Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Scooter Trip Back in Time

If you were an 8-year old child and was lucky enough to get hold of two old steel bearings, what toy vehicle would you make out of it?

A scooter of course! One with no seat, non-motorised, made of wood offcuts and put together by de quatros (4-inch house nails) and hopefully, aesthetically better than one Homer Simpson can make. Scooters are quite an engineering marvel, the design so simple and minimalist. It was as if man was predisposed to invent it soon after the wheel. Okay, materials ready? Construct a letter L and connect it to a T and mount a steel bearing for wheels on each end; and voila you have a scooter!

Call me a purist. Scooters shouldn't be used other than for fun. Change the intent and the design changes, too. It is predecessor of all known wheeled vehicles.It's design simplicity kickstarted a vehicular evolution. Improve on it, e.g. add a seat, pedals, gears and chains then it becomes a bicycle. Install a motor to call it a motorcycle; put a pair together in catamaran fashion and install a floorboard, mount a roof and cut out windows and you get a buggy...and so on.

Long before aluminum Razor scooters invaded from America and later cloned into millions by China, to construct a wooden scooter was every Filipino boy's dream and initial engineering challenge; it was for me back in '57 (12 years after the Second World War has ended; also year Philippine President Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay died in a suspicious plane crash).

Grandma Josefina's (Lola Pina) antique hammer and rusty saw returned to life. My puny hands calculated lengths and widths with a piece of string. Project unfinished because of school so I was sleepless. Where on earth shall I find those huge nails? How to mount steel bearings to wood? How do I attach the steering fork to the body without using a hardware hinge?

Next day I began observing scooters constructed by older friends; like that 12-year old kid Bokleng's masterpiece with trimmings of a proud jeepney! I soon discovered his design secrets. So that's how he did it with wooden axles! Blueprint was etched deeply in my mind. This is for real I more string-pulled toys like rolling stacks of Darigold milk cans.
Lola Pina collected junk (and treasure). Every box had little metal things she kept for years. There were odd washers, screws, iron nails, nuts and bolts. I like her collection of copper and silver thimbles kept in a round M.Y.San biscuit can. She was a strong woman, spine bent and hunched by unergonomic and tedious garden work. She was not a workaholic, she was a workaphile.Pasay City sewer drainage was poor at that time. Our gray water flowed down to a metre deep oil barrel reservoir. Amazonic Lola Pina used a bucket to drain it early mornings, legs spread over the well's mouth. She looked like a human version of those Texan big bird oil pumps.

I did the afternoon shift:(

One afternoon I persuaded her to let me have a look at her hardware collection for my little "school" project. She agreed, but that was only after I've pulled out (with a stubborn tweezer) about a hundred of her white hair. It was a Filipino siesta tradition thing. Young ones massaged the head of elders while pulling out some oil-gland itchy white hair. Lola Pina finally drifted into a deep nap, her peaceful and wrinkled face caressed by the 333-year old Spanish siesta. For me it's fiesta.

Now I got nails! Wood I got from a pile which was home to centipedes in a dark corner of our garden. It was near where we raised white ducks that needed to be fenced in from dogs. Nearly gave up when I wounded myself too often or bled for losing my focus. I suffered with the wood, feeling a vicarious pain everytime I accidentaly split it while I excitedly drove rusty nails into her grainy flesh. Soak the wood first in water, a friend advised. But where shall I get the steel bearings for the wheels?
Pasay City was an exciting place to grow up. Morosi and Sargan Motorworks lined up Taft Avenue near Vito Cruz and Sandejas Streets. I frequented the area as a boy because I sold comic books to augment my school allowance.

Sargan had thick, glass windows where I could watch spinning lathe machines shave steel rods. The shavings mesmerised me. Shiny, soft yet so dangerous. It cut flesh easily, sometimes unnoticed until hands are washed . Anyway I was always on the lookout for discarded steel bearings. I was lucky that day. A friendly engineer approached me and asked "You want them boy? Go for it, we'll throw them out anyway."

Happiness was a pair of old steel bearings. They looked so orange with rust tho. A friend advised me to try dipping them in cooking oil overnight. It worked, the bearings were alive once more. But what was stalling mother in the kitchen next morning? A big chunk of Purico was missing! Fried fish was scratched off the menu. We had paksiw na isda (vinegared fish) for lunch. My siblings, while eating together, stared at me suspiciously.
Back then horsedrawn karitelas ambled to and fro compacting and tilling our unpaved streets , dodging piles of corn husks and rubbish alongside. Soon our politicians decided to have our streets asphalted. Karitelas were replaced by pushpedal-tricycles. The humble bicycle was put to work (well it's better than the skeletal, overworked horse) while its sunburnt driver pushed hard, spine bent and sweating profusely to put food on the table.

The pinoy rickshaw later became motorised. Emboldened by its effortless speed, agility and profitability almost every pedicab owner switched to the motorcycle pedicab. Ubiquitous and often involved in horrendous accidents they boldly interact in main traffic. They could penetrate small alleys like canopied insects that emit the most annoying drone of all.

And so scooters for a child are much better, safer, more fun and shall allow him total hand control. The Filipino wooden scooter , like the Filipino jeepney was born out of war and industry. It's design is simple and must have been picked up by the creators of Razor scooters. After all the yo-yo is a Filipino invention.

I finished my scooter. Was so proud of it and quickly joined colleagues warming up on the concrete square of the community's basketball court. Then we all agreed to terrorize the neighbourhood. We were a mob of kids from hell riding on steel bearings that grated the rough surface of our urban roads. We were Odin's warriors. The girls remained on the footpaths and were much impressed yet annoyed. In their faces I saw the spirit of the Valkyries in their zenful meditation and jealousy. They were thinking aloud "Girls should ride, too!" No dice, girls, build your own scooter (Later I had a change of heart and let my younger sister ride it:).

It was as if the Persians were about to overrun the 300 men that humid afternoon in a Pasay City street. The noise was deafening and earned the ire of the neighbourhood elders. But we're just kids and got away with it. Riding on it I felt like Jesus gliding on water, with mouth shut to avoid swallowing bottleflies that hovered.

The scooter for me became a precious possession and an excuse for parental political blackmail;)

"Eduardo! If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never find your scooter again!"

Then I grew up. But the excitement and interest did not end. I've purchased 4 scooters for family weeked fun. I even buy cd's with scooters on the cover (nice music, too; photo above).

In 1999 I organised a small group of scooter riders. I did some t-shirt designs, too (scattered all over this blog entry) that members wore. We explored parks and beaches on the thing. Filipino artist Santi Bose visited me once and rode on my chrome scooter (photo).

Then I showed him some scooter designs that I hope could be mass produced for poor Filipino kids. It was meant to be made of rattan, wood and small bicycle pneumatic wheels. I dreamt every Filipino child should have one. Santi told me he's going to introduce the idea to Boy Yuchengco who also dropped by my place once while visiting Sydney. My late dad worked for the senior Yuchengco. Then Santi passed away and my project was put on hold. To make things worse the Razor scooter flooded the market and my commercial interest waned.

Meanwhile I still ride scooters with my young son. I haven't stopped collecting them tho'. Just got hold of a very old one (photo) which was manufactured in the early 50's.

The above specimen is well preserved except for those beautiful rusty bits;-)I better get busy writing a book about Zen and the Art of Scooter Maintenance:)

Well sort of. Look at what a Banggaan Art Group member Ed Labadia sent us. Pictures of Ifugao "Harley Davidsons"! I was so amused and laughing hard, not of mockery but of pride. Check out photos below. They're Flinstone-like and definitely a descendant of the scooter. However someone commented it would be hard to ride it up Kennon Road.

Well I offered an answer . By calling on the Mercurial spirits of Photoshop I've pasted skilifts and riders on the mountains of Baguio. There, I've done my part for Philippine Tourism!

..and may scooters remain on planet Earth forever.

Scooter update (14 Aug 07)--Rod Samonte of our Banggaan e-group sent us a photo of this cool and elegant scooter from Finland. I'm just a bit fidgety about that curved frame
that could scrape the front wheel in case my Japanese friend rides on it (he's a sumo wrestler;-)
It's branded as Kickbike and sells for around $400 (as stiff as the frame?:)

Scooter Update May 2012
Just got an email from reader who wants manufacturer of his scooter identified. Anyone
who can help? I've given up on Google search.
Hi Edd,
I found your blog while looking for information on my vintage push
scooter.  I have a very similar one to your 1950's vintage aussie
scooter (posted to your blog in 2007) and I am trying to find out what
it is.  I am in the USA and my grandfather saved this one from a
landfill in the early 1980's.  I think it is either a Cyclops or an
American made knockoff made for KB Toys.  Have you ever seen one like
mine in your neck of the woods?

Jim Mason
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Here are the answers for the Anobato macrophoto quiz:

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