Bicycles have balls, lots of balls, which is what they called the ball bearings in the hubs of wheels back in 1890s. They require cleaning, which is what our hero, Charles Coulter of Monongahela Valley, Pennsylvania, was doing on a June afternoon in 1896.
He “had the balls out of the hub and twenty six of them cleaned and lying together on a piece of paper, just outside the cellar door which was opened,” according to the June 25, 1896 issue of the Monongahela Valley Republican.
Coulter took a dinner break, and returned to find that … his balls, all 26 of them, were missing.
“Gosh darn dang,” I imagine Coulter exclaiming as he looked in vain for his bicycle balls. And then, he spotted a frog “making frantic efforts to get away, moving its legs like a bicycle fiend scorching on Main street.”
The curious Coulter picked up the plump amphibian and, as he “inverted his toadship to see where the trouble was, a bicycle ball fell from its mouth. Following up the clue he vigorously shook the toad and ball after ball rolled out of its mouth until twenty-six of them were again laying on the paper, bright and clean and none the worse for their sojourn with the toad.”
Perhaps frog saliva is an effective de-greaser.
Not just for the French
FYI: Back then, eating frog’s legs was quite common. The delicacy “is not a diet restricted to eccentric and abnormal French people,” wrote The Boston Globe on March 7, 1897. “The cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia consume daily hundreds of pounds of this juicy, flavorsome flesh, and the demand for this special meat is steady the 12 months round.”
The Mark Twain connection
According to the Monongahela Valley Republican, Coulter’s frog story sounded very much like Mark Twain’s famous 1865 “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” short story that appeared in scores of newspapers across the country in 1895 and 1866. In this popular tale, “the stranger,” a gambling man, pours lead shot down the throat of Dan’l Webster, Jim Smiley’s long-jumping, champion frog, in order to win a bet. Which he does.
However, “Coulter not being a great reader, is totally unfamiliar with that popular bit of fiction. He tells the story in good faith and vouches for its truthfulness with a degree of sincerity that compels belief,” accor4ding to his hometown paper.
Interested in more wacky bicycle stories from history?
Here’s the link to the post about my new book with hundreds of wacky, hilarious, fascinating and totally true stories, mostly from the 1890s.