Look: Texas high-wheel bike racing champion Tom Monagan

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Tom Monagan had a penny-farthing and all the medals. From A.C. Greene’s book “DALLAS: The Deciding Years”.

 

Our Back Story column in the January Advocate is all about bicycle racing in Oak Cliff in the 1920s and ’30s.

Bicycle racing in Dallas actually goes back to the 1880s, before the invention of the “safety bicycle,” bikes as we know them today.

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Above is Tom Monagan, Texas state champion high-wheel bicycle racer from 1887-1889.

In an oral history about the early days of bicycles from the Dallas Morning News in 1931, H.J. Blackney says Monagan had been “easily the fastest and most expert rider in this part of the country.”

Monagan was from St. Louis, born to Irish immigrant parents, and had come to Dallas to work for the railroad. He eventually changed careers, going into the fire insurance business — in 1906 he traveled as an adjuster to San Francisco, following the great earthquake. He was a businessman and civic leader, but he was best remembered for his athletic achievements.

Monagan was a founder of the Dallas Wheel Club, a charter member of the first Dallas golf club and an organizer of the Dallas Athletic Club. He also helped start the Texas Baseball League and played catcher for amateur baseball teams.

The Dallas Wheel Club started bicycle racing at Fair Park in the 1880s, convincing the city to build a quarter-mile track. The races drew huge and enthusiastic crowds, according to the Blackney oral history.

Again, this was before the invention of the modern bicycle, so this racing was done on high-wheel bikes, with the riders some 5-feet of the ground.

Here’s Blackney talking about high-wheelers:

“I owned the first one that came to Dallas in 1878. It had wooden wheels and iron tires. Soon after that, wooden wheels and iron tires and cone bearings gave way to solid rubber tires, and these in turn to pneumatic tires, wire spokes and ball bearings. The first to appear in Dallas with solid rubber tires was owned by Gross R. Scruggs [who owned an insurance company]. This was in 1882. He paid $162.50 for it.”

That would be almost $3,900 today.

Even mounting a high-wheeler was difficult, much less learning to ride one, so Blackney and some friends started a bike-riding school.

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“Blackney, Free & Co., did a commission business on the north side of Elm Street, just east of Lamar. We were the first Dallas agents for the Columbia Expert and the Gormully & Jeffrey makes of bicycle.”

Monagan died in 1941 at age 77. In 1946, his wife was still living in their home on Lemmon at Oak Lawn, a last remnant of when that was a single-family residential neighborhood.

The Monagans didn’t have any children. So before his death, Monagan donated his “bone crusher” high-wheeler and a tandem bicycle, along with some old-fashioned clothes and other 1890s artifacts, to the Dallas Historical Society.

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