The Lincoln Cycling Club Poems

My grandfather, John A. Brown, was a remarkable man. He spent his early years on the family farm in Tannersville, New York, then went to Chicago to study law. He supported himself through law school and his masters, an unusual degree in the 1890s, by working for newspapers as a linotyper. Thus began his lifelong association with the printed word, even before he became a practicing attorney.

For fun, he engaged in many healthy outdoor activities: hiking, camping, fishing, cycling, and more. He joined, founded, or co-founded several athletic clubs, including the Lincoln Cycling Club. My grandfather also celebrated and noted many occurrences in his life by writing poems. His style is the sentimental one popular in his day that most of us only know from Robert W. Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

Recently I read a couple of Grandaddy’s poems about the Lincoln Cycling Club. As with many pastimes, cycling evidently had its ups and downs in popularity. The first poem, subtitled A Retrospect, noted that automobiles had surpassed cycling as a mode of transit, but gave credit to the club for helping push the paving of rutted dirt roads. The second poem, dated May 1938, sadly notes the aging of the few remaining Lincoln Cycling Club members. Not only did my grandfather write these poems, but he also saw to it that they were professionally printed on handsome card stock, to become treasured souvenirs for his friends and relatives. His poems are a matter of pride in our family. Despite poetry’s various fashions, the honest feelings expressed in these two poems stand the test of time.

Herewith:

Lincoln Cycling Club
A Retrospect

Tonight around our banquet hail
The Lincoln Cross Bars gleam,
Tonight old memories recall
The cyclist’s passing dream,
Tonight in friendship’s earnest clasp
We greet old friends anew,
Tonight we drink a silent toast
To friends whose days were few.

Tonight we pass in storied mirth
The tales of days agone.
We live again the night before
Our famous Violet Run.
We hear again the bugle call
To mount its order peals
Again our Cross Bar banner bright
Leads on our spinning wheels.

Tonight we see the headlights flash,
Not those of wheels we knew,
Unlimited in power or dash
Not built for one or two,
But autos large and autos small
With engines staunch and strong,
Not those we furnished man power to
Now take the world along.

O let us not time’s passing days
Regret or want them back.
We brought a closer outdoor world,
We brought the concrete track,
Where stifling dust of rutty roads
Through wind and rain and sun
O’er countless ways our cross bars blazed
From dawn to set of sun.

Tonight another toast we’ll drink
Aye, fill your glass to how
The cyclist raised the world we think
From dust and mud and slough,
But as you smile, and drink the while
And toast the cyclist man,
Remember clear, our Cross Bars dear
At all times led the van.

—John A. Brown

This is the one that brought tears to my eyes:

Lincoln Cycling Club

Our cross bars faced the rising sun,
Reflecting back its rays,
When starting on the weekly run
In those old cycling days.
The muster at the bugle call,
The Captain’s stern command,
The roll call answered quick by all
Of that old cycling band.

To mount the bugles second peal,
A softer tone and sweet
Sent forward on those spinning wheels
Our comrades down the street.
Out on the country’s dusty roads
To paths so well we knew,
That led us down the valleys green
Where ferns and violets grew.

We learned to love the great outdoors
‘Mid spring and summer’s smile,
We drank the wine that nature poured
On every green-clad mile.
Each year we made these runs a part
Of many a bygone day,
With spring and summer in our hearts
Nor thought they’d pass away.

Our cross bars face the setting sun,
Reflecting back its rays,
Our span of time is nearly run,
Gone are our cycling days,
No more we hear the bugle call,
The Captain’s stern command,
They’re few to answer the roll call
Of our old Lincoln Band.

No more we send our spinning wheels,
Down street or country lane,
No more we seek the valleys sweet
Where flowers bloom again.
But yet we love the great outdoors
When spring and summer smile,
Aye, still we love the green-clad fields
A stretching mile on mile.

O Father Time, you set the years
And with them each man’s space
And be it long or be it short
Each mortal makes his race.
Gaze on the record down those years
Aye, note its entries bright,
Where Lincoln’s man power followed pace
Companions in your flight.

O Time, deal gently with us few
Who answer “here” tonight,
Survivors of that gallant crew
Whose cross bars faced the light.
Give to us ‘cross the Great Divide
A pathway straight and clear,
That with those comrades we may ride
As with them we rode here.

JOHN A. BROWN
May 23, ‘38

My grandfather died 29 years later, having outlived everyone from the old Lincoln Cycling Club band.

One Comment:

  1. Yes, there’s a certain Victorian spillage here–these poems certainly are, as you mention, fashionably sentimental, and heroic and strong and noble and manly… But there’s also something quite affecting about them. The simple heartfelt truth of them counts for something that we’ve largely lost in the more obscure and considerably less accessible squint of more “modern” poetry.

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