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  • Dale C. Maley

Story of the 'Honeymooner'

Many Fairbury area people remember the weed mowers the Bachtold Bros. in Forrest made.

Most people don't know that this company made a unique adult bicycle called the Honeymooner.

The story of the Bachtold Bros. began with the birth of William Bachtold in Schleitheim, Switzerland, in 1875. William was the son of Sam and Salome Bachtold. At 17, William Bachtold emigrated from Switzerland to the Fairbury area in 1892.

In 1901, William Bachtold married Ida Alt in Fairbury. William was 26, and Ida was 21 when they married. She was the daughter of Nicolaus Alt (1851-1932) and Rosana Slagel (1853-1917). William and Ida Bachtold had 12 children.

The three sons of William and Ida Bachtold involved with the Bachtold Bros. company were Alfred, Carl, and Elmer. Alfred was born in 1908, Carl in 1913, and Elmer Bachtold in 1914.

In the 1920 Census, these three sons lived at home with their parents. The William Bachtold family lived on a farm in BellePrairie Township, south of Fairbury. Two of the three brothers got married in 1938. Elmer Bachtold married Wilma Kupferschmid in Peoria. Elmer was 24, and Wilma was 20 years old when they married.

Carl Bachtold married Dorothy Ramseyer in Bay City, Michigan. Carl was 24, and Dorothy was when they married. Before World War II, Alfred Bachtold worked at Caterpillar Tractor Co. in Peoria. Alfred then served in World War II.

World War II ended on September 2, 1945, when Japan signed the surrender documents. That same year, Carl Bachtold started the Bachtold Company. Carl was 32 years of age in 1945. In 1946, brother Alfred Bachtold left his employment at Caterpillar and joined the Bachtold Bros. Company. Alfred was 38 when he joined the firm.

In 1947, Elmer became the third brother to join the firm. The three brothers incorporated their company in Delaware and named the firm Bachtold Bros. Weed mowers were among the first products they manufactured. In 1947, the company built a new building in Forrest.

In 1949, Alfred Bachtold married Dorothy Wiegand in Peoria. Alfred was 40, and Dorothy was 37 when they married.

In 1953, Carl Bachtold sold his interest in the business to his two brothers. Carl then moved to Florida. Carl was 40 years of age when he went to Florida.

In 1956, the Pantagraph ran a human interest story about Alfred Bachtold. The article noted that Alfred was a very talented machinist. At an early age, he built a metal lathe and a micrometer. Alfred then got interested in fabricating gun barrels. He then decided to design and build the smallest internal combustion engines in the world. Alfred succeeded, building miniature one-cylinder and four-cylinder gas engines that ran well.

In 1969, Alfred Bachtold sold his interest in the company to his brother, Elmer Bachtold. In 1969, Alfred was 61 years old, and Elmer was 55. Elmer was the sole owner until he sold the company to C. W. Hicks in 1972. Mr. Hicks is the person who owned the Hicks Gas Company. Elmer Bachtold was 58 when he sold the firm to C. W. Hicks.

Weed mowers have a sharp rotating blade that can cut tall grass and weeds. When mowing weeds close to fence posts, the guard often had to be removed. In the early 1970s, Mr. Denton borrowed a Bachtold Bros. weed mower from his neighbor. Mr. Denton left the mower running, and he walked around the mower. He slipped and fell. Mr. Denton's foot went into the spinning blade. Mr. Denton sued Bachtold Bros. and claimed their weed mower was unsafe. In this lawsuit, the court ruled that Mr. Denton was aware of the hazards and, therefore, he could not blame the accident on Bachtold Bros. Mr. Denton appealed the case. The Illinois Appellate Court in 1972 ruled in favor of Bachtold Bros.

In July 1985, the Pantagraph ran a story titled "Dad's bike design puts teen in driver's seat." Richard Steffen was the Plant Manager for Bachtold Bros. and a long-time company employee. Mr. Steffen had a special needs son that was unsuccessful in riding an adult tricycle. Mr. Steffen saw an ad in a magazine for a bicycle for two that had two seats side by side. Mr. Steffen tried to purchase this bicycle for his son, but the company had gone out of business.

With permission from company owner C. W. Hicks, Richard Steffen and Elmer Bachtold's son Jerry Bachtold spent several Saturdays building a bicycle for his son, as he saw in the magazine. His son enjoyed his new bike, and owner C. W. Hicks decided to try marketing the new design. They named it the Honeymooner, and sales started in 1986. Over 750 of the Honeymooners were sold worldwide. Campgrounds and institutions for the disabled were the biggest purchasers of the unique bicycle. The bicycles sold for around $800. This price would be equivalent to $2,190 in today's dollars.

The weed mowers built by Bachtold Bros. used heavy-duty steel. Mr. Steffen used this same heavy steel to make the Honeymooners. This heavy steel made the bicycles relatively heavy and difficult to pedal on hills. Even though they were heavy, many customers loved the bikes. Production ended around 1990.

Some of the faithful employees of Bachtold Bros. were Leon (Bud) Reavis, Maynard (Butch) Game, Walt Witte, Tony Witte, Richard Steffen, Richard Meiss, Willis Bachtold, Marvin Bachtold, Jerry Bachtold, Ed Vernia, Don Vernia, Ernie Stehle, Si Karcher, and Gene Denick. Joe and Kenneth Bachtold made drive units for the mowers at their Sibley Plant.

After more than 50 years in business, Bachtold Bros. went out of business in 2004. Many of their products are still in service today.

Worksman Cycles was used to supply the bicycle wheels to Bachtold Bros. to manufacture the Honeymooner. Sometime after the Bachtold Bros. quit making the Honeymooner, Worksman started to manufacture a two-person side-by-side bicycle similar to the Honeymooner. They made minor improvements, like offering a 3-speed version, but the design is basically the same as the Honeymooner. One can buy a Worksman two-person bicycle for about $2,000 today.

Several old Honeymooner bicycles are still in existence in the Forrest area. These unique bicycles served some unique market niches. They provided basic transportation to disabled people. The bikes were also fun to ride, and many customers used them for pleasure riding.

(Dale Maley's weekly history article on Fairbury News is sponsored by Antiques & Uniques of Fairbury and Doug & Dr. Charlene Aaron)

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