COOKS MILLS -- In 1922, the country was flourishing, World War I had just ended and the economy was doing well before the decline in the 1930s. Closer to home that year, three men set out on an adventure from Mattoon to California via bicycle.
While this journey was almost 100 years ago, one of the bicycles that got the three men through is still sitting in the garage of Cooks Mills resident Les Sorensen. Les has the bicycle of his uncle, Einar Sorensen. The bicycle is believed to have been purchased in 1919, and Les has had it for about 30 years. Les acquired it when his uncle died in 1978.
This journey happened 12 years before Les was born, but Les said that his uncle never mentioned the ride to him. He said that he saw the bike at his uncle's but never heard the story or saw his uncle ride it.
Einar and his brother Kay Sorensen of Mattoon, along with their friend Ed Warren of Villa Grove, made that rigorous journey. While the real meaning for why they made the trip is unclear, Les believes the men met and decided they would do it for fun.
Overall, the trip to Los Angeles took them a total of 62 days or about nine weeks. Les currently holds information that shows the whole journey to California by letters Warren wrote to his mother every day. Some of them are postcards from familiar places such as Reno, Nevada. Les received this information after Warren’s daughter Janet Warren Tretter of Indiana made a book with all archives of the journey and gave it to Les.
Back in 1922, roads were not paved yet, so the men often had to stop and carry the bikes. One of the letters Warren wrote said that they carried their bikes for 18 miles in the desert.
While on the journey, the men stopped and picked up jobs to earn some money while on their way. Les said Einar often stopped and worked longer than the other two and eventually caught up. The men were able to stop and make friends along the way but some of the places were rougher than others. When in those not-so-safe areas, the men hid their money in their bicycle handle bars.
“I checked the handle bars and there was no money in it,” Les said.
Once they arrived in California, Kay decided to stay and join the military. After, he was shipped to Honolulu.
Even though Les never got to hear the stories of his uncles personally, he decided he would be like his uncle and take the bicycle out for himself. Les took the bike out in Texas with a bike club one winter.
“I could still get in some speed,” Les said.
While riding the bike was fun for Les, he decided to take it out to different shops to get more information on it. It is a Rugby bicycle made out of St. Louis. The bicycle has never been painted, has wooden rims, a seat from 1926 and has a slip-joint chain. He took it to Oakley’s in Mattoon, where they offered him $4,000 for it.
While Les could never sell his antique bicycle, he does have plans for it after he is gone. Les wants his little treasure to stay in the family, so he plans to send it to Kay Sorensen’s granddaughter in Oregon.
While this bicycle may be viewed as just an antique to others, it is a treasure for the Sorensen family for years to come.