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A Bicycle Built for Five

scan0005 (1)Why would anyone need a bicycle with five seats? And where do you get such a bike? How did such a bike end up at the top of the Spokes sculpture here in Cookeville?

Lissa Parks and I sat on the curb looking up at the bike. “Daddy built it so he and Mom and my three older sisters could ride together. I wasn’t born yet,” she said. As Lissa told me about her dad, Coolidge Holt, I was first intrigued because he was born and raised in Pickett County, my home county.

Coolidge was an only son born November 4, 1924, Election Day, and he had seven sisters. At 18 while a Pickett County High School student, he was drafted into the Army and served with the 88th Infantry. On July 13, 1944, Coolidge was wounded in Italy and spent the next eighteen months in hospitals in Italy and Kentucky recovering from injuries caused by shrapnel in his foot, knee, and shoulder.

Upon returning home, Coolidge enrolled in Tennessee Polytechnic Institute on the G. I. Bill and earned a B.S. and at the University of Tennessee he earned a Master’s degree, both degrees in Agriculture. He began his working career as a teacher at Manchester High School and continued to live in Manchester, Tennessee throughout his life.

In 1961, Coolidge worked for Arnold Engineering Development Complex, AEDC, as a recruiter and engineering aid, and he and his wife Donna had three daughters, ages 2 ½ to 5. He liked riding bikes and welded two bikes together to make a two-seater that he and Donna could ride together. But who would stay with their daughters while they rode?

Coolidge solved the problem by adding three more bike seats so the whole family could ride together. The bike first claimed notoriety in the AEDC newsletter where Coolidge’s family was pictured on the bike and a written description explained how it was made. That instigated the bike’s story going nationwide. In January 1962, Elmer Hinton included the story in his Down to Earth column in the Nashville Tennessean newspaper. Then it became an AP story and was included in magazine inserts in major newspapers across the nation.

Lissa shared a copy of a September 1962 Popular Science magazine that showed a picture of her family on the bike. So within months, this unique bike that the Coolidge’s family rode for fun became famous. And Lissa said that everyone who lived in Manchester until the late 1980s rode her dad’s bike.

Eventually, the bike landed in storage and because Lissa’s son bike raced professionally, Coolidge gave it to her and him. When they heard about the plans for a bike display, they thought it might be the bike’s perfect home. And it is.

Lissa said, “When I look at that bike, I think of Dad’s creativity, enthusiasm. His ingenuity, his love. And safety, he was so safety first.”

Take time to see Spokes on West Broad Street near the train depot. You’ll see people’s stories, not just bikes.