from the Sears & Roebuck catalog to ride on their journey. My older brother was five years old at the time of the trip, and he rode in a basket mounted on the handlebars of Daddy’s bicycle.  Mama carried most of their gear in two saddlebags attached to the back fender of her bicycle.  Daddy, always the artistic one, painted their names and city of origin on the saddlebags.

Once, when Mama was telling the “bicycle trip story”, I asked her how much training she and Daddy had underwent before leaving on a bicycle trip which they hoped would span thousands of miles. She said, “Oh, we didn’t train at all, we only got the bicycles put together the night before we left.”


The West Plains Daily Quill took this photo and memorialized Carl and Frances Hoots’ departure on their 1952 bicycle trip.

The great adventure began in late May when the couple departed West Plains. The West Plains Daily Quill photographed Mama, Daddy and Steve as they left on their trip. The first day the cyclists traveled northeast some 15-miles toward Mountain View, Missouri, reaching Poe Hill where they made camp under a bridge which crossed a small creek. Their equipment included a small one-burner camp stove, a small pup tent, a blanket, but little else.  The first night, their neighbors, Ralph and Mary Krause, drove north along the bicyclists’ route, affirming that their neighbors had made the first day of their trip successfully. They also brought along much-appreciated cold bottles of Pepsi Cola for the travelers.

The second day of travel the bicyclists made their way to Eminence, Missouri where they rented a small cabin for the night, allowing them to bathe, sleep in a comfortable bed, and enjoy the other comforts provided by such accommodations. Two more days of travel brought the bikers to Cuba, Missouri where Grandma and Grandpa Moore were living on a farm. They stayed at the farm at Cuba for several days, assisting in the harvest of strawberries.  Mama and Daddy helped my grandparents pick the berries, and Steve and Aunt Bea established a stand near the road and sold fresh strawberries.

Grandpa Moore in Cuba

Grandpa Austin Moore sits in the yard in front of the farm house at his strawberry farm at Cuba, Missouri, circa 1952.

Rested from the earlier ride, the bicyclists left Cuba, riding to Herman, Missouri, some 50-miles in distance in one day, a record for the trip.  After staying the night in a cabin, the expedition left the next day, traveling north to Troy, Missouri and farther to Cuivre River State Park, where they made camp for the night.  After making camp they discovered that an old man lived at the State Park in a fine log house.  He had owned all of the land that had become the park, and had been given the right to live there in his home for the remainder of his life. He was surprised to see a young family making such a journey on bicycles, and he invited them to come to his home to visit the first evening they were at the park. Mama remembered their host having “cold Pepsi” for the travelers, and an immediate friendship was forged.

By this point in the trip, the Missouri weather began to play a role in the future of the trip. The days had become very hot, and pedaling the three-speed bicycles was fast becoming a chore for both of the cyclists. A decision was made by Mama and Daddy to turn around and bring their trip to a conclusion.  They bicycled to the southwest, arriving in O’Fallon, Missouri by evening where they made camp. That night a strong summer thunderstorm hit, punctuated with dangerous lightning, loud thunder, and torrential rain. Forced to take cover under a bridge, the three riders huddled together, braving the storm. By morning, the weather had changed again, as a cold front had followed the storm, leaving the cyclists shivering. Mama recalls asking Steve if he was cold, to which he replied, his teeth chattering, “Not very much.”

That morning the cyclists packed their gear and headed for St. Louis, arriving in the city during the morning rush hour.  The two bicycles made their way across the Missouri River bridge at St. Charles, Missouri at the peak of rush hour, slowly making their way across the span as cars whizzed by the slow-moving bikes.  In St. Louis the bicyclists stayed with Mama’s siblings, and Daddy went to look for a job, thinking that they might stay in the city.  He was immediately hired at a large steel mill as a maintenance worker, and he purchased a complete set of hand tools from Sears for the job. The first day at the steel mill Daddy was assigned to do electrical work high on the ceilings, directly over the hot, molten vats of boiling iron. The heat was oppressive, and one wrong step meant certain death. Daddy only worked one day before deciding that the steel mill was not for him, and Mama and Daddy decided to return to West Plains.

They purchased a panel truck, and the adventurers returned to West Plains with the bicycles in the back of the van.  After returning to West Plains, Daddy was offered a couple of jobs in St. Louis; one job was a manager of a chicken ranch, of which he had some experience. Another offer was for a job as a designer at a toy manufacturing company.  However, by that time Mama and Daddy were resolute in their decision to stay in West Plains, and that is where they remained.

daddy1090 copy

Frances Hoots poses in front of a 1947 Crosley station wagon at the Hoots’ rural West Plains home.

Although they fell short of their plans to travel 3,500 miles to Canada and back, the great bicycle trip did span the length of Missouri and proved to be an adventure that we would all remember for a lifetime.  I can recall once hearing the bicycle trip story when I was a young boy, and Mama had said, “I’m going to write a book about the bicycle trip some day and call it, You Coast Downhill.”



1 reply »

  1. What a great story! I realize it was a different time, but I’m not sure I would have the “gumption” to attempt something of that magnitude, especially in the manner they did it. I can’t help but admire their spirit of adventure. — I remember riding my motorcycle from Topeka to Phoenix and back after I graduated from Washburn and I thought that was a great adventure…kind of pales in view of what they were trying to accomplish.


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