The bugs are back again

WEBSTER CITY – Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, the Doodlebugs are returning to Webster City this week. Scores of the little red scooters, manufactured in Webster City from 1946 to 1948, will come home to Webster City as the Doodlebug Club of America hosts the 27th annual reunion.

Organizers said the event has grown dramatically over the years.

“Vern Ratcliff and Bill Moore from Mason City started the club,” said organizer Jerry Wells. The first gathering got its start during a Heritage Day celebration in Webster City.

“Both Bill and Vern were there and they both had Doodlebugs. They got this brainstorm that maybe they should start a club,” he said.

The first year of the reunion, just a handful of people took part with about five scooters. Since then and with the help of a club website and word of mouth, the attendance has grown. Collectors from as far as Alaska and New York attend the annual gathering. In recent years, the reunion has seen between 90 and 100 participants.

“We have one member from North Carolina. He’s been a member but has never been to our show,” said Wells. “Now that he’s retired, he’s coming to join us next week.”

While it’s believed that there are only about 1,000 of the scooters left, Wells said he continues to hear new stories of Doodlebugs being found.

“There’s a guy who found one in Brazil. It was at a garage sale or a junk sale,” he said. “He did some research and found out it was a Doodlebug made in Webster City. He plans on restoring it.”

The reunion is headquartered at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. Members can gather to visit, trade stories and even trade or sell parts and scooters. But what organizers say the members enjoy most is riding the Doodlebugs.

“We actually have one of the only shows where the guys can get on their Doodlebugs and ride freely around the community,” he said.

A trail ride along the Boone River Trail to Briggs Woods is a highlight of the group’s activities.

“Everybody looks forward to that. Last year we had 34 or 38 Doodlebugs ride the trail,” said Wells.

“That was a good group,” said member Jim Juon.

“It was the biggest group we’d had. For them to ride the 11 1/2 miles round trip – that’s great because they don’t get to do that often,” Wells said.

The club will kick off the reunion on Wednesday as they take part in Doodlebug races downtown during the RVTV celebration. The club members said they weren’t sure what the races entailed, but looked forward to being at the event and showing people the scooters.

Events continue on Thursday at the fairgrounds and on Friday, the Doodlebug Club members will gather at the Depot Museum for a Chamber Coffee at 10 a.m. followed by a group round-trip ride to the airport.

Saturday morning brings the trail ride, followed by a 2 p.m. club meeting. An auction for a custom-made Doodlebug watch – one of only 40 made, will be held at 3 p.m. at the fairgrounds. Wells and wife Carol donated the watch and proceeds from the auction will go to the Upper Des Moines Opportunity food pantry.

Organizers invite community members to attend any of the events.

“We’d love to have local residents come out and see the Doodlebugs,” Wells said.