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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Ewestern Reno, Emil Runck, their bicycle and
motorcycle shop, and a brief history of
bicycles and Harley Davidsons

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Publisher, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2002
Shared from our separate Subscribers Edition archives
      In 1903, one of the greatest American transportation icons was born in a Milwaukee garage — the Harley Davidson motorcycle. By 1916, when Emil Runck took over Ewestern Reno's bicycle shop on Woodworth street in Sedro-Woolley, the Harley was a very hot item. They flew out of his shop soon after arrival on the Northern Pacific trains that rumbled through town four times a day. We do not know for sure whether it was Reno or Runck who introduced the Harley locally or what year they began selling it. We do know that A.C. Davis in Mount Vernon advertised the competing Indian brand of motorcycle by 1912 because we have an advertisement for them in his shop. Regardless of when they were introduced, Runck certainly was the most successful dealer hereabouts.
      Those were the days when the bicycle, the automobile and the motorcycle vied for popularity. Researcher Pat Farrell of Duke's Hill, who is the co-author of what will likely become the definitive book of Stanley Steamer automobile and steam machines, told us an interesting anecdote about the early days of motorized bicycles. Sylvester Roper, one of the pioneer inventors of the machine, died of a heart attack while racing his steam motorcycle, one of the few fatalities of early motorized machines and the last for several years.
      No matter how much research we do as historians, oftentimes our most important discoveries seem to be the result of serendipity. Such was the case when we spent years trying to find the story behind Emil Runck, whom old-timers will remember as having a bicycle shop on the north side of Woodworth street in Sedro-Woolley. The answers came one day in December 2001 when Runck's eldest daughters happened to walk into the American Legion club, just a hundred yards away from his shop's former location. Michelina (Mickey) Runck Nelson and Josephine (Jo) Runck Fullerton were thrilled to learn that their father is an honored charter member of Post 43 because of his efforts to save the Legion hall back in 1932. But he is most remembered for his shop, which was a fixture in town for about 50 years.

The importance of the bicycle
(Emil and Josephine Runck)
Emil Runck and his bride Josephine during World War I

      To understand the story and the impact of this business on Sedro-Woolley, we need to first go back and study the impact of the bicycle on the country. At the turn of the century — six years before anyone here bought an automobile, you either walked, rode a horse or rode the train to get about on land. If you were agile and progressive, you rode a bicycle, unicycle or tricycle.
      In the 50th Anniversary issue of Scientific American in 1896, Lord Charles Bereford observed: "Whoever invented the bicycle deserves the thanks of humanity." From the same article, we learn that the bicycle began as a device called the "hobby-horse" in the late 18th century, which consisted of two wheels connected in tandem by a rigid frame of wood. The hobby horse had no steering device and propulsion was by the rider's feet on the ground. In 1818, Baron Von Drais of Mannheim, Germany, added steering in a device he called the "draisienne." Sometime in the next 15 years, two Scotsmen named Gavin Dalzell and a Mr. MacMillan, added foot-driven petals. Then, in 1866, after being frustrated that no one in his native country took notice, a French mechanic named Pierre Lallement patented a machine in New Haven, Connecticut, that was the forerunner of our bicycle, with cranks on the front wheels. It soon became known as the "velocipede" or "bone-shaker" in common parlance Part of the shaking was due to the metal wheels, a problem that was partially solved in 1869 when the rubber tire was introduced. The Dunlop company made these early bicycles much more popular when they introduced pneumatic tires in about 1889. In the meantime, another style of bicycle became famous when a French inventor, Ernest Michaux, showed that weight could be reduced and speed increased if the front wheel was larger and the back one much smaller, while the rider mounted a saddle high over the front tire. With front wheel diameters of 50 inches, 60 inches and more, that style became known as the "ordinaire."
      The first U.S. manufacturer of the ordinaire model was Colonel Albert Pope, who launched his company in 1877. By 1880, the Colonel's brand of Columbia bicycles sold like hotcakes and the brand stayed in favor as a premium bicycle for decades, popularized here in Sedro-Woolley by druggist A.E. Holland. Meanwhile the British bought about 250,000 bicycles, considerably more than in America. Soon designers changed their mind and opted for the much larger back wheel, which was thought to be much more stable. For the beginner and for ladies, tricycles were invented, and for the really brave, a steam engine was attached to the frame, starting in 1882. Roper was one of the most important inventors of that machine.

Ewestern Reno's bicycle shop
      By the turn of the century, a bicycle basically like the ones we ride today had evolved, in that the tires were equal size. As the U.S. came out of the terrible economic Depression that started in 1893, bicycling became a craze and every small town had at least one shop selling them. Sedro-Woolley, with about 2,000 population, had four different bicycle shops at the turn of the century. Two were part-time affairs. The first one to open was owned by Jasper Sanders on Third street, and we will profile his family in the near future. The longest-lived shop, however, was the one that E. Reno opened in 1901 on Metcalf street, across from the Gateway Hotel. Other than advertisements for the shop, we have very little record of the shop because most of the early newspapers burned in various fires, but we do know that Reno also owned a shop in Anacortes. Mickey told us that her father was never affiliated with the Anacortes shop, so possibly Reno sold that one when he moved away. Researcher Deanna Ammons has discovered an April 2, 1903 Skagit County Times, however, that records how early Woolley painter J.W. Sadler painted a sign for E. Reno that "is an attractive piece of work and will be quite an ornament when placed in position in front of his business."
      The most complete story about it appeared in an article in the Feb. 13, 1947, Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, which featured his visit back here 31 years after he had left town. The first thing that most people learned from the article was that his given name was Ewestern. For whatever reason, his parents gave him a name that confused most everyone, so Reno just went by the initial, E. He told the reporter that he started the bicycle and gun shop on Metcalf but soon constructed a wood frame building that on Woodworth, just west of city hall. That was the site of a bicycle shop well into the 1950s. When he first arrived in town, he made a small deposit in C.E. Bingham's bank, then a woodframe building on Metcalf, and discovered the cashier was named Q.P. Reno. He was no relation, but E. felt right at home.
      E. was a member of the original town band, which marched in parades and played in summer concerts on the second story of the gazebo bandstand, which stood on Metcalf just south of the railroad tracks. Other band members who he recalled were Jack Ebbeson, Bill West, Lawrence Ringer and Ira Stiles, the leader. E. also loved to bowl and recalled the single lane alley on State street. Pappy Splane told the reporter that he had watched Reno back then because he was a hot bowler. In a separate 1911 Skagit County Times article, we learn that E. and Brad Fisk applied for a patent for a one-point electric magnet for use with drills in mine. The invention was sorely needed because quarry men often broke off the points of a drill in holes and the device drew out the steel bits. In 1947, he explained that since leaving town in 1916, he worked as an expert mechanic in Camas, Oregon, and then starting 1921 for the government, before recently owning a trucking business. He was retired and living in East Derry in New Hampshire. He explained that he was 76 and that his wife died four months before that, so he decided to come back to town and stay at the Forest House on Ferry street for a month or so and visit his old friends here.

(Runck bicycle and motorcycle shop)
Emil Runck and his motorcycle fans in front of his shop on the north side of Woodworth street, next to the Dream Theatre, circa early 1920s. The photographer was looking northeast, with Murdock street in the background. The two-story building was the Odd Fellows Hall, which is now the site of the American Legion club. The three open lots to the right were eventually the site of the present city hall, which was built in 1930. Alice Barbo Juckett and Marie Barbo Sims recognize the second man from the right, sitting on a motorcycle, as Andy Barbo. Emil is the man in overalls. Josephine Runck Fullerton tells us that Alice was the nanny for the Runck girls in their youth. Can anyone help us identify the other people in this photo?

Emil Runck sells bicycles and motorcycles
      When Reno left town in 1916, he turned the business over to his young assistant, Emil Runck, the subject of our story. Runck was a hard worker and soon expanded the business to concentrate on repairing bicycles and to add motorcycles to the product line. We know from the article quoted below that he was selling motorcycles before joining the U.S. Army.
      Emil was born on Aug. 7, 1888, in Maione, Italy, a village so relatively small that we cannot find it on any map. His daughter Mickey explains that it is just a few miles from Cosenza which is the county seat. He was the son of Joseph and Michelina Runck and his father was mayor of the town. Emil's grandfather was a Duke in or near Rome, according to his daughters' memories. The family name was originally Runco. We do not know exactly when Emil came to the U.S. but we know that he moved across the country to join his older sister and brother, who lived in Idaho. Marrianina Cozzetti was married and had a family in Spokane, and James Runck was married and lived in Priest River, Idaho. Mickey recalls that her father met her mother, Josephine, in Spokane when she was a young girl and her family lived near his sister. Josephine Bruno was born in Spokane on January 18, 1902. The Runck daughters recall a family story that James was the first to take the Runck name, possibly as a result of a misspelling at Ellis Island when he immigrated. The brothers both used the new spelling and, since they had no male offspring, the other Runcks in America are not directly related. Sometime after Emil immigrated from Italy, he was hired as a Pathe News photographer and traveled extensively for the British company. He returned to Spokane in about 1915 and discovered that little Josephine Bruno had grown into a beautiful young woman. They were married in Spokane in June 1917 when Josephine was 15. From this timeline, we estimate that he must have immigrated in about 1905.
      By the time they were married, Emil was living in Sedro-Woolley and had taken over Reno's shop. None of the articles mention when or why he moved here and the daughters cannot remember about it. The couple had barely set up house when the U.S. was drawn into the war in Europe and Emil was drawn into the U.S. Army. An undated newspaper article from that time was headed "Emil Runck hears he is in Class 1, must leave wife" and noted:

      Emil Runck, proprietor of a large bicycle and motorcycle and machine repair shop in this city, received notice this week that he had been changed from Class 4 to Class 1 by the draft board at Mount Vernon. The notice as [was, is] unexpected and Runck is entirely "up in the air" as to what to do with his business. He recently received a shipment of bicycles and will have to return those he does not sell at once. Runck was married in June, and his wife will probably go to live with his people. Besides operating his shop, Runck runs the moving picture machine at the Dream [theatre, just west of his shop on Woodworth.
      Emil was inducted into the Army on June 22, 1918, and was soon assigned to be an instructor for Company D, 13th Ammunition Company in the Field Artillery. Mickey recalls:
      "He was eager to be shipped overseas but he was so good at training the young soldiers that his company kept him at Camp Lewis [now Fort Lewis near Tacoma]." Louis Jacobin's fine book, "With the Colors," lists this information about Runck's enlistment:

      Private, Co. D, 13th Amm. Train; born at Maione, Italy, Aug. 7, 1886 [1888]; son of Jos. and Michelina Runck, Mainone, Italy; entered service from Mt. Vernon, Wash., June 22, 1918; transferred from Baty. E, F.A., to Co. D, 13th Amm. Train; instructor in elec. eng. three months at Camp Lewis, Wash.; mustered out at Camp Lewis, Feb. 15, 1919.
We have found draft records from 1917 that show that Emil's brother James was registered in Idaho and that he was born in about 1875.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles
      We can imagine that Emil loved riding motorcycles in the Army. Mickey and Jo say that he was a bit of a daredevil and loved showing off, waving his hands in the air while controlling the bike with his thighs. The war marked the coming out and explosive growth of the Harley-Davidson Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company was born in 1901 with only three motorized bicycles assembled in a small shack. Opportunity came knocking in 1917-19, when the Army needed dispatch and scouting vehicles and needed them fast. Like the European battlefields, the U.S. roads were muddy and hard to traverse. Soon after he was mustered out at Camp Lewis on Feb. 15, 1919, he returned to Sedro-Woolley, where he lived the rest of his life. We are thankful that his daughters have maintained photos of those early post-war years.
(Emil Runck and his Harley)
Emil Runck and one of his new Harleys, circa 1920s. Note the early teardrop gas tank, introduced about 1926. Photo by Frank LaRoche. All photos from the Runck daughters' photo collection

      We learn from a July 19, 1919, article in the Courier-Times that he was back at the shop, selling bicycles and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the latter for $41. We do not know if someone operated the shop for him in the thirteen months when he was gone. He was soon back on top of the business and became a fixture in town. The couple started their family while living upstairs over the shop. Over the next 17 years he and Josephine had four children, all of whom graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School. The couple started their family while living upstairs over the shop. Over the next 17 years he and Josephine had four children, all of whom graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School. Michelina, or Mickey, the eldest, graduated in 1937; Josephine, or Jo, graduated in 1939 after finishing her studies mid-school year 1938; Corrine, always known as Corky, graduated in 1945 and Emilie, or Em, graduated in 1955.
      Em graduated with my brother and we were saddened two years ago to learn that she had passed away. Many will remember her performances during operettas at the high school in the early 1950s. Corky lived with her husband in Denver for some time and they are now retired and living in Sun City, Arizona. Mickey worked for Bingham Bank and then for Stan Nelson's Chevrolet Garage, across the street from the Runck home, until 1946. She soon moved with her husband to California. Jo and her husband moved to Camano Island after living in Seattle and they carved out a holly farm near Russell Road. Her husband died last year and Jo called her sister, who was also widowed in California, and enticed her to move back up to Washington. They now share a home on the island.
      Sometime in the late 1920s, Emil dropped his motorcycle franchise. Michelina recalls that her mother finally put her foot down about his daredevil stunts while riding. At about the same time, they bought a small farm on Duke's Hill, where they kept a cow. In 1928 Emil and Josephine returned to Italy for the first time and enjoyed a long vacation through their home areas and the area around Mount Vesuvius. In the 1930 Central School Idaka magazine, we find that Mickey shared with her fifth grade class a piece of lava that her parents brought back from Pompeii with a penny pressed into it. Mickey now says she cannot remember what happened to the penny; she no longer has it. She shared another undated clipping [probably 1938] from ten years later that tells more about Emil's family background in Italy:

      Emil Runck of this city was notified this week of the death of his mother, Mrs. Michelina Runck, at her home in Maione, Italy, at the age of 96 years. He was named the sole heir to her estate. Mr. and Mrs. Emil Runck visited in Italy ten years ago and spent some time with his mother. She was a duchess and the family home covered an entire block of ground. Runck's father and grandfather were both Italian dukes and were engaged in the manufacturing business as well as having large estates.

Runck's heroic role in saving the American Legion hall
      Back in September 1919, Emil was a charter member of the newly formed American Legion George Baldridge Post #43. He was an active member and we honored both Jo and Mickey for being longtime members of the post auxiliary. Mickey has been a member for 63 years. The post actively sought its own meeting hall in the early 1920s but a downturn in the local economy put that plan on hold in the mid-'20s. In 1929 the telephone company moved out of its woodframe building on Murdock and built a new brick building that still stands today on Ferry across from the Gateway hotel. After the great crash of the stock market in October that year, the building stood empty for more than two years. The post decided that this would be an ideal hall so they began raising money a dollar at a time during the Depression. By February 1932 the post deposited enough at the First National Bank for a down payment and remodeling materials. But that month the bank failed and deposits were frozen for years. A month later, meeting minutes noted that "Commander Fife reports that building finances will be taken care of by C.E. Bingham & Co. and Emil E. Runck." For a small business struggling during the Depression, more than $200 in cash was a substantial donation and was vital to save the hall, which is now the nucleus for the post.
      Emil is also famous for working with local kids who wanted that special bike. Jo recalls that the most coveted one was the top-of-the-line Columbia model. He also carried American Flyers. Gene Johnson, class of 1942, recalls how Emil helped him replace a worn-out bike he rode on his paper route:

      I looked at the shiny new American Flyer bike in the Runck window all the time. He asked me how much I made on my route and I told him $4.50 a month. He asked if I could afford $2 a month until it was paid for. I was amazed and so happy. That was the first debt I ever took on in my life and it was a good lesson.
      When Emil passed away in 1944, Corky was the eldest girl still living at home and she soon began managing the shop for her mother. Barber Dewey Thomas shared part of the storefront. Years after the family sold the shop, Josephine died in 1985 and her remains are in a crypt next to Emil at Acacia in Bothell..

      If you can help us continue the story of the Reno, Runck and Sanders family or of the bicycle and motorcycle business in Skagit county, please email us.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Runck and Harley sidecar)
Looks like a ducky day for Emil
and his Harley sidecar

(Interior of Runck shop)
Interior of the Runck shop
Can anyone identify the people?

(Interior of Runck shop)
Interior of the Runck shop. Emil is behind the counter.

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(bullet) Story posted on June 16, 2003, and last updated Jan. 17, 2005
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