29 January 2019

I'll See You In (Or With) Ashtabula!

I'll look for you in old Honolu-la
San Francisco, Ashtabula
You're gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I'll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.

That last line is the title of the song, from Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" album.  Like most of his work, you listen to this for the lyrics:  I am only the 1,798,345,467th person to praise his songwriting skills.  And I actually like listening to him because he has a, shall we say, unique singing style--though I also admit to liking, quite a lot, Madeleine Peyroux's cover of this song.

Anyway, I can't help but to think that Bob was enough of a rhymester to write the song just to show someone--himself, perhaps--that he could use "Ashtabula" in a verse.  I'm sure it wasn't easy:  Witness the alteration to the name of Hawaii's capital to make the rhyme.

I can't help but to wonder whether some NPR producer wanted to do a story about the town just to be able to say the name a few times.  I mean, it's almost impossible not to sing it--even if you're reporting about the town's woes.

The hard times were indeed part of Jim Zarroli's report.  So is its rebirth, though not as the factory town and port it once was.  Instead, on those Lake Erie waterfront sites where ships unloaded iron ore and loaded steel pipes and other industrial products onto ships, waiters and baristas now fill glasses and cups with artisanal beer and coffee.  Rather than sending manufactured goods into the rest of the United States, and world, Ashtabula now attracts weekend tourists from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other nearby cities.

But, if you have been reading this blog--or just about anything else related to cycling--you might associate Ashtabula with something neither Jim Zarroli nor Bob Dylan mentioned.  For that matter, I don't think many of the day- or weekend-trippers think about it, either.

1964 Schwinn Varsity with Ashtabula cranks and forks

I am talking about bicycle fittings--mainly cranks, but also fork blades and other items.  If you have an old Schwinn with a one-piece crank, the arms were probably forged in Ashtabula.  So were the forged flat-bladed forks and solid stems found on some Schwinns.

It was once common to refer to all one-piece cranks (used mainly on American bikes) as "Ashtabula", just as "Scotch tape" is used to denote all kinds of clear plastic adhesives and disposable facial tissues are often called "Kleenex."  But, "Scotch tape" and "Kleenex" are brand names used by particular companies.  So, not all clear adhesive tapes are "Scotch", and not all facial tissues are "Kleenex".  Likewise, not all one-piece cranks are "Ashtabula".

The Ohio company that made those fittings for Schwinn started out, perhaps not surprisingly, as a maker of iron hulls for battleships.  Later, they made anchors for aircraft carriers.  This heritage may have gone into making those cranks and forks, which weighed a ton (or tonne?) but were practically indestructible.  

Other one-piece cranks were heavy, too, as they were almost always made of steel, or even iron.  But, as someone who worked on more than a few bikes back in the day, I can tell you that the real Ashtabula stuff--which was usually stamped with "ABS" was, if not lighter, of significantly better quality than similar parts found on other bikes, which were usually found in department stores.  The threads on those Ashtabula Schwinn parts were almost uniformly even and clean.  The cheaper one-piece cranks and forks, usually found on department-store bikes, sometimes had bad threads and would need replacement.

So, my advice to Bob, Madeleine or anyone who wants to look for his or her lover on a bike with a one-piece crank is this:  Make sure that crank is an Ashtabula!  Otherwise, you might not make it to Ashtabula--and find the love of your life!


  1. ...and my grandmother called all cameras "kodaks". Eastman Kodak tried hard, but that one did not stick.


  2. Leo— I remember people calling all cameras “Kodak’s”—and all refrigerators “Frigidaire”.