Around the World on Wheels
In April of 1895 Mr. and Mrs. H. Darwin McIlrath pedaled west from Chicago, determined to circle the world on bicycles. During their journey, sponsored by the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper, Mr. McIlrath contributed letters to the Inter Ocean describing the couple’s experiences and the sights they saw along the way. A travel book compiled from these letters, titled Around the World on Wheels for the Inter Ocean: The Travels and Adventures in Foreign Lands of Mr. and Mrs. H. Darwin McIlrath, was published in 1898.
The book includes a description of the McIlraths’ crossing of Nebraska from east to west on the first leg of their round-the-world trip. In Omaha they were welcomed and entertained at the Pump House, “a handsomely appointed club house under the patronage of the Omaha Wheel Club. Its name is derived from a large pneumatic pump which stands invitingly to all cyclists outside of the main entrance.” In Lincoln the Capital City Cycling Club escorted the pair on a visit to Governor Silas A. Holcomb, with whom they attended the theater.
Near Grand Island, the McIlraths “while riding the railroad tracks, . . . ran into a hail-storm. Mrs. McIlrath, with her head between her shoulders, was driving blindly in the face of the fusillade of ice bullets. Unable to see where she was going, she ran straight into a cattle guard, throwing her some twenty feet down an embankment, and bending her handle-bars till they met above.”
Despite the mishap the McIlraths pushed on to Kearney, where according to the Kearney Daily Hub, on May 20, 1895, they toured the race track and the cotton mill. W. B. Walker, superintendent of the local cycle factory, joined the McIlraths’ entourage and rode with them as far as Cozad. McIlrath noted in his book, “Walker was a howling swell when he started away with us. His Scotch clothes were models of the tailor’s art, his cap was of the latest fashion, and his stockings were positively delirious in their pattern.” At one point the group was overtaken by an electrical storm during which “Walker grew frightened, and leaping from his wheel landed squarely in a pool of water, which had been stagnant until stirred by the heavy rain shortly before. He was anything but the dapper looking individual of Kearney when he dragged himself from the pool.” After reaching Cozad, Walker returned home to Kearney.
At Gothenburg the two cyclists were met by several local enthusiasts, including George Roberts, who astonished McIlrath. “Some years ago he [Roberts] had the misfortune to lose his right leg, but put him on a wheel and he is a wonder in spite of his affliction. Through the sandy soil and mud, this man could even outwind Mrs. McIlrath and myself, and a picturesque figure he was, too, as he glided over the plains, with his one leg turning the pedal like a steam piston, and a crutch lashed over his back like a musket.”
In North Platte the McIlraths spent a day at Buffalo Bill Cody’s famed Scout’s Rest Ranch before traveling on to Big Springs, their last stop in Nebraska before crossing into Colorado. They finally completed their round-the-world journey more than three years later in 1898, leaving England in October. After landing in New York, they rested several days before starting overland to Chicago.