In the summer of 1961, East Ridge Bicycle Shop owner Joe Dyer built the world’s strongest bike for “The World’s Strongest Man.”
The nearly 400-pound weightlifter, Paul Anderson, had broken down six two-wheelers between Vidalia, Ga., and Chattanooga but made it the rest of the way to Boys Town at Omaha, Neb., on the Schwinn that Dyer modified. With his 19-year-old wife of two years driving a van behind him, Anderson pedaled the 1,500 miles to raise awareness and funds for the youth home he and wife Glenda were starting in Vidalia.
Fifty years later, six teenage boys from the Paul Anderson Youth Home and four men are re-enacting that trip with hopes of raising $100,000. They started Monday in Vidalia and will arrive Friday in Chattanooga, where they will speak at 7 p.m. at Hope for the Inner City at 1800 Roanoke Ave. They’ll be talking about trends facing youth, and the public is invited.
After a day of rest Saturday, when Dyer — an octogenarian who now owns Best Bicycle Store on Ringgold Road — will host them for lunch, the riders will set out Sunday morning for Winchester. The Paul Anderson Cycling Challenge will take them through Nashville, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., on a schedule that will have them in Omaha by July 29.
Anderson died in August 1994, but the bike he rode to Boys Town is making the trip again as a conversation piece. Dyer bought it back from Fort Bluff Camp after Glenda Anderson Leonard found him and inquired about it last year, and it’s still in excellent shape, but it’s single-geared and extremely heavy for modern riders.
“When we go to events and speak, we let people try to pick it up,” said Drew Read, a former McCallie School boarding student and Cincinnati stockbroker who came to the youth home as a volunteer in 1994 and now is its chief operating officer. “Paul was a 360-pound man with 36-inch thighs. It’s ridiculous.”
Read has led boys from the home on bicycle trips through the Southeast the last five years, including from Atlanta to Chattanooga and then to Vidalia last year as a preparation ride for the 50th anniversary trip.
Before this year, the rides always began at the Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta. Before he founded Chick-fil-A, S. Truett Cathy had a hamburger stand and was the home’s first donor, Read said — giving $25 during Anderson’s 1961 ride.
“We started talking seriously about Omaha in 2009,” said Read, who took two boys on the 2006 trip, five in 2007 and six every year since. One of the boys on the Nebraska ride will be starting classes next month at Covenant College, where PAYH alumnus Jonathan Carter will be a senior on the baseball team.
Leonard, who remarried in 2004 but keeps “Anderson” in her name and remains president of the facility that has been home to more than 1,200 boys, pointed out that her first husband had numerous connections with Chattanooga. Read having attended McCallie and the home’s alumni at Covenant just added to the link.
“Chattanooga was kind of a weightlifting mecca when Paul was young. He competed there,” Anderson’s widow said. “He and Rye Bell were good friends, and I think that had a lot to do with him coming so much. He became fast friends with [FCA founder] Marion Gaston, who invited Paul to speak in Chattanooga many times. And when we had a fire in the early ’80s that burned one of our cottages and the office complex, and Paul was real sick and we didn’t know what we were going to do, Marion Gaston went to the Maclellan Foundation and got a grant for us to rebuild.
“Chattanooga always has been a special place to us,” Leonard said, noting that Dyer took no money for the bicycle he modified, asking only that Anderson return it at some point.
“Paul kept it like two years and brought it back, and I rented it out for years,” Dyer said, adding that Anderson had given him the six broken-down bikes in the initial exchange.
Now six formerly broken boys are biking 1,500 miles with Read, another staff member, a PAYF volunteer and an alumnus.
“The boys are super strong on the bikes. I’ve been really pleased with them,” Read said. “What I love most about this event is seeing guys who in the past got in trouble and failed at whatever they did now doing things that they and other people didn’t think they could do.”
Anyone interested in helping can check www.payhbikeride.com.