Thursday, November 24, 2005
27 years ago the National Enquirer promised to do a story on me. I’m still waiting.
1978 was drawing to a close and I was winding down my framebuilding business in Worcester, England. Finishing up a few remaining orders and preparing to emigrate to the United States in January 1979.
The phone rang one day and a voice on the other end told me the call was from the US. It was someone from the National Enquirer and went on to tell me they were the largest circulation newspaper in America. The part about having the largest circulation was probably correct, but where they were misleading me was in describing the publication as a newspaper. Newspaper implies a paper containing news. But as the National Enquirer does not reach the British supermarkets; in my ignorance I took the man’s word for it.
Why were they calling me? They had somehow found out that I built bicycles and they needed a very special bicycle. There was a family in South Africa, a husband and wife with sextuplets. Actually, these were the Rosenkowitz sextuplets, three boys, and three girls born January 11, 1974. They were the worlds first surviving sextuplets.
Apparently this family had a contract with the National Enquirer which allowed them to exclusively take and publish photos of the kids. They were soon to have their fifth birthday and someone at the National Enquirer thought it would be a neat idea to photograph Mum, Dad and their six offspring on a bicycle made for eight.
What a strange coincidence I thought. Here was I just about to emigrate to the United States where very few people knew who I was, and here was someone from “The largest circulating newspaper” in the US calling me. I had visions of becoming a household name in the US overnight. The next thing I knew I was agreeing to build this strange octi-velocipede (or maybe octdem) at my own expense in exchange for them doing a story about how this special bike was built by a famous builder of racing bicycles.
I drew up sketches of the proposed machine; they sent me measurements of the two adults and their six children and I set to work. The design would be very simple as time was short and as I was paying for it labor and materials had to be minimal. I bought a pair of used moped wheels with balloon tires. They also had drum brakes built into the hubs which made the braking system very simple. All I needed was two brakes levers and cables to connect. The front rider would operate the front brake and the rear rider the rear brake. These would be the two adults; the kids would ride in the middle.
Rectangular 3in. x 2in. box section steel tube would form the lower part of the frame. Eight holes were drilled through sides of the bottom box section and plain bottom bracket shells were welded into place. Eight seat tubes of varying lengths came up at the appropriate angle above each bottom bracket. A fabricated heavy duty front fork and a conventional rear triangle and the frame was complete.
I used inexpensive steel cottered cranks and chainwheels; adult size front and rear and kiddie size with short cranks for the six children. Chain tension was taken care of with little adjustable jockey wheels at the bottom of each chain. This simple design as it turned out made for a very stable and easy to ride machine, because the weight of the steel box section tube together with all these heavy steel cranksets attached was well below the wheel center making for a very low center of gravity.
The National Enquirer commissioned a local photographer to take pictures of myself with the half finished eight seater. The bike was completed in December 1978 and a truck came to pick it up. The National Enquirer arranged and paid for it to be packed and shipped to South Africa. And that was the last I heard from them.
In January 1979 I arrived in New Jersey to begin work with Paris Sport. Sometime in the summer of that year a local bike rider came in with a copy of the National Enquirer. Inside was a photo of the special bike I had built with the family of eight actually riding it. Mother was up front steering and Dad was acting stoker at the rear and the sextuplets, I seem to remember three boys and three girls, pedaling merrily away in the center seats.
In the short caption under the picture there was no mention of the framebuilder, famous or otherwise. The only reason it had caught the attention of the bike rider who brought it in to show me was because I had the foresight to have ‘dave moulton’ painted in three inch letters on the down tube.
All my effort and expense had been in vain. I let the matter drop because I realized that very few serious bike riders read the National Enquirer anyway. But if anyone from the National Enquirer reads this blog; you owe me an article. I have the original drawing and a letter of intent from NE to prove it.
Perhaps they could dig out the original 1979 picture from their archives or even find the bike. The sextuplets will be in their thirties by now so how about a then and now picture. But I am not going to hold my breath and anyway I no longer build bikes. I am a writer now with a published novel, but I doubt many National Enquirer readers are into literature either.
Posted by Dave Moulton at 11/24/2005 11:37:00 AM