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Mike Tussey: A 12-hour adventure through Kentucky, Ohio, and W. Virginia all in on day — on bikes in 1953

The summer of ‘53 was like so many others that kids growing up in a small city would have experienced. There was nothing special about that summer, just trying to make everyday interesting in some way as boredom was around seemingly all the time.

A vintage 1950 bike like ones we used on our tour.

I was 15 and spent most of my time with two buddies, Jim Huffman and Ted Sherman. Being a teenager in the mid 20th century was totally different from today for kids finding things to do.

Yeah, we had the movies, the pools, hanging out at places with our high school friends like the Bluegrass Grill or Mokas’ Restaurant downtown where the jukebox kept us happy.

The one commonality for most guys back then was we all had our bikes. These two wheel vehicles took us anywhere anytime. Every now and then we would fake a collision as the photos shows. Boys will be boy. That is until we all got our driver’s licenses and that’s another story for another day.

One day in July while sitting on Ted’s front porch playing the hits of the day on his small phonograph that were on a 45rpm disc, Ted came up with an idea that rocked us all. He suggested that we do a bike trip that would be a round trip from Ashland, Kentucky to Huntington, West Virginia and then return home. In fact, the thing that made it so intriguing was it would be a THREE STATE TOUR in one day. Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Ashland Bridge in the 50s.

Just talking about it sounded crazy, but none of us ever gave any thought of the sheer distance, the danger, the needs for food and water, and how long would it take, and what if it rained?

Keep in mind our bikes were NOT 10 speeds or built for long distance trips. In fact, my grandmother told me she bought my used bike for $5. I remember how proud I was of it the day I got it. It was rusty and dented, but it was mine. I made a quick trip to Kress dime store and bought a small can of black paint and a brush and then painted it all over. I had no mirrors or horn on the bike; Ted and Jim’s bikes were not much better.

We did check our tires, they all looked ok, so no problem (we hoped ). So, the pact was on. We selected the next Saturday morning for our departure as long as rain was not a factor all day.

The travel plan was to cross the Ashland bridge over the Ohio River to Coal Grove, Ohio and then head east on US-52 towards South Point and Chesapeake, Ohio. The distance was almost 20 miles one way. We knew our trip would total nearly 40 miles. You never show a concern when you’re a kid of 15 or so. Then we would cross the Ohio River on the bridge into Huntington, West Virginia and head west back to Kentucky.

On the way we knew we would pass historic Camden Park in west Huntington. We all knew where it was and had been there before with our families. The Park was built in 1903 and it’s hard to believe, it still stands today behind the ever present gigantic sign of “The Happy Clown.”

Camden Park sign, West Huntington, W.V.

Inside the park, families could enjoy a swimming pool, zoo, Roller Rink and a ton of rides including an ancient wooden roller coaster called “The Big Dipper” built in 1912. History says a new wooden one took its place in 1958 and is still there today. I am sure many repairs have declared it safe today. For me, I would never ride it.

Our tour would then take us through the small towns of Ceredo and Kenova West Virginia as we would pass by another historic landmark, a huge swimming pool called Dreamland. Dreamland opened in 1926 and featured a 3-story pavilion with a huge dance floor with famed bands of the day in the 1930’s and 1940’s such as Benny Goodman and Glen Miller and even Frank Sinatra appeared there as well. Dreamland attracted huge crowds from all 3 states over all these years and still does today.

We would peddle on across the bridge back into Kentucky and travel west through a small town named Catlettsburg. I remember passing the courthouse as Catlettsburg was and still is today, the county seat of Boyd County. From there we would continue west on US23 into East Ashland and then on back to Ted’s house at 10th and Carter avenue.

That was our travel plan. However, little did we ever consider these key safety factors:

the historic wooden roller coaster, Big Dipper, at Camden Park

• There were no Bike Lanes.
• The highways and streets were narrow with busses, trucks and cars passing within very dangerous range.
• We rode single file.
• We did not wear helmets or eye protection.
• We did not consider a flat tire or a chain breaking.
• Our departure day was sunny and it got very hot as the afternoon arrived.
• We did not take water bottles only two sandwiches in a bag. We stopped at one roadside park on US-52 in Ohio for water and a small break.
• We could stop only at gas station to rest and get out of the sun and to buy a bottle of pop and a candy bar about a nickel each.

Our adventure took the better part of near 12 hours that day and that’s counting rest breaks at aforementioned service stations.

Another factor we didn’t take into consideration was the fatigue of the hours of peddling and sweating. We coasted when we could.

Even though we were teenagers, the temperature rose quickly and the heat took its toll. I remember the sweat rolling into my eyes. We finally arrived at 29th and Winchester Avenue in east Ashland and thinking we still had a long way to go to 10th street. For me, I was trailing off at 14th street and heading home.

By now, we were drained, sore, soaked with sweat and likely all three of us were thinking, “This was a bad idea!” Indeed it really was.

When I pulled into the front yard at about 9 p.m. my family was sitting on the front porch and instantly started the interrogation.

I explained about our 3 state bike tour, they didn’t believe me, but I could tell they were just very happy I was home safe with a memory of a lifetime that is still vivid 70 years later.

Given the bike tour was tons more than I expected and gaining the wisdom of understanding that we were very fortunate to have made it back home.

Would I do it again? Not in this lifetime.

Mike and friend Red Sherman faking a bike accident; Downtown Ashland in the mid 50s.

Mike Tussey has “retired” from a 60-plus-year career as a legendary play-by-play announcer for over 2000 football, baseball, and basketball games, including most recently for ESPN+. His career also includes a stint in law enforcement, teaching and coaching, and writing books, including the “Touchdown Saints.” He grew up in Eastern Kentucky and now lives in Florence with his wife, Jo. He has opened another “Door of Opportunity” and is now a regular columnist for the NKyTribune.

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  1. Rik says:

    nice story. we did all kinds of crazy things on our bikes when we were kids. I remember riding 15 miles to see a chick( who was nicely endowed) after she called me and said we could go get a burger. So I rode all the way there, she went shopping with her girlfriend and her mom. so much for a burger, so I got one on the way back. It was hot and I was hungry.

  2. Mike Tussey says:

    Rik….you get an A for effort….! I bet she never contacted you again and….you likely were too busy this time…lol Thanks for sharing…

  3. Charlene Cooper says:

    Loved reading about your bike adventure! I got a nice bike for Christmas when I was about 10. I loved it and rode faithfully around our neighborhood in South Ashland, It had a basket on the front, and I often took my little dog for a ride. One day as we were going down the sidewalk, ‘Dinky’, my little chihuahua, jumped out and it ran over him before I could stop! Thankfully it did not hurt him, but it sure upset me!!! I never took him for another bike ride, and he lived a long life. Bikes sure gave us many hours of fun and good exercise! Those were the days!

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