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- Author Franciszek Gucwa
- Date of production 1927
- Place of creation Zborowice, Tarnów district, Małopolska Province, Poland
- Dimensions height: 80 cm, length: 96 cm, diameter: wheel: 25 cm
- ID no. 3568/mek
- Object copyright The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków
- Digital images copyright public domain
- Digitalisation RDW MIC, Małopolska's Virtual Museums project
Tadeusz Seweryn (1894–1975) — Director of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków — describes this bike in the scientific catalogue sheet as follows: ”A bike made of wood by a cattleman, Franciszek Gucwa. The full wheels (spokeless) are connected with wooden ploughs. The front one has handlebars, heavily fitted with iron at the place where it is connected to the axis of the bike.more
Tadeusz Seweryn (1894–1975) — Director of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków — describes this bike in the scientific catalogue sheet as follows: ”A bike made of wood by a cattleman, Franciszek Gucwa. The full wheels (spokeless) are connected with wooden ploughs. The front one has handlebars, heavily fitted with iron at the place where it is connected to the axis of the bike. The back wheel is fitted with a wheel rim. There are no pedals; there is only a horizontal stick to support the feet. The seat resembles a tailor's stool. The bike was used by boys to ride down hills. The bike was made of several kinds of wood: fir wood (the seat, both wheels, one of the wheel covers), beech (the frame, the handle bars), hornbeam wood (bike fork on the front and at the back) and lime wood (the other wheel cover).
Peasant boys grazing cattle often passed their time by carving out simple musical instruments and toys, a pocket knife sometimes being the only tool they had. To create a bike like this took great manual skills, though. Undoubtedly, such skills were mastered by Franciszek Gucwa, a 12-year-old boy who made this bike in 1927 to ride down hills (abundant around where he lived). The bike he made is an example of the engineering ideas that were developing among rural teenagers at that time. Wooden bikes like this are both described by random observers and recalled by rural constructors. Such bikes were used mainly to ride down hills, hence they were most popular in submontane areas; it was there that Edward Moskala (1925–1995) saw them. In the Wierchy (Summits) magazine (1959), Moskala reported that while wandering in the Beskidy Mountains, he “saw bikes like these in Stanisław, Barwałd, Pyzówka, Łękawica, Stronie, Raba Wyżna and Sieniawa”.
Building a bike like this gave a young constructor great satisfaction, which we know from memoirs regarding childhood in Lemkivshchyna written down by Michał Źrołka (1934–2004), published in the Płaj magazine (1995): ”One can't convey the passion I experienced while building those bikes. Though I broke all of my father’s drilling bits, and was punished for that, nobody would stop me from doing that. (…) Today I marvel at the fact that I was able to build those bikes with virtually no tools at all.” Building bikes was certainly as exciting as riding them down the hills, though that discouraged the little boy from working on the farm and must have caused the parents to object, which — as Edward Moskała writes — often ended dramatically: “The life of those bikes was not long and often ended under an axe of an angry father, who needed the son to work rather than ride a bike (…).”
Most bikes presented a similar structure, differing only in terms of details. In some bikes — like in this one — wheels were made of a single piece of plank, others had wooden spokes or pram wheels such as these installed on another vehicle in our collection, which dates back to the 1960s; it was called a “scooter” by its constructor (a 14-year-old boy). Wheels made of a single piece of plank were less durable and broke more frequently while used, which happened to one of the wheels from our bike. Axles on which the wheels were mounted could have been made of hardwood or, as in this case, wrought iron. Some bikes — like the one shown here — had leg supports. The bike seat was most often made of wood, though this ”scooter” had a seat made of a hay-stuffed fabric. It was rare to build wooden bikes with more advanced structural solutions. Such are recalled by Tadeusz Seweryn — fascinated with ”folk inventors” — when describing bikes made by a 12-year-old boy from Daniłowice (the Novogródek District) he saw in 1936: “These were various kinds of bikes made for sale and priced between 5 and 20 zlotys. The transmission and chain were the only elements made of iron; the rest was made of wood”.
Wooden downhill bikes were not merely children's ingenious ideas to pass the work time in a more interesting way and play at the same time. Halina Bittner-Szewczykowa (1923–2007), an ethnographer and curator at the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, an author of the exhibition and a publication entitled Dziecko wiejskie (Child in the Countryside) (published in 1984) writes that “a peculiar kind of entertainment, possible only in the mountains, consisted in sliding down on hard and slippery grass (…). Children of Grywałd (the Region of Nowy Sącz) would slide down on it with pieces of bark as if on sledges. In Ochotnica (the Region of Nowy Sącz), children used pieces of planks to ski, though their feet were not fixed to anything”.
Building wooden bikes is an example of “folk mechanics’ talent,” as said by Seweryn Udziela (1857–1937), the first director of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, material effects of which you are likely to see in many ethnographic museum collections.
Elaborated by Grażyna Pyla (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved