‘A key to freedom’
Each year, the Doodlebug Reunion in Webster City draws dozens of enthusiasts to town. Visitors from more than 20 states have come out to the reunion. Many of them come to socialize with others who share their interest. Many come because they can ride their restored Doodlebugs on trails and streets with the cooperation of the City.
The trip to Webster City is hard for those far from the summer cornfields of the midwest, but the pilgrimage for people like Don Wahl is a chance to reconnect with their youth. When he was 10 years old, living in New Jersey, his father was working in Kansas City for The Great American Tea Company. One day, Wahl said his father looked in a corner of the company’s building, and saw an old, red scooter. His father asked his manager what it was.
“He said, ‘It’s a scooter and if you can start it, you can have it,'” Wahl said. “My dad got a guy with a panel truck, a rope and they towed it around Kansas City until they got it started.”
The Doodlebug was then packaged and sent to Wahl back in New Jersey. Not yet a teenager, Wahl said he recalls fond memories of driving through the woods of south Jersey with his sister at his family’s shore house. As time passed, Wahl eventually got his driver’s license, got married and decided to give his Doodlebug away. Unfortunately, the vehicle of his childhood was destroyed in an accidental shed fire.
While his old scooter was destroyed, Wahl’s memories were not. He and his friend Jim Anderson are both avid fans of car shows. Wahl said they have been going to shows for more than 14 years together. At a show in Portland, Indiana, the two stumbled across a Doodlebug, and Wahl began to recall his enjoyment of the old scooter.
Since he rediscovered the Doodlebug, Wahl has worked to restore several of the classic red scooters. His most recent purchase was from a family that bought a Doodlebug when it was still being manufactured in 1948. That family owned it from then until last November when Wahl purchased it. The man he purchased the scooter from had a practical purpose for the Doodlebug. For business, he flew a small plane from town to town, and when he landed, he unloaded his Doodlebug and used it to get around.
That scooter was the one that Wahl rode with Anderson from the Hamilton County Fairgrounds to the RVTV celebration in Webster City on Wednesday. Wahl said the make is a Western Flyer, a slightly rarer version of Doodlebug. The more common make is a Hiawatha. Both can be distinguished by the logo on the front of the scooter. Wahl brought two of his three Doodlebugs to the reunion so Anderson had one to ride. Anderson does not own a Doodlebug, but owns several other scooters like Vespas, as that was the scooter of his youth.
“It was a junker, I fixed it up, I rode on it and lived on the dang thing,” Anderson said. “It was a key to freedom as a kid.”
Before coming to the reunion, Wahl had been a member of the Doodlebug Club of America for about a decade. The place Wahl calls home is a small fishing town on the cost of North Carolina just a few miles from the border with South Carolina. The town of Calabash, according to Wahl is renowned for its seafood. Before retiring in 2008, Wahl said he didn’t have the chance to make the 1,300 mile trek to Webster City. Although the drive was daunting, Wahl made the long drive and Anderson flew from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to attend the reunion for the first time.
“We both had the time, a couple extra dollars to spend,” Wahl said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I started getting the newsletter and as long as I knew they’ve been doing it.”
Having arrived early in the week, both said they have enjoyed their time with the club and Webster City as a whole. While it was the memories of youth and their little vehicles that brought them here, they said meeting and talking with club members and people around town has made the trip worth it.
“It’s not so much the scooters, it’s the people,” Anderson said. “We meet a lot of interesting people, we talk about a lot of interesting things, some of which involves scooters, but that scooter is the entry to other topics.”
“There’s not enough money in the world to replace the fun from all the year’s we’ve been doing this,” Wahl said. “We have a great time and that’s what it’s all about.”
Both have a busy weekend of events ahead, with a 10 a.m. Chamber Coffee today at the Wilson Brewer Park Depot Museum with the club, a planned group ride to the airport later today at 1 p.m. and a Boone River Trail ride on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.