Doodlebug memories

WEBSTER CITY – Each year, the Doodlebug Reunion in Webster City draws dozens of enthusiasts to town.

Visitors from more than 20 states attend the reunion, some of them simply to socialize with others who share their interest. But many attend because they can ride their restored Doodlebugs on trails and streets with the cooperation of the city.

The trip to Webster City is hard for those far from the summer cornfields of the Midwest, but the pilgrimage for people like Don Wahl is a chance to reconnect with their youth. When he was 10 years old, living in New Jersey, his father was working in Kansas City for The Great American Tea Co. One day, Wahl said his father looked in a corner of the company’s building and saw an old red scooter. His father asked his manager what it was.

“He said, ‘It’s a scooter and if you can start it, you can have it,'” Wahl said. “My dad got a guy with a panel truck, a rope and they towed it around Kansas City until they got it started.”

That scooter was a Doodlebug manufactured in Webster City.

The Doodlebug was packed up and sent to Wahl back in New Jersey. Not yet a teenager then, Wahl recalls with fondness driving through the woods of south Jersey with his sister at his family’s shore house. As time passed, Wahl eventually got his driver’s license, got married and decided to give his Doodlebug away.

Unfortunately, the vehicle of his childhood was destroyed in an accidental shed fire.

Though his old scooter was destroyed, Wahl’s memories were not. He and a friend, Jim Anderson, are both avid fans of car shows. They’ve been going to shows together for more than 14 years. At a show in Portland, Ind., they stumbled across a Doodlebug.

It set Wahl’s memory into motion.

Since he rediscovered the Doodlebug, Wahl has worked to restore several of the classic scooters. His most recent purchase was from a family that bought a Doodlebug when it was still being manufactured, in 1948. That family owned it until last November when Wahl bought it. The man who sold it had a practical purpose for the Doodlebug; for business, he flew a small plane from town to town. When he landed, he unloaded his Doodlebug and used it to get around.

Wahl rode that scooter from the Hamilton County Fairgrounds to downtown Webster City on Wednesday. His scooter is a Western Flyer, a Doodlebug version that is slightly rarer than the more common Hiawatha. Both can be distinguished by the logo on the front of the scooter.

Wahl brought two of his three Doodlebugs to the reunion so Anderson has one to ride. Anderson doesn’t own a Doodlebug, but he owns other scooters, including a Vespa, the scooter of his youth.

“It was a junker, I fixed it up, I rode on it and lived on the dang thing,” Anderson said. “It was a key to freedom as a kid.”

Wahl has been a member of the Doodlebug Club of America for about a decade, but this is his first trip to the Webster City reunion.

Home for Wahl is a small fishing town on the cost of North Carolina. Before retiring in 2008, he didn’t have a chance to make the 1,300-mile trip to Iowa. The drive was daunting, but Wahl made it. Anderson flew from the upper peninsula of Michigan to attend too.

“We both had the time, a couple extra dollars to spend,” Wahl said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I started getting the newsletter and as long as I knew they’ve been doing it.”

While it is the memories of youth and their scooters that brought them to Webster City, it is meeting and talking with club members and people around town has made the trip worth it, they said.

“It’s not so much the scooters, it’s the people,” Anderson said. “We meet a lot of interesting people, we talk about a lot of interesting things, some of which involves scooters, but that scooter is the entry to other topics.”

“There’s not enough money in the world to replace the fun from all the years we’ve been doing this,” Wahl said. “We have a great time and that’s what it’s all about.”

They have a busy weekend of events ahead, with a 10 a.m. Chamber Coffee today at the Wilson Brewer Park Depot Museum with the club, a planned group ride to the airport later today at 1 p.m. and a Boone River Trail ride on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. An auction Saturday at 3 p.m. will feature a custom-made Doodlebug watch that will go to the highest bidder.