Frank Doll: Where’s the brake? |

Frank Doll: Where’s the brake?

Shirley Welch
Vail, CO Colorado

Because Frank was in charge of moving the battalion from one spot to the next, he was always one of the last officers to arrive.

This town of Newton-Stuart was built up and around a hill, the streets steep and made from cobblestone. Most of the stores wandered along the zig-zag streets that climbed the tree-studded hill. These streets were narrow built with cobblestones and nowhere would one see a sidewalk.

Once Frank had the battalion situated, Gordon found him and said, “Hey, Frank, I bought a bicycle and you have to get one, too. It’s the only way to get around this place.”

Frank could see that Gordon was right. Every where he looked he saw men, women, children, and army personal riding bikes. “OK, so where do I get one?”

“The store is at the top of the hill,” Gordon told him. “I’ll take you up there and you can choose a bike.”

So with his stash of bills tucked inside his shirt, and while Gordon peddled his newly acquired bike, Frank walked alongside and huffed and puffed his way up the steep hill to the bike shop. There Frank entered the shop and found a mostly empty area with just three or four sad looking bikes in stock.

“Most of the other men got the best bikes,” Gordon told Frank. “Just choose one with the best tires.”

And so he did, carefully inspecting each rickety bike. He chose one that looked as if it could hold his weight and the tires still had some tread. After giving the ship owner a whopping $35, Frank steered his bike out of the shop. Standing for a moment, he looked over the countryside, charmed to see many tiled roofs and far below the valley with the cluster of Nissan huts.

“Let’s go,”Gordon said and hopped on his bike.

Frank did the same, getting the feel for the seat and giving his bike a good go on the pedals. The two men started down the bucolic hill. Immediately, Frank felt the bike gathering speed. No problem, he thought. I’ll just put on the brakes.

Frank pushed back to ease into the brake. Nothing happened. He pushed harder. The bike did not slow. Now alarms bells went off inside his head.

Up ahead came a sharp turn to the right. Careening down the cobblestone road, the road so bumpy that his eyeballs jiggled, he made the turn but felt the bike wobble, and quickly he had to make another turn to his left.

Now blood thundered in his temples and his mouth tasted like an old penny. Frank still gained speed. In front of him came another sharp turn and another, and then just as suddenly there were no more zig-zag turns.

Instead, the street dropped steeply and ended with a building made of stone that seemed to reach to clouds. At the speed he was going, he had no doubt he would crash into the building, his body permanently smashed against the stone walls. At that moment, Frank’s life passed in front of his eyes. He was certain he was going to be killed by bicycle.

He felt his throat go painfully dry and his breath caught in his lungs. “Brake!” he screamed.

Now he stood on the pedal but nothing happened. “Brake!”

From behind him, he heard Gordon yell, “Handlebars! Handlebars!”

That is when Frank saw the knobby thing on each handlebar and yanked on it. The building in front of him raced toward him at a dizzy speed. He pulled harder. The bike’s tires made a screeching sound, Frank smelled rubber burning, and just at the right moment, the bicycle went from death-defying speed to something he could manage, and he was able to turn the bike to the side street and miraculously avoided that stone building that stared him in the face.

Frank later decided that the bicycle experience on the Newton-Stuart hill was the second most frightening experience of his entire war tenure.

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