Described as an amazing adventure, a pair of Hermiston men recently reminisced about a bicycle trip that took them from Seattle to Montreal, Canada.
Richard Scarlett and Jerry Cullers met as grade schoolers at West Park Elementary School. The trip, which was just over 50 years ago, was almost derailed after an incident with a train.
“As kids in Hermiston, we always rode our bikes around town,” Cullers said. “We also rode out to Sandy Beach and places like that.”
Their families ended up moving to separate towns in Washington within a couple of weeks of each other — Cullers’ family to the Renton area and Scarlett’s to Tacoma. The fast friends maintained contact, often spending the weekend at each other’s house. As young teenagers, the pair even rode their bikes to Hermiston on a couple of occasions.
Scarlett and Cullers had been to the World’s Fair in Seattle and after seeing information about Expo ‘67 on TV, they hatched a plan to make the journey. Their parents told them they needed to make detailed plans, which included writing to Dan Evans, Washington’s governor at the time.
The 17-year-olds received financial support from the governor’s office, who also put them in touch with officials from the Seattle World’s Fair. The connections continued, which led to the Leo Scherrer Co. of Seattle, who donated bicycles for the trip.
“We ran into a whole lot of support,” Scarlett said.
On June 17, 1967, a contingency of mayors attending a convention saw the duo off at the base of the Space Needle, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. During the trip, they camped, stayed in the homes of mayors and occasionally in motels. The most unusual accommodations included the back of a U-Haul type truck and a jail cell — although they weren’t actually incarcerated.
The teens mapped out plans for the roughly 2,800-mile journey. It included stops to meet officials, speak at civic groups and participate in youth activities. They anticipated it would take 40 days — it ended up taking 62 days.
“We had a route laid out pretty good,” Cullers said. “Then, once we got started, we found out that was pretty rigorous.”
Between running into inclement weather and the constant riding, Cullers said they found themselves wanting to slow down to enjoy the trip. However, that led to them becoming behind schedule.
Train nearly derails journey
Eating breakfast one morning in Harlem, Montana, Scarlett and Cullers were trying to figure out how they were going to make up time. Noticing a railroad yard across the street, the teens decided to hop a train and ride about 200 miles to Culbertson, Montana.
They easily climbed aboard while rail workers were switching cars. However, when the train didn’t slow down at their destination, Cullers and Scarlett were faced with the dilemma of how to get off.
From opposite sides of the train car, the teens climbed down the ladders, dropped their bikes and then jumped off — but not at the same time.
Banged up and separated by several miles, neither boy knew where the other was. Fortunately, a woman and her daughter happened upon Scarlett. They drove until they found Cullers.
Relieved to be reunited, the boys were banged up. Their injuries resulted in an overnight hospital stay for Cullers and three nights for Scarlett.
Serving as goodwill ambassadors, they didn’t want to share about the misadventure with the train. When interviewed by newspaper reporters, they were faced with having to explain the delay.
“The articles about my injuries said I sprained my ankle when I stepped in a gopher hole,” Scarlett said.
Their parents insisted they go back and pedal the distance where they had hopped the train.
“They said if we are going to do this trip right, we had to ride that stretch on our bikes,” Cullers said.
When their pocket change dwindled, the teens worked for a few days at the North Dakota State Fair. Other fun along the way included water skiing, bowling and other activities with teens.
Cullers said that the people they met along the way were friendly and went out of their way to help them.
“It was probably the most adventurous thing I’ve ever done,” Scarlett said. “It was the trip of a lifetime.”