The Muller brothers worked often out of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for various contractors. Though the records in the Ft. Smith courthouse are scant from that period because the courthouse burned in the late 19th century, there was something to indicate that the Mullers were, after a time, buying lots, building houses, and then selling the lots and houses, an enterprise they continued when they first came to southwest Washington in the South Bend area. It seems their capacity for speculative investment schemes in America did not end there.
When they settled near PeEll, logging was the speculative venture of the day. Homestead land was free and it came complete with a full supply of virgin timber. It wasn’t much of a speculation, nor a stretch of their carpentry skills to build a working sawmill, and work it into a small fortune. After they sold out to a bigger lumber company, they were probably looking around for what to do next. Whether it found them, or they found it, is probably not important.
So it was with the next path of our research, which led back to Arkansas, and to Norm English, who is a descendant of Eberhard (Ed) Lacher and Josephine Muller, sister of my grandfather. Norm had written a book about the Arkansas days of the Muller family. He had a great early photo of the entire Muller family when they were finally reunited in America at that time. He also had a photograph taken by my great Uncle Charlie (with his homemade pinhole camera) of my grandfather proudly posing beside his new bicycle. There is enough background showing to identify the exact location on the farm (see p. 145) where it was taken. The date may be as early as 1895. Sadly for our purposes, the bicycle in the photo was not the Hill-Climber, but a conventional bike. Still, it is a great photograph, and is, as native indo-Americans would say, a bit of his spirit captured.
Ed Lacher probably saw this bike if he was around the Muller farm in 1895. We believe he may have played a pivotal role in gathering the partners together for the bicycle venture. He was a family friend, lived in PeEll and worked for the Muller brothers. In 1900 he proposed marriage to Josephine Muller, but she turned him down saying she was needed at home to take care of her mother. Ed Lacher decided to wait, and moved to San Francisco shortly after May 1900, where he lived with his brother Claudius Lacher.
This was not the first time that Ed Lacher had been to San Francisco. On August 5, 1892, he took the Oath of Citizenship in San Francisco and became a naturalized citizen. At the time of his citizenship, he was residing in the Mission District, where he and Claudius both worked in a creamery. In May 1902, he sent for Josephine Muller, who was now free to marry because her mother had passed away in July of 1901. Ed and Josephine were married in St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in the Mission District in San Francisco. After their wedding, they moved back to PeEll and invested in the Hill-Climber venture. The known geographical and social connections are solid enough to at least back up the speculations.
The connection between PeEll and San Francisco could certainly have been through Ed Lacher. Peter Scharbach was living in the Mission District and working in a blacksmith shop there, and might have done work repairing equipment at the creamery. Ed would have known Frederick Hoerth, Peter’s first partner, from his days working at the sawmill in PeEll. He would have known that Hoerth was a prosperous blacksmith. That would have interested Peter, who no doubt had a reason to keep and eye trained for potential investors. If Ed connected Hoerth and Scharbach, he may also have invested himself in Peter’s first bicycle venture with Hoerth, and later convinced the Mullers that the second scheme was worthwhile. He put in a lion’s share himself at some point, with $13,000 invested in the new company.
Peter J. Scharbach (far right) at the J. Gaehwiler Blacksmith shop in San Francisco, c. 1900.
Fate played its hand for the Mullers. In the end of March 1902, Fred Hoerth probably caught a fever that was going around, and died. It may have been the same plague of black diphtheria that was still raging in September, and eventually claimed the lives of three of his six children in that same year. In December, yet another child died from the same epidemic. This is the main tragedy of this bicycle story, but the subsequent events that were the fallout may have doomed the enterprise from the start.
from Chapter 6
I had to reflect on my own role, and yes, I was in danger of becoming the Hill-Climber story. Here I was with my old bicycle, telling and retelling the story in as many ways as I could find to make it as memorable as possible at a certified old bike nuts convention. The spooky part was I didn’t feel shudders run up and down my spine.
I loaded the bicycle in and out of a recently acquired old pickup, wearing grease streaked Levis and an old plaid shirt. Last Christmas, on the way to take my son and his friend to a performance of The Nutcracker, I had driven by an old 1966 Ford pickup for sale which, coincidentally, was nearby the place where my mother had last resided. I bought it a few weeks later. I was probably acting in opposition to long-held training from her to spend my money wisely, but I think she would agree that you couldn’t always measure things in dollars and cents. It was really her money (my part of her inheritance), anyway. What I really bought with my old pickup (along with some expected repair bills) was a large quantity of dad-points from my son. It had a cool new radio with a remote control, and he quickly got into the age and appearance of the pickup as being major draws. He loved driving to school in it, and would include it in the life story he told to everyone who would listen.
Even now, when I need to get him back in my camp, we take it up the street to the neighborhood drive-in, a holdover from the ’60s, and eat hamburgers in our truck while we play old rock and roll tunes. The carhops don’t wear roller skates anymore, but that is not my fault. The pickup gives me as much satisfaction to have him enjoy it as he gets from knowing I own it. It may well be that he will understand that there is value in not throwing out things just because they are old. At minimum, the expected father-son bonding not produced by the previous summer full of camping was pushed forward by this purchase. He bought me a pair of red fuzzy dice for the rear-view mirror to show his gratitude. We were bonded.
Still turning heads at the drive-in (the truck, not me) on Saturday nights.
The pickup was the same model that my grade-school football coach, Mr. Byrne, owned. He had purchased a like model new in 1966 and we all loaded into the back of it on Saturday morning to be taken to our games. (Mr. Bryne was the same coach I shared with Gary Lang, the old school chum I found at last Fall’s swap meet in Ridgefield, WA.) Mr. Byrne was the person who most nearly approximated a missing father figure to me while growing up in Boise. He recognized in me a hidden talent and scrappy behavior, and though I was a runt by grade school standards, he encouraged and routinely praised me as “to be imitated” by the rest of the team. It was my ticket to a previously unknown athletic prowess, which earned me the respect and acceptance of my peers. From that time on, I was no longer dorky and invisible, but had achieved value that enhanced team game winning and my personal social status. I was now memorable to others in at least one aspect of my life.
It was a bit embarrassing to be singled out after the game for stellar play-making, but my tiny ego needed some enhancement. I think he knew that, and made a point of reminding the whole school at the annual awards banquet after a winning season, with this anecdote:
“I would be on the sidelines, and our team would be losing, then I would call for defense, and one little guy would get up off the bench and run in, and when he came back, we were usually on the way to winning.”
My teammates knew whom he meant; it was earned praise. It was also an acknowledgement that stayed with me through high school. It was all the more important that it came from him. He taught me to believe in my abilities, even if it was only in one form. I had cachet.
I recall one game when I was routinely disrupting the opposing team’s offense from my inner lineman position. After each set of downs, when I came in there were progressively larger boys placed opposite me. I was able to best them all, until they put in the largest guy they had, probably held over at least one grade level. He was huge, and he sat on me. I came out and complained to my coach. His response was simply:
“That just shows you how much they respect you.”
I try to remember that moment whenever something really big shows up and sits on me these days. Currently, the pickup is my reminder.