Cool Places in America~ Smithville, NJ and the Bicycle Railroad!

It’s your favorite child travel adviser, Tyler, once again bringing you the best in last minute vacations. Your road trip planner for the weekend getaway to the coolest and strangest places in America. How do I know about them all? My parents are contract workers in the software industry and keep moving the family every 6 months….

Now I have a Christmas tale to tell you. Every boy wishes to wake up on Christmas to find a new shiny bike under the tree. Imagine a bike railroad! This guy Smith in the Pines made some amazing bikes including the railroad…

The first time my parents worked for the “Mad Inventor” deep in the heart of the Pine Barrens of NJ I was 8 years old. As you know my parents are software engineers who are always on the move. Contract to contract. Their biggest client is the “Mad Inventor”. I think he has some Military contracts since he lives equitable distanced to Lakehurst Naval Engineering and a section of Fort Dix in Whiting, NJ. Who knows what he is up to and my parents will never tell me…

Near his guest house we stay in is a town called Smithville. Today it has a bunch of shops and restaurants my mother loves and my father puts up with. We have visited there several times throughout the years. So much so I looked up its history and it had this cool bike train! Well I thought it did..

The town with the Bike Train was closer to Mount Holly NJ. In 1892, Arthur Hotchkiss received a patent for a bicycle railroad and contracted with the H. B. Smith Machine Company to manufacture it. The initial track ran 1.8 miles from Smithville, in a nearly straight line, crossing the Rancocas Creek 10 times, and arrived at Pine Street, Mount Holly. It was completed in time for the Mount Holly Fair in September, 1892, and the purpose of the railway was supposed to have been enabling employees to commute quickly from Mount Holly to the factory at Smithville. Monthly commuter tickets cost $2.00. The record speed on the railway was 4.5 minutes, and the average trip took 6–7 minutes. The railway was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. It only had one track so that it was impossible to pass another rider, and if riders traveling in opposite directions met, one had to pull off onto a siding. By 1897 ridership had declined, and the railway fell into disrepair.

Now Smithville started as a village in Eastampton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey. It was originally established as Shreveville in 1831 by Jonathan and Samuel Shreve as a textile village on the Rancocas Creek. It was purchased by Hezekiah Bradley Smith in 1865 and renamed to Smithville. The H. B. Smith Machine Company, which produced the American Star Bicycle beginning in 1880, was located there.

The American Star Bicycle had a small front wheel, 18–23 inches in diameter, steered, and the large rear wheel, 42–60 inches in diameter, provided the forward driving force and bore most of the rider’s weight. The light load on the front wheel was reported to have made it skittish on loose surfaces such as sand and gravel. American Stars incorporated pneumatic tires very soon after they were developed, and braking was provided by a spoon brake acting on the rear wheel and actuated by a lever on the right handlebar.

A pair of independent treadle mechanisms collected power from the rider’s legs instead of a crank. Power from each treadle was transferred to the rear wheel by a leather strap over a ratchet mechanism. (See image in gallery below.) The attachment point of the leather strap could be moved to provide multiple gear ratios, and both treadles could be pressed simultaneously for a brief increase in torque. A spring attached to the ratchet rewound the strap when the foot was raised. This treadle arrangement also allowed riders of different sizes to ride the same bike comfortably without modification, as the pedals were not constrained to trace a circle about an axle. An undated advertisement lists prices from $75 to $120, depending on wheel size and finish, which varied from “plainly finished machine; painted and striped” to “all nickled and polished, except the rim, which is painted and striped in gold.” They also made a tricycle.

Smith started making the tricycles in 1887 and 1888 and patented a steam tricycle in 1889. At the first Maricopa County Fair in 1884, Lucius Copeland demonstrated his steam bicycle, one of the first motorcycles, a steam-powered Star high-wheeler. It was claimed to have traveled 1 mile (1.6 km) in 4 minutes, at a steam pressure of 80 pounds per square inch (5.5 bar), and carried enough water and fuel to run for an hour.

Smithville is still a great place to visit. While Mom loved the shopping and my father dragged his face around handing her his charge card, I got to ride the paddle boats. I wish I was not too old, I could of rode on the toy train too…but I like the Smithville by Mount Holly better with the walk on the pond. So did my father, it cost him much less…

~Tyler

To find out more about Tyler visit Salem House Press and buy Tyler’s latest book “Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida” on Amazon.com. Keep checking back often for great cheap vacation ideas that might end up surprising you and becoming the best vacation you ever had! Red proved to be always full of surprises…