Tyrone Area Historical Society

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Q ~ Who was “Bicycle Harry”?

 
  A ~ Dan Meckes, a Tyrone native who left only to return years later, recalls one of Tyrone’s most interesting figures whose favorite possession is now preserved for posterity. 
    To the unfamiliar, the old bicycle tucked away in a crowded corner at the Tyrone Area Historical Society’s office would look out of place among the stacks of yellowing newspapers, fading photographs, and boxes stuffed with reminders of bygone years. 
    Unlike most of the Society’s artifacts showcased across town at the Tyrone History Museum, the dingy Schwinn isn’t meant to draw attention to Tyrone. It didn’t belong to Fred Waring, Tyrone’s most famous native son. It wasn’t in a movie or ridden by a U.S. president. It wasn’t even built by one of the town’s factories. It’s not worth a lot of money, coveted, or prized by anyone. It isn’t even in very good shape. 
    The value of the bike rests with the people who remember “Bicycle Harry,” a fixture on the streets and roads in and around Tyrone from World War II through 1981. 
    Harry Snyder didn’t earn the nickname Bicycle Harry from just riding a bike. That’s how most people remember him, donning a greasy newsboy cap as he pedaled around town. To the boys and girls of Tyrone, however, Bicycle Harry was the man who kept their spokes spinning. 
    “Every kid in town went to Harry,” Meckes recalls, adding that more than a few parents would save themselves the unnecessary frustration by dropping off new bikes, still in the boxes. Bicycle Harry would gather two or three of the neighborhood kids around and explain the workings of a bicycle. 
    Meckes recalls Harry saying, “Everything goes around and around like the moon and the stars and the sun.” 
    Now in his seventies, Meckes remembers the summer day in 1937, when as a 10-year-old boy he found himself in dire need of Harry’s expertise. Even without the unrivaled speed of a boy’s bicycle, Meckes didn’t have to go very far to find Harry. He was a Park Avenue kid and worked and tinkered at the end of the avenue, near the present-day youth baseball field. 
    Harry may have lived in the same neighborhood, but the two-room, tar-paper shack he called home was worlds away from the two-story comfort of the Meckes home. Harry’s was a Spartan’s world, Meckes remembers, with few items beyond the basic necessities. 
    At that time, even if a guy couldn’t get a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad or at the town’s signature industry, the pulp and paper mill, there were other opportunities for steady work in places like the shirt or shoe factories. Apparently, those opportunities didn’t appeal to Harry. Instead, he made his way in the world by picking up odd jobs and fixing bicycles. 
    “He’d always say, ‘I can’t work in a factory,’” Meckes recalls. “‘No one wants to work in a factory.’” In a blue-collar town like Tyrone, they have a name for guys who would rather fiddle with bicycles that take “good job” at the mill. “He wasn’t a bum,” Meckes points out. “To most people, Harry was just Harry.” 
    The kitchen had only a Ben Franklin stove, a sink, and a table. The bedroom was true to its name, with only a bed and four walls. 
    Meckes visited Bicycle Harry on June 8, 1937. Just the day before, Hollywood’s “Original Blonde Bombshell,” Jean Harlow, died at the age of 26, at the height of career. For ten years, her stunning beauty and memorable lines captured the hearts of millions of fans in theaters around the country, including a fan in Tyrone. 
    “He was sitting at the table crying,” Meckes says. Bicycle Harry showed the 10-year-old Harlow’s picture, and said she had died. “Who’s she?” Meckes asked. “Did you know her?”“Jean Harlow,” Bicycle Harry said. “She was a dream.” 
    Meckes says he didn’t tell anyone about that day for many years, but thinks it shows there was more to the man than most people knew. Bicycle Harry died in 1991 at the age of 103, and Meckes fondly remembered him as a “free and noble soul.” 
    As the editor of Tyrone’s Daily Herald, Meckes had been able — when old age finally put an end to Bicycle Harry’s rides around town — to pay his respect with a tribute.

— Adapted from an article by Greg Bock, staff writer for the Altoona Mirror






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