Constable: Scooters? Schaumburg collector says Whizzers are 'like being pushed by an angel'
A study released this week by a transportation data and analytics company promotes scooters and electric bicycles as an economical way to ease traffic congestion and pollute less. That's old news to Ray Spangler of Schaumburg, one of about 300 members of the Whizzer Club of Illinois.
"During the war years, the government wanted transportation that was cheap," says Spangler, 74, as he stands next to his old Schwinn bicycle outfitted with a 1940s Whizzer motor. "Rosie the Riveter rode one of these to work."
The Whizzer company sold kits, generally costing $100 to $125, that allowed a mechanical kid (or adult) to convert a normal pedal bike into a gasoline-powered motorbike that hit a top speed of 35 mph and got 125 miles to the gallon.
"It's like being pushed by an angel," Spangler says. "You pedal and just putt along on a coast. It's not like a motorcycle that is loud. It's more like sailing on a bike."
The company made nearly a half-million Whizzers, and of the 3,000 that still exist, Spangler owns 50. "One is in the Smithsonian, and there's two Whizzers in the bedroom," says Spangler, who says his wife, Mary, is very understanding when it comes to his Whizzers and the mounds of trophies his bikes have won.
He and his bike partner Al Blum write the "Whizzer Whimsey" column for the club newsletter. They also buy old Whizzers and restore them. "I make the taillight, air filter and this thing, the penny bank," Spangler says, explaining how the bank strapped onto the handlebars carried a roll of pennies to allow a kid to splurge for some candy or a bottle of pop.
Organizers of the National Whizzer Club's 50-year reunion picnic, 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Siems Memorial Park, 16351-16899 Highbridge Road in Union, hope to attract as many as 70 Whizzer collectors from across the Midwest, Spangler says. "Our members, they're all old, older than I am," Spangler says. The Whizzer company folded when Spangler was 2 years old, done in by competition from Japanese and British companies, and by "moms that didn't want their kids on it," he says.
Spangler wears a helmet, doesn't ride on busy roads and says he's always safety-minded. "You feel real delicate at 35 miles per hour," Spangler says.
Growing up in Plainfield, where his first motorcycle ride with his brother left him bloodied after a spill on a gravel road, Spangler graduated from Plainfield High School in 1963, got his bachelor's degree from Aurora College and his master's degree from Northern Illinois University, and had a 32-year career as a teacher, almost all of that as a fifth-grade teacher at Adolph Link Elementary School, a Schaumburg Community Consolidated School District 54 school in Elk Grove Village.
"I was a white-collar person with a blue-collar soul," says Spangler, who brought a Whizzer engine to his class to explain how motors work. The son of a butcher and grandson of a farmer, Spangler worked nights during college at a machine shop, perfecting his skill in making things.
In his wood shop, he's made everything from old-fashioned carousel animals to doll houses. He has a collection of wine stoppers with moving parts and an assortment of letter openers with profiles of people, and his fleet of parade bicycles features one with a life-size ET in the basket, another on roller skates and many with Halloween themes. He has motorcycles, rare pedal toys for kids, and odd bicycles, such as his Italian Kangaroo bike with backward handlebars that "failed in every country," Spangler says. He has a Swing Bike with a hinge in the middle that was made in Utah and comes with an endorsement by Jimmy Osmond, brother of Donnie and Marie.
"My wife would say I'm subject to rotating fanaticism," Spangler says. "I would say I jump off a cliff and make my parachute on the way down."
A father of three and grandfather of seven, Spangler and his wife, a retired high school French teacher, also own Door County's Cedar Beach Inn in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin, which hosts a 165-mile Whizzer ride that offers a timeless beauty, he says.
"The common denominator in my life," says Spangler, "is that I take art where art isn't."
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