The Myth Track: an original bicycle story by Erich von Neff

“The Myth Track”, an original story by Erich von Neff


“It seems suspicious to me,” Reinholt Reinhardt said. Murphy  Sabatino’s   board track* has been shut down for a few years. There’s a six-day race at the Madison Square Garden in New York and the Gattos go back there and clean house. The New York Times said that they handled the track like they’d been riding one every day.”

Jesss Shinn took a puff off his cigar, then he looked up at the photo of Rita Hayworth on the wall. Jess spoke slowly.

Remember when there was some money missing at the bank. It wasn’t much, and your boss said that you can;’t expect the books to balance exactly.”

You went over the books anyway and found that a little  bit here and there had been shaved off, but when you added it up 50 grand was missing.

Reinholt crossed his right leg over his left revealing a white sock. Nervously he pulled his right leg down slightly.

“Unfortunately it was my boss who was cooking the books. He’s sitting in a cold wet cell in San Quentin right now.”

“Your instincts were right. Something was fishy,” Jess observed.

“Unfortunately so,” Reinholt replied taking a deep breath and thinking of how he didn’t like putting away a fellow banker especially one he had shared a beautiful redhead with at Sally Stanford’s brothel.

Jess Shinn slowly spun the front wheel of a Sieber track bike that was upside down in the repair stand.

“Yes, it takes plenty of time on the boards to win a six-day race  and you’re wondering where Gus and Vince got it.”

“Let me tell you a secret,” Jess said, rubbing his fingers against the tire of the spinning wheel. There’s a board track in a barn in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

“Are you sure?” asked Reinhol now uncrossing his legs and sitting on the edge of his seat.

“I thought something was something was funny. But this?”

Jess reached in the tool cabinet.He took out two brandy glasses and a bottle of Korbel brandy.

“Always warms the stomach, ” he said.

“Look, guys, come in this shop and they talk.”

“Anyway it was almost a month ago. I’m sitting here when I hear the front door open. I look and see Dave Staub ** and DanKaljian. They walk over to my rack of team race jerseys. I sit here smoking a cigar. I can’t help but hear Dave say”

“We’ll smoke those guys at the Searsville Lake track. We’ll train m secret.  Tomorrow we’ll drive down to Dewey Maxwell’s board track in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

Dan replied: “Are you sure you’ve got the training fee?”

“Yeah, sure.”

After a little while they picked out their jerseys and paid with a check.

It’ll probably bounce Reinholt joked as he sipped his brandy.

“I suppose this explains things,” he said, looking up at the photo of Rita Hayworth. “You know after my affair with Marlene Dietrich, Rita phoned me: ‘Listen big boy, she said. ‘You rode her. Now you ride me..” Well  I go over to her house and….”

“Have some more brandy,” Jess said, hoping to loosen Reinholt’s tongue.”

“Let’s see. Where was I? As  I was taking off my socks, or was it my trousers.”

It was the last leg of a San Francisco wheelmen ride. It had started at the Round House restaurant on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, gone over Corte Madera hill, then White’s Grade, and on to Nacasio for lunch, then back again, through the Presidio and along Lincoln Boulevard.

Sprints were run at road signs along the way. These sprints would depend on the mood of the pack. A city limits sign or a road sign would be sprinted to, several miles and signs might pass, until tension would build up in the pack and some obscure sign would signal the next sprint.

So it was that Rickey Tan had sat on George Wolf’s then Harold Kirkbride’s then Oscar Juner’s wheel and nipped the field at the Storey Road sign. Everybody now sat up in their saddles; the pace slowed to a crawl.

As the pack passed some old horse stables on our left, Oscar pointed and said, “It’s down there someplace.”

“What’s down there?” Just horse stables. ” Harold observed.

“No. No. In one of them there’s a board track built for the ’36 team to train on.”

“Bull.  Come on, let’s ride down there,” George Wolf challenged.

“No. No. There’s too many M.P.***s which was true for at that time they were all over the Presidio in their jeeps.

“Red Berti was on the ’36 team. A track was made in secret on one of those horse stables to challenge Hitler’s cycling track team. Red Berti**** rode it once, then the army closed the track though I hear if you join up you can use it now.

“Are you a recruiter? Henry McWhirter****.” Sixteen years have passed. It’s a bunch of rotten boards or worse.”

“I’m no recruiter,” Oscar replied quietly. “I speak the truth.”

The pack rode on in silence. Oscar was no recruiter. He had seen much bloody action in World War II. He kept it to himself except for the horros of a concentration camp he described but did not name.

There was a board track down there someplace. Red Berti of the Unione Sportivo Italiano in San Jose had ridden on it, and perhaps if you joined the army.

There were other sightings of a board track. Some of them quite close.

Ron Arms of the San Francisco Wheelmen majored in math at Stanford.* **The semester had ended and now summer. Ron lazed around until his mother, good German woman that she was, insisted that he go to work.

“Work, It is good for you, Ron.”

But Ron thought differently. Work. He knew what his good German mother meant by that. Sweat. A better idea he would take a test for math aid at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

“Ron,” his mother asked all too soon, “When are you going to work?”

So he told her about the test.

“And when is the test?”

“In six weeks.”

“And the results?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tomorrow we go to work.”

At four in the morning Ron’s mother shook him awake.

“We go now.”

And off they went in the old Hudson to 16th and Mission Street where an old rickety bus was parked near a fireplug. Rough looking men were boarding it.

“Here is work Ron. Your lunch and your streetcar fare home,” his mother said as she gave him a bag lunch and some change. The Hudson drove off. Reluctantly Ron boarded the bus. “Stand up boy,” someone yelled. There were only so many seats. Ron stood up as the bus took the old Bayshore Highway to San Carlos, down an old road and finally stopped in front of a plum orchard. “Out. out, ” a heavy-set man with a freckled face yelled.

The freckled faced man split them up into work gangs each with a ladder. Then they picked and picked and picked. Work. Work. “Work is good for you Ron,” his mother always said.

Day after day, different orchards. Different men. Some of them told not to come back. Work. Work.

With this as a reality check of the bottomless pit into which a failed math major could fall, Ron applied himself very hard that fall semester. There were still the weekend San Francisco Wheelmen rides however, and so it was at a rest stop at the Old La Honda Saloon*****that Ron told this story as we drank bottle after bottle of Wieland’s Beer.”*****

“It was working with this wino. Well, more of a lush than a wino ’cause he’s drinking bourbon. We’re picking plums when some fat foreman yells, ‘Lunch, you bums.’ I break out mom’s salami sandwich. He’s drinking bourbon and eating some plums. He starts talking about World War I.

‘When I was in the trenches we ate rats or any goddamn thing.’ Feeling sorry for him I break off some of mom’s salami sandwich. He wolfs it down. Never even thanks me. He continues, ‘I think I saw Hitlter. Could’ve bayoneted the sonnabitch.’

I’m beginning to wonder about this guy when I hear a rumbling in the orchard across the road from ours.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A bike race at the track,” he answers matter of  factly.


“You know like at the Madison Square Garden.”

“Like at the Madison Square Garden?”

“That’s right, a team race.”


“Don’t believe it. Let’s go over there.”

He starts walking and I follow. Soon we come to a clearing in the adjacent orchard.

“See, just like I told you.”

“Damn if he isn’t right. There’s a board track.” A team race is going on. I recognize Nick Magi, Louie Rondoni and a few others. We stand though we could sit on the wooden bleachers like most of the other pitchers. Soon there’s the bell lap for a sprint. Fruit pickers should out in different languages. But my partner takes the bell as a signal to go back to work. I try to explain but off he trudges and I follow.

“Where is this track,” Joe asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I could find it again.”

“You’ve had one too many, ” Oran said.

“No, it was thee. I could reach out and touch it.”

“Here, reach out and touch a Wieland’s beer.”

“Okay. But I saw it. I could reach out and touch it.”

Joe Lauricella stumbled out of the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco’s North Beach. Bt instinct he headed up to the artist John Newman’s pad above Marie’s Art Gallery******* on Grant Avenue. Thankfully the front door was open as usual. .By sheer will he pulled himself up by the bannister whenever his legs gave out on the steep stairs.

The apartment door swung open. Did John open it? Joe could not remember. He flopped on the couch and he began to dream. Blondes, brunettes and redheads danced the hootchie-coottchie as Joe sat in a large armchair dressed in a white toga; and now they began to dance a lively Charleston. Joe was still sitting in his armchair only now Joe was above the banking of a board track, looking down on them. The crowd was roaring,  Joe gave thumbs-up and that signaled the bell lap which was also the phone. 

“John,” Marie, the landlady shouted. “I told you no friends overnight. ” “Listen, Joe,,,” John started to say.

“I know. I know.” Joe replied ass he hauled himself  off the couch, made his way down the stairs and into the cold night.

A few weeks later at a San Francisco Wheelmen meeting at Oscar’s American Cyclery.*****John Parks had just finished collecting the 50 cents a month dues and now came the good part, donuts and a bull session.

Joe could hardly wait to speak.

You know the track everybody’s been talking about? I saw it.”

“Yeah,” George said skeptically.

“Where is it? In the Presidio? In the Santa Cruz mountains. Where?”

“I can locate it. I can locate it.” Joe replied confidentally.

“Tell us where?”

“I can see it now, Joe said, closing his eyes. “It is in my mind.”


Image from Swann Galleries, click here

Murphy Sabatino’s board track was located in San Jose.
Santa Cruz Mountains in San Jose
Board track: Training on such a track was also known as secret training
Dave Staub was U.S.A. National Junior Champion in 1955.
Searsville Lake Track: a quarter-mile hard banked dirt track next to Searsville Lake near Portola Valley, 1957.

Below definitions and the meaning of some of author Eirch von Neff’ story.

Murphy Sabatino’s board track in San Jose.
Santa Cruz Mountains in San Jose.
Board Track: Training on such a track was also known as secret training.
Dave Staub was U.S.A. National Junior Champion in 1955.
Dewey Maxwell’s board track was a quarter-mile hard banked dirt track next to Searsville Lake near Portola Valley, California, 1957.
MP stands for Military Police
Red Berti of San Jose was indeed a member of the track cycling team.
Henry McWhirter beat World Champion Frank L. Kramer in a match sprint at the Sacramento Velodrome circa 1910. He was also trained to by the Wright Brothers and was an early Alaskan bush pilot.
Rpn Arms majored in math at Stanford under Professor Harold Levine, among others.
Taking the bus to a plum orchard: My friend Alfred Schuhmacher’s brother, Patrick, took such a bus to the fruit orchards in the 1950s. Fist fights on the bus were the norm.
Old La Honda Saloon: Oran Arms, Ron Arms uncle was the bartender and owner
Wieland’s Beer made in San Jose and now out of business.
Board track seen by Nick Magi and Louie Rondoni: Hugh Enochs Senior of the old New Century Wheelmen claims he saw such a track.
Marie’s Art Gallery on Grant Avenue in San Francisco: Marie owned the apartment house and the art gallery. The art gallery was run by George Pennguel and his wife. Information supplied by Jane Witaker of the United States Post Office, Rincon Annex, June 2, 1998.
Oscar’s American Cyclery: In the early 1950s track cyclists really did talk about such a track. Supposedly it was in San Francisco’s Presidio, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Santa Clara fruit orchards or in their dreams.

Erich von Neff: Second Place (A Bicycling Story)

Note to Erich: I may be out of sequence using this story now. Am I? I hope not. Because the living room was turned a hospital room, all my stuff kept getting moved around, and there are so many papers to get back in order. Ugh. No fun.



An Original Story by Erich von Neff


“Racing’s getting too predictable,” Lido said. “Gussie Gatto wins the sprints. Don Peterson and Les Williams win the team races. Rickey Tan wins the criteriums.  It changes around. But little.”

Lido sat on an old orange crate in the back of the Gattos brothers’ grocery store on Taylor Street in San Jose. Mack Sharpy and a few of the other boys also sat on orange crates though of lesser height. They nodded in agreement.

“Now take this here Saint Mark’s day race in a couple of weeks. It’s about twenty-five miles. Right?”

“Right boss. Right.” Mark Sharpy agreed.

Lido lit up a cigar and looked around the room. “Now, how’s a guy going to make a buck betting with a  bookie when the outcome is pretty well known. Rickey Tan will probably clean up. Or, if not him, somebody equally well known.”

“What we need is a real, real long shot.”

Lido put his cigar down and reached down and reached over and grabbed an apple from a barrel and took a thoughtful bite.”

“Now we needn’t play too fair.”

Nobody said anything nor did heads nod. Foul play was only too well understood.

Lido at the apple, then another, and all sat there listening to him chomp, chomp, chomp. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Suddenly a light bulb went on in Lido’s head.

“I’ve got it. Here it is.”

The boys sat on the edge of their orange crates.

“Anybody know of an older rider, not in too bad shape, who has false teeth?”

Silence. One could never tell where Lido’s furtive mind might lead.

“Sure,” said Chung Wo. “There’s Hans Krause and he definitely has false choppers. He used to race in Berlin before the war, but now he races part time, mostly in San Francisco. 

“No problem,” Lido said. “You’ll drive him if necessary.”

Lido put the cigar back in his mouth, stood up, and began expounding. No one chomped any apple. Not a sound could be heard. 

“Now,  boys, here’s my plan.”

Hans Krause was sitting in the kitchen enjoying a Wieland’s  beer after a hard day working  as a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront,  and an even harder afternoon on a training ride with the New Century Wheelmen at the Old Stadium Velodrome in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The phone rang and Hans reluctantly put the Wieland’s down.”

“ja.” Hans answered, a cold voice said, “You’re going to get some more false teeth at Dr. Specker’s,” and be ready with your bike and riding clothes on the Sunday of the Saint Mark’s Day race for you’ll be in the deep freeze. ” Then click the receiver down on the other end of the line.

Hans could feel that this was for real and he better do as he was told, and what the heck, he could use another set of false teeth.

Hans continued to train, checked over his Durkopp and took an old Red Devil’s  jersey out of his closet given to him by Alfred Letouner. It had always brought him jum juk.

On the Sunday morning of the Saint Mark’s Day race a black shiny Buick pulled up to Hans Krause’s house. There was a lump in Han’s throat as he stepped toward the door. He had his Durkopp on his shoulder and carried his racing clothes in a canvas bag.

No one was now at the door, but two men were waiting beside a black Buick. He walked down the steps apprehensively. The rear door was opened and Hans climbed in. His Durkopp was put in the trunk and  they were off to San Jose.

Not one word was spoken until they reached the starting line on a nearly deserted roadside outside of San Jose.  The course which has now been nearly obliterated by development was twenty five miles, in one direction only over the rolling hills west of San Jose, near Uvas Dam Road.

The usual riders were there. Gas Gatto, Pete Pizza, Nick Maggi, Louie Rondoni, Rickey Tan and others.

With little fanfare, Amateur Bicycle League rep Joe Canciamilla fired his starters pistol in the air and the riders were off. Their legs churning their fixed gears, and trading pace up and down the rolling hills, watched occasionally by cows lying on their bellies, peacefully chewing on their cud. The sprinters, of course, did as little work as possible and all seemed to be going their way.

Around a mile and a half to go near a turn with a grove of trees Hans Krause surged away. The pack hardly showed concern thinking quite correctly that Hans Krause would shortly blow his cork.

As soon as Hans Krause rounded the turn, just as according to Lido’s plan, he saw a man dressed as a farmer standing there, and a Duesenberg driven by a blonde stopped a little ahead. Hans quickly spat out his own false teeth and the “farmer” him a new set which he quickly inserted. The Duesenberg started up and gradually increased speed. Soon Hans could feel tension on the wire that was attached to his new set of false teeth and the bumper of the Duesenberg. The blonde was accelerating slowly, gradually and all was according to plan.

The pack was completely taken by surprise when they rounded the turn and saw Hans speeding away, but little did they know.

For half-a-mile or so, Hans was towed, his legs churning his fixed gear. Then just ahead he saw a black form.  No.No.Yes.Yes. It was a bull and it was starting to cross the road. Hans Krause clenched his false teeth in his mouth until the last second, then he opened his mouth. The false teeth sailed out of his mouth, pulled by the wire, then like a whip with a sharp tip his false teeth lashed against the ribs of the bull.

The bull stood there stunned for a brief second and Hans Krause sped by attired in his Red Devils jersey. So this was the tormentor. The bull charged down the road after Hans whose legs found new life that they had not had since the last six-day race in Berlin long ago.

The Duesenberg drove by the finish line with the blonde driving and Lido sitting next to her smoking a cigar with a resigned look on his face. And behind him tethered on a long wire was a pair of false teeth. People looked, blinked their eyes, then looked again. Was this some kind of marriage ceremony or what? A couple might drag tin cans behind their car; but false teeth? Perhaps there was inner meaning here which eluded everyone. Some heads nodded as if they knew, then others and others. Why, yes, yes, of course. Of course what? No one knew. No one asked.

This vision had hardly passed by when another soon appeared. A cyclist is an old Red Devil’s jersey being chased by a bull.

The bull seemed to gain on the cyclist. The cyclist sped away from the bull. Back and forth they went. Until near the finish line the cyclist gave one final burst, the bull thundered across the finish line after him, but soon the bull whether it was tired or no longer interested slowed down, stopped, let loose a load of excrement in disgust and slowly ambled toward a nearby field.

The pack was soon in sight, and there was a mass sprint which Rickey Tan won, but he was most definitely third.

Lido was surprised to hear the crowd cheering, “Hans Krause. Hans Krause.” Lido turned around and there he was crossing the finish line, frantically pedaling  just ahead of the  bull. Lido couldn’t believe it. Hans was first. Hans was first. He hadn’t lost after all.

Soon Joe Canciamilla was passing out three envelopes. For first place: one envelope to Hans Krause with a $100 dollars inside. For third place: one envelope to Rickey Tan with $25 inside.  For second place: one envelope with $50 inside. “I’ll just take that,” Lido said quickly grabbing the envelope from Joe’s hand. ‘That bull’s a friend of mine. I’ll see that he gets it.”

As Lido and the boys were walking back to the Duesenberg with the waiting blonde, Frank Sharpy said: “You got brains boss. You got smarts, telling Hans to wear that red jersey just in case something went wrong.”

“Yeah, like I always got a backup plan. I’m the brains of the outfit,” Lido said pointing to his head. 

“You sure are boss. You sure are.”


About the author:

Erich von Neff is a San Francisco Longshoreman. He received his masters degree in philosophy from San Francisco State University and was a graduate research students at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Erich von Neff is well known on the French avant-garde and mainstream literary scenes. he is a member of the Poetes Francais and La Societe des Poetes et Artistes de France.



Don Martinich: The cyclist with a rumrunner or two in the family

June Morrall (JM) to Don Martinich (DM)

Thank you for the fascinating email! I had no idea there was so much cycling around here. I would love to know more. I did eat at Pete’s Cafe a couple of times before the building vanished….how I wish I had had the experiences you had. How did you get the photo?

DM: I grew up on the Peninsula. My parents, my sister and I moved to sunny San Carlos in 1944 from the foggy Sunset in SF.  Eventually we ended up in Menlo Park.  After graduating from Menlo Atherton HS and diddling a bit at CSM I spent 4 years in the Coast Guard.  Around the time I got out I became highly interested in European bicycle racing and the bikes themselves.
DM: Living along the edge of the northern portion of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it was the obvious place to ride. The coast side of The Hill had a lot of lightly trafficked and scenic roads so it was also a natural place to ride.  I ended up joining the local cycling club, Pedali Alpini, where I found many riding partners and a little organized competition.  Back then our races weren’t sanctioned by local authorities so the coastal roads were ideal locations.  We did time trials near San Greg[orio] and had a road race up and down the coast called the Tour Del Mar.

DM: The photo of Erich [ von Neff] is from a time trial we held in April of 1964.  After the the time trial several of us repaired to Pete’s for a spaghetti lunch.  That’s when I snapped the foto of Pete.  By the way, I was so pleased to find Steve Lubin’s article on Pete’s on you site.  Steve and I used to ride together quite a bit in the mid-60’s. I have family living on King’s Mountain so I decided to come down from Davis to watch the Tour of California come up Tunitas Canyon last Monday.  Who should I run into after 40+ years, but, Steve!  Erich came up in the conversation and it was Steve who suggested that I contact you.  Actually, I would have probably done that any way.  The photos that I took of the time trial are going to be part of a web page on vintage cycling I am working on. I will send you the url when I get it up.

(JM): And why are you called “Dutch?” There was a famous “Dutch” Alves in Half Moon Bay.

DM: The name “Dutch” was given to me by a friend in high school and it just stuck.  I’m not Azorean like the Alves family but my father was born on an island along the Dalmatian coast.  There are similarities between the two cultures.

JM: What’s your rumrunning connection? I would be honored, truly, if you tell me more.

DM: My father, who grew up in North Beach from 1912 on, had apprenticed as a machinist and became a journeyman in 1920, just in time for prohibition.  He had a partnership in a saloon for a while and then some people he grew up with got into the import business.  They bought several WW1 surplus boats and would buy imported liquor from Canada from off the ‘motherships’ that hovered out beyond the 12 -mile limit.  They would pull into coves in dark of night and offload to small dories who would come in through the surf and unload on the beach.  People with trucks would be waiting at the designated spots and drive the liquor back up to SF at night and hope to avoid the feds and highjackers.

DM: It all sounds a bit dangerous to me but these guys were all in their early 29’s.  I remember my Dad mentioning Pedro Point, Moss Beach, and Martin’s Beach as landing sites.  Imagine braving that surf in the winter!

JM: Erich von Neff  is a special writer and I enjoy posting his work.

DM: I loved Erich’s race down the coast story.  It had a real magical quality to it. I wish there were more.




(Just saw the highway sign–I think it’s the 16th but that is a Monday. Somebody correct me, please.)

Have you read Erich von Neff’s bicycling stories from the 1950s?

Please click here




(Image: “The winners of the last six day race in Los Angeles in 1937. Bobby Walthour, Jr. & Oscar Juner.” Courtesy Erich von Neff)