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A love of bicycles

Versailles museum displays all kinds of bikes

Mary Mattingly

When Steve Buffington hosts his annual bike show in September, his bicycle enthusiast friends from the region descend upon the small town of Versailles and visit the Coolsville Bike Museum on the square, and “freak out” as he puts it. “They are like ‘what’s this place doing in this town? Shouldn’t it be in a Gatlinburg or somewhere like that,’ ” he repeats. Perhaps. But Buffington discovered Versailles about 15 years ago after a 100 mile radius search in the tri-state to establish a bike shop and museum. Bicycles had become his passion, his hobby and livelihood, and the former Cincinnati resident wanted to share it with others.

Versailles bicycle museumMARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
Over 50 bikes are displayed in Steve Buffington’s Coolsville Museum in Versailles.

Many local residents most likely have passed by the well-maintained brick building on Main and First North streets without knowing the history and treasures it holds inside. There are 60-year-old bikes from all the big brands of the era, names like Schwinn, Huffy, Harley Davidson, Mongoose to name a few, many being original or which Buffington has restored. For those age 40 and up, a visit to the museum brings up faded memories of a time when two wheels and a butterfly handlebar was a kid’s passport to freedom, a chance to ride the road atop a banana seat with the breeze in your hair, and all the time in the world to discover your neighborhood.

Buffington, who is in his 50s, misses those days. A father of three grown children, he says it’s a different world today. Kids don’t have the free time to ride aimlessly until dinner time, nor will most parents allow it. About 25 years ago, he wanted to exercise and hopped on a bike. “I thought, man, this is fun! No wonder I loved it as a kid!” He started fiddling around, collecting old bike parts and custom making bikes, or restoring them to their original form. In 2003, a Meisberger & Associates Real Estate ad caught his eye and he checked out the small Ripley County town and the building that was a trophy business. He fell in love with the town, moved upstairs in the two story building and opened shop. The Coolsville Museum and Steve’s Bike Shop was open regularly for several years, but as a Schwinn dealer, he couldn’t keep up with the big stores and buying bikes in bulk. About 10 years ago, he had to find another way to make a living. Buffington works at GeCom in Greensburg, but still fixes bikes as a hobby, opens the museum by appointment and hosts the Versailles Bicycle Blast custom show and swap meet in September. He still wants to amp up interest in recreational biking. “I love the people and bikes and wish families were into it more. It’s fun and a great way to exercise too.”

Inside the museum
Buffington knows his collection well, and the history of bikes too. He has about 50 different bikes inside the museum. On display is the first Mongoose racing bike made in America. Buffington notes the frame is nickel plated and the moto mag wheels are collectible. “That was a big thing back in the day,” the bike museum curator said. He then points out a mini-two-wheeler he made which has a leopard seat, broomstick near the crossbar and skeleton light in front that when turned on lights up the eyes. Also on display is the first Sting-Ray made by Schwinn in 1963. It has a rare checker-board seat he found at Goodwill. The museum is also home to the “Lemon Peeler’ complete with a baseball bat holder, something popular in the ‘70s. The Huffy “Sling-Shot” features a park shift on the crossbar, which actually works. Most of the bikes were named after cars; there’s the “Corvetter” in the late 50s and a GTO bike. “A good name helps sell a bike,” Buffington commented. Several of the bikes have shifters on the crossbar, until consumer safety advocate Ralph Nader led a campaign to get rid of those, claiming they were too dangerous. They were fun though, Buffington said.

Bicycle manufacturers took note of trends, and started duplicating race cars, dragsters and motorcycle choppers. For example, there’s a five speed “chopper” bicycle with shocks to absorb bumps in the road. There’s a trike with a rare sissy bar, and another bicycle with a high padded head set. “The thinking was you could ride the bike to the ball games and sit and rest your head on it while watching,” he said. One of his favorites in the museum is an orange swing bike, made in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and featured on the TV show “American Pickers.” The wheelie bar and front wheel with handlebars can spin allowing tricks.

A 1965 bike gets attention particularly when you turn on the Mattel made noisemaker in front. “It sounds like a cycle and it gets louder!” he said. Buffington converted a Murray “Eliminator “ dragster type bike with a butterfly handlebar that came to him as “six pieces of rust”. The cute “Slik Chik” bike with the attached book rack and flower power seat was popular with girls. Then there’s Sears and Roebuck “Screamer” with the bike flag on back and the limited edition Black Widow Sting-Ray. He likes a white freestyle “Predator” trick bike made in 1981 by Schwinn where you can flip the seat and ride upside down.
Probably the most expensive bike in his collection is the coppertone, tandem Mini Twinn, a 1968 original. They didn’t make many back then, which makes it valuable among collectors. He also likes one he made, with a decorative chrome steering wheel and pegs for his daughter to put her feet on when she was little and rode with him.

When he has his free bike show in September, he brings out the old fashioned high wheeler and lets kids or whomever ride it. They also like the unique two seater tricycle featured in the shop window, with a wooden horse for the frame and rope reins for steering instead of a handlebar. This collector knows an original from a knock-off. “I know if the parts are not quite right, if the wheels are the wrong year, stuff like that. A lot of people get ripped off, claiming it’s a collector item but I can tell if it’s not original.” Buffington has quite an investment in these bikes, and not just dollars but time. “I don’t sell the museum bikes, unless I have a duplicate,” he added. “Now it’s just a hobby. I help people out sometimes by fixing bikes. That way I can keep people biking!” And whether it’s a visit to this museum or in need of a bike part, if it keeps the interest in riding, that’s worth it to Buffington.

Local Bulletin Board

Saturday, April 9
Free first responders breakfast
State Rep. Randy Frye invites first responders to a free breakfast on Saturday, April 9 at the Dillsboro Vol. Fire Dept., from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. Frye will be available to visit with all members of law enforcement, fire, EMS, and public safety personnel from House District 67 to gather input and provide an update regarding the 2016 legislative session. RSVP by emailing

Deadline: April 4, 2016
SEIRD announces student scholarship
The Southeastern Indiana Recycling District (SEIRD) is pleased to announce the 2015 - 2016 “Students Making an Environmental Difference Scholarship” for graduating high school seniors. For details pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican dated February 11 and read pg. 2.

Deadline: April 1, 2016
Sheriff scholarships announced
Ripley Co. Sheriff Jeff Cumberworth announced that Indiana Sheriff’s Association would again be awarding college scholarships to qualified high school seniors or college students who are pursuing a degree in criminal justice. For details pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican dated February 11 and read page 3.

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