FAMILY STORIES

Dad’s Olympic Adventure

Dad as a Young Man

Dad as a Young Man

articleMy father, Donald Lyman Mason, (more here) was something of an expert on bicycles. For some time, during his early college years at Oregon State, he worked in the local bike shop to help pay his way. While working there he assembled what he considered to be the ultimate racing bike from pieces and parts he scrounged here and there. He then took up bicycle racing and in 1932 he won the championship for the State of Oregon. I distinctly remember him extoling the virtues of that bike. It had a special light weight frame and an unusually short wheel base. There were no gears and  the pedals never stopped, or coasted. In fact, the bike could actually be pedaled in reverse. If you were used to riding a bike which braked by reversing the pedal action and you tried that with Dad’s bike, it could pitch you right over the handle bars. He recounted to me, with obvious relish, how he stayed right on the leader’s tail in the final championship race and then sprinted by him in the home stretch to win the race. He kept that bike all of his life and used it as his primary commute vehicle both before and after he owned a car. I used it myself when I was in junior high school. Below is the medal he was awarded for the State of Oregon Championship

Dads prowess with a bicycle did not go unnoticed on the Oregon State campus. See article on right that appeared in the college newspaper. It doesn’t mention him by name, but everybody knew who it was about.

(click on images for larger view):

Front

Front

Back

Back

The  1932 the Olympics were held in Los Angeles and the Coliseum was built for that occasion. Dad’s State Championship was not sufficient to get him into the Olympics, but he was an avid follower of bicycle events and dearly wanted to see them in Olympic form. So, he and a couple of friends bought an old car and decided to drive to L.A. Dad also had a bicycle racing hero named William “Torchy” Peden. The nickname “Torchy” resulted from a head of bright red hair. Peden had turned professional after the 1928 Olympics, but he would be at the 1932 games as coach of the Canadian Bicycle Racing Team, and Dad hoped to meet him.

Olumpic TicketUnfortunately, things did not go as planned. The car was unreliable and  repair expenses along the way left the travelers broke by the time they got to L.A. They sold the car for a song in order buy tickets to the various events. He did manage to get close to Torchy Peden but he was hugely disappointed because Peden had such a foul mouth that my straight-laced father was totally turned-off.

When the games were over, there they were, flat-busted and 1500 miles from home at the height of the Great Depression. Their only choice was to do what many others were doing in those days — ride the rails to get where they wanted to go. Somehow, they managed to jump on a freight train headed north up the Central Valley and they found themselves in an empty boxcar with a mixture of hobos and tramps. Someone started a fire inside the car, then two bums that had been drinking got into a fight. This was a little too much for a young, innocent college student to take. So he left the boxcar and worked his way forward to a gravel gondola. This turned out to be a fortuitous move because, whereas the empty boxcar had been quite a rough ride, the gravel car was loaded and, consequently, the springs were compressed making for a softer ride. In addition, the Sun had been heating the gravel all day and he could snuggle down into it and stay warm through most of the night.

Here my memory of the details of the story begins to taper off. I do recall him describing how, on one occassion, as the train was going slowly up a grade through some vinyards they perfected the practice of jumping off near the front of the train, dashing into the vinyards, grabbing a bunch of grapes and then catching the end of the train before it passed by.

I don’t remember anything about how the trip ended, but since I’m here writing what I do remember, it’s pretty obvious he made it home safe and sound.

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Saturday, April 17th, 2010 Dad's Olympic Adventure No Comments

The Deboards (de Bordes)

To begin the category of Family Stories I have picked one of the oldest that I can remember. This story has been passed down for five or six generations and I first heard it from my grandmother when I was a small boy.

My mother’s maiden name was Kidd. Her mother’s maiden name (my grandmother) was Williams. Her mother’s maiden name (my great grandmother) was deBoard. Her mother’s maiden name (my great great grandmother) was Richardson. Eliza Richardson married Joseph Deboard and they had a daughter Clara Deboard. Here are two photos of my great grandmother Clara Deboard:

Clara deBoard
Clara Deboard

(click on image for larger view)

Clara de Bourde 1870-1880 (yet another spelling)

Clara de Bourde 1870-1880 (yet another spelling)

To have this much information about one’s female ascendancy is somewhat unusual. The story of how this came about is unique in itself, and forms a kind of sub-plot to the story of the Deboards. When I was growing up my grandmother Miriam Phoebe (Williams) Kidd  lived in Santa Cruz, California. She was a British subject and was trained as a registered nurse. She never became a naturalized US citizen because she received a pension from the British government as a WWI widow. Here is a photo of my grandmother:

Miriam Phoebe (Williams) Kidd

Miriam Phoebe (Williams) Kidd

(click on image for larger view)

At one point, while living in Santa Cruz, she met another English woman (Mrs. Watson) about her same age (late seventies) and they often observed the English tradition of tea in the afternoon. During one of these tea-time sessions they started discussing their ancestors and discovered that they probably were related. Sometime after that Mrs. Watson took a trip back to England and promised my grandmother that she would check the birth and death records to see if, in fact, it was true. As promised she came back with a page full of notes which are hard to decipher. I have a copy of these notes and after studying them for some time I came to the conclusion that the two of them were probably second cousins.

The French revolution was a rather messy affair compared to the American revolution. It went on for about ten years (1789-1799) and passed through several phases. Various factions gained the upper hand at various times only to fall later. At certain times you were just as likely to lose your life for being a Protestant as for being a royalist. The Huguenots were one of the largest denominations of French Protestants. A good feel for the situation can be gained by reading The Rover by Joseph Conrad. When persecution of the French Protestants reached a fever pitch there was a large exodus to other neighboring countries, particularly the Netherlands and England. This is where the family story picks up:

The Deboards (de Bordes) were an aristocratic family and apparently some portion of them were Huguenots. Some of the de Bordes emigrated to London where they went into business. Upon arriving in England they either made the conscious decision to Anglicize the spelling of their name to Deboard, or it was something that happened at the immigration office and they decided to live with it. The way it was told to me was that after they had been in London for a couple of generations the patriarch of the family back in France died and left a substantial fortune to be distributed to his heirs. But, alas, the Deboards in London were unable to prove their status as heirs, at least in part, because of the change in spelling to their name. This circumstance tramatized the family to such a degree that the tale of it has rattled down through the generations now for over a hundred and fifty years.

For more Deboard (de Borde) history click here.

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Saturday, April 10th, 2010 The Deboards (de Bordes) 2 Comments
 

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