By Tony Young



he rare velocipede from the Pioneer Village collection is being displayed on loan in the White County Railroad Museum at Bald Knob.  This antique contraption was probably used by railroad inspectors.  But, according to “Hear The Train Whistle Blow,” a railroad history by Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, privately owned velocipedes like this were “a potent inducement to suicide.”  They were sold to citizens in vast numbers. “To save walking the tracks,” according to the book, “people were urged to ride the rails without the inconvenience of paying fare, and hundreds were killed before free riding was inhibited by law.” 

More than 40 years ago, a Kensett man brought a velocipede in to Searcy and sold it as scrap metal to Thompson’s Salvage.  Owner Maurice Thompson gave it to Oran Vaughan, the founder of Pioneer Village, and thus this rare curiosity from the past was saved.  

According to local historians, the Kensett velocipede was probably used by Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad track inspectors, who traveled assigned sections of track checking for damage and signs of wear. 

Velocipedes (from the French for "swift footed") had both foot pedals and handles. Unlike the more common handcar, which sped across the tracks through hand pumping, the velocipede was made to move through a combination of pushing and pulling its handles forward and backward while also pedaling in the manner of a bicycle. Three flanged wheels kept the velocipede on the tracks; a fourth wheel would have added unnecessary weight. It was important that the vehicle be lightweight, as the rider often was alone when the velocipede needed to be removed from the tracks or turned around.  

Craig Christiansen and David Jackson have prepared a nice display for the Kensett velocipede.  You can see it in the White County Railroad Museum.  The sign notes that it is “Provided Through The Generosity of the White County Historical Society.