The Paw Paw River Journal
The old bicycle shop When I was a kid in Hartford there were a lot of stores that are now history. In fact, much of small-town America now looks like it went through a war and was bombed out of existence. We just lost another landmark… the store building on the corner in front of Harding’s market. I can’t get used to all of those open spaces. Back then if you turned north at Hartford’s only traffic light, on the right side were solid storefronts. Right north of that now defunct corner building was a newspaper office. Long empty except for one corner where Henry Robertson had a little watch repair shop. He was all crippled up and could hardly walk, but people said he did good work. He would hobble into the shop in the morning, hitch himself up onto a stool, and peering through a jeweler’s loupe, he would start taking watches apart. Next door to the north was a little brown building with an overhang in front. The sign above said Sudden Service Tires and Bicycles. That was Toppy Walling’s bike shop. Seems to me he didn’t have a lot of business, but he had some old cronies who used to hang out with him. They would be telling stories, and from time to time you’d hear raucous laughter. He was also addicted to reading dime novels (as they were called) and pulp magazines. Toppy and his wife had several children. His son Dick was a classmate of Marion’s. Dick was a lightning drummer and played in the school band. He also played in various orchestras. The kids called him “Fur Brains” and that name stuck with him through high school. Don’t ask me why. He was at Western Michigan University when my gang was there. That was just before Marion and I got married. We were all veterans attending school on the G.I. Bill, wearing parts of our uniform and trying to skinch along as cheaply as we could. Nobody had much money and we were living in rooming houses around the campus. I can remember seeing Dick one night when we walked downtown in Kalamazoo to find a cheap restaurant. We found one right south of the State Theater. On the north side was Paul Morrison’s jewelry store. Can’t remember the name of the eatery, but I do remember we got a plate of beans and hotdogs for 35 cents. Couldn’t beat a price like that! Dick Walling went through dental school, got married, and moved to California. We heard later that he became dentist to the movie stars! Wow! He’s gone now as is almost all of that gang. One of Toppy Walling’s older daughters had children in the Watervliet school system when I got there. We remained good friends with one of the girls even after she married and they moved out west. Toppy Walling was a Hartford fixture for years and years. He had earlier some sort of illness that left him with eye problems. I can remember he always wore dark glasses. He knew bicycles inside and out. My dad bought our first bicycle there. I guess my folks’ thinking was all right… they got one bicycle for my sister and me to share. It was a girl’s model and old-fashioned looking to boot. I hated it but did not have the heart to tell my folks that. They must’ve figured it out though, because later they bought one just for me. That bicycle almost came to a tragic end. We went on a family vacation out west to visit my mom’s relatives. They lived in Idaho which was a long ways away to me. My dad got his brother, Uncle Everett, to come and stay at the greenhouses while we were gone. He had been a florist, so he could take care of any business that came along. We were having a marvelous vacation, visiting various sites where scientists were digging up and reconstructing old Indian villages. Midway through our visit with my aunt and uncle we got a distressing phone call. Uncle Everett had been delivering a floral piece out west of Hartford. He was on my bicycle, and it was getting dark. As he rode along the edge of the highway right by the Pine Creek curve, a lady in a car came along… didn’t see him and knocked him right into the ditch. It broke his leg and ruined my bicycle! We started for home immediately. There was Uncle Everett propped up in a hospital bed in our living room. His broken leg was in traction, and he was so happy to see us he was in tears. My folks got him transferred to a hospital, and life started returning to normal. But my poor bicycle was a wreck! My dad hauled it down to Toppy Walling’s bike shop. That purveyor of all things velocipede looked it all over and pronounced it salvageable! I was overjoyed and could hardly wait to be back on my wheels again. The lady’s insurance company had promised to pay for its repair and also for all of Uncle Everett’s expenses. Came the day I got it back… it was beautiful! Chrome fenders, steer horn handlebars, new seat, and painted a bright red. Toppy had really gone all out (more profit for him). Uncle Everett came out of it with no limp, and no further problems and so back to normal for our everyday existence. And really, life was simpler back then when Hartford was a bustling village. Merchants like Toppy Walling and his Sudden Service Bicycle Shop were just some of the Golden Threads woven into the Great Tapestry of Life in our storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.