On a dirt road in rural New Jersey, a little girl in pigtails named Doris – the name alone tells you how long ago it was – watched her father unload a bicycle.
It was huge, the most beautiful blue Schwinn, with a built-in horn and whitewall tires. A 1949 girls model, with 26-inch tires and real chrome pedals that were the pathway to the world.
Until this week.
“Somebody stole my bike,” said Doris Bennett.
The bike was used when her father bought it more than six decades ago, but that didn’t make a bit of difference to Doris all those years ago – or now.
“It probably cost five bucks back then, but I learned to ride a bike on that bicycle,” she said Friday. “I rode 3, 4, 5 miles on it when I was a teen. I kept it all these years.”
The bike has been restored, with her nephew helping out with a lot of the labor. All new chrome, new paint job – all of it.
Some days in the good weather last summer, Doris would still ride down the street she lives on, between York and Rock Hill. She is older than the 66-year-old bike, but her age is nobody’s business. On that Schwinn that has no gears, no fancy brakes, Doris was young, and the world was filled with promise and good people.
Until sometime late Monday night or Tuesday morning, when someone went into the detached garage at her house and took several power tools and the Schwinn, which rested underneath a protective tarp. The thieves didn’t take a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Doris rides or a newer model Cannondale bicycle that stood right next to the antique Schwinn.
When Doris moved to York County eight years ago, the bike came with her. It was in pieces and as rusty and jagged as a mother-in-law’s heart.
But she had the frame sandblasted to get the rust off. The new chrome for the handlebars and more cost more than $300. The old rusty spokes were replaced, vintage whitewall tires found. The new blue paint job looked as beautiful as any you’d find on a restored classic car.
Similar bicycles online that are bought and sold by collectors cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
But the financial loss is not what bothers Doris. That bicycle represents her childhood, her late father and mother.
That bicycle is part of her life.
“The tools can be replaced, but there is no replacing that bicycle,” she said. “There is no replacing it. That bike has been with me almost my whole life.”
Doris called York County sheriff’s deputies, who have taken a detailed report and started an investigation, but so far no arrests have been made, said sheriff’s spokesman Trent Faris. When a neighbor found two flashlights and a broken picture frame, and Doris found a third flashlight that might be evidence, more deputies responded. Another deputy stopped by Friday. Police have checked pawn shops in both South Carolina and North Carolina.
“The police have been terrific,” she said.
Doris has printed up fliers with pictures of her bicycle and posted them. She even drove to pawn shops in Rock Hill and York herself on Thursday. She has checked online classified ad sites. She has offered a $100 reward – no questions asked – if the bicycle is returned in the same condition it was the day it was stolen.
Doris Bennett, missing a 1949 Schwinn bicycle that she never needed training wheels for, who once took on developers in New Jersey who tried to bulldoze land near her home, is no pushover.
She is not just sad, she is a little bit mad.
“I want to make sure anybody who might want to buy this bike knows it was stolen,” Doris said. “And I want it back.”
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to help?
Anyone with information about Doris Bennett’s stolen bicycle is asked to call York County Crimestoppers at 877-409-4321.