“The most important thing is to be authentic. To try, to try again, and to do what you do well.”–Bill Eggers, craftsman
The oldest existing American motorcycle—an original 1869 steam powered velocipede made by Sylvester H. Roper—is in the Smithsonian, but you can see an even earlier version, the 1867 model, right here in Springfield. An exquisite hand-crafted custom replica is now on exhibition at the Springfield Museums, Wood Museum of Springfield History, thanks to William “Bill” Eggers.
Eggers is a craftsman with great appreciation for beauty—and a passion for building beautiful things. “I like to create with skill and craft,” Eggers said while enjoying lunch at the Blake House Café after delivering the replica velocipede to the Museums. “I like to work from scratch and make something that is wonderful to look at.”
Eggers gifted the velocipede to the Springfield Museums, he said because of the Wood Museum of Springfield History’s reputation among avid car and motorcycle collectors. “Lots of people pat you on the back as a beautiful museum. Seeing as everyone I know loves your museum, I wanted to be there.”
Phyllis Jurkowski, Administrative and Collections Specialist for the Wood Museum, said that the velocipede will add greatly to the Wood Museum’s efforts to illustrate the many contributions to automotive history made by Valley inventors and entrepreneurs and will serve to fill a gap in explaining how transportation evolved from horse-drawn carriage, to steam, to internal combustion, and electric powered vehicles.
“We feature a horse drawn carriage, an original copy of the 1893 Duryea, numerous gasoline powered vehicles, a replica Daimler gas-powered motorcycle, and a vintage 1970s Corbin electric motorcycle made in Connecticut,” Jurkowski said. “The Roper velocipede fills the steam void, and its addition to the collection has been met with much enthusiasm, especially by our museum docents anxious to share its history with visiting schoolchildren. We are deeply grateful for Bill’s gift.”
As Eggers was placing the cycle in the exhibit space, a group of schoolchildren stopped to see what was going on. An enthusiastic storyteller, Eggers did not hesitate to ask them to have a seat and ask him what they wondered about the cycle.
When asked how it worked, Eggers explained that the cycle was fitted with a firebox, steam boiler and water reservoir under the seat. He pointed out that the rider would have to feed hot coals into the bottom of the boiler and that the steam from the water boiler would make two small pistons churn up and down which would power a crank drive on the back wheel. “Would that make you nervous to have all that hot fire and steam right under your seat?” A lot of heads nodded.
Eggers encouraged the children to stay curious like Roper. “He didn’t care about making money from his invention,” Eggers said. “He just wanted to figure out how to make it work.”
Wow, one person observed, Roper must have been brave. Or crazy, someone else said.
Eggers paused, smiled, and said: “In my experience, there is not a lot of difference between brave and crazy.”
“The most important thing,” he added, “is to be authentic. To try, to try again, and to do what you do well.”
More about the Velocipede:
Replica 1867 Steam Powered Velocipede.
Original first built by Sylvester H. Roper (1823 – 1896)
Replica made by William Eggers, 2013
Constructed of Ash, Red Oak, steel, brass, leather
Gift of William Eggers
Almost twenty years before German inventor Gottleib Daimler patented the first internal combustion powered “motorcycle” in 1885, an American machinist was at work creating a steam powered vehicle which many now credit as the first motorcycle. New Hampshire born Sylvester Howard Roper (1823 – 1896) showed an early aptitude and curiosity for mechanics which carried through into his adulthood as a pioneering inventor and builder of early automobiles and motorcycles. Roper’s contributions to automotive history were honored when in 2002 he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Image by Phyllis Jurkowski. William Eggers delivers a hand-crafted replica of the 1867 Steam Powered Velocipede first built by Sylvester H. Roper (1823-1896).