For three days this week, the annual Doodle Bug reunion will converge on Webster City. Doodle Bug Club of America member Jerry Wells said the event is like a bunch of 65 year olds getting together to be 14 for the weekend.
For Wells, that nostalgia stems back to when he first bought a Doodle Bug for $65 from a neighbor in 1950. Doodle Bugs were produced exclusively in Webster City from 1946 to 1948, and Wells said 40,000 were made during their initial production.
"Almost every kid in town had a Doodle Bug," Wells said. "They were licensed and registered, and kids rode them all over town. We learned how to be mechanics quickly because the Bugs worked half the time, so we worked on them all the time."
Vern Ratcliff and Jerry Wells sit atop their respective Doodle Bug scooters. The two are among the organziers for this weekend’s annual Doodle Bug reunion to be held Thursday through Saturday at the Fairgrounds.
In the 64 years since Doodle Bugs went out of production, Wells said there are about a thousand left in circulation. However, people call the club after finding bikes in storage frequently. Co-Founder of the club Vern Ratcliff, who drove a Doodle Bug four miles from home to high school at age 14, said the market for Doodle Bugs and reproduction parts has a lot of money flowing through it.
"When a lot of people find a Doodle Bug or part of a Doodle Bug, there are a lot of parts missing," Ratcliff said. "If they want to complete it, they'll often buy reproduction parts. We have one major parts vendor that can sell everything someone needs to rebuild a Doodle Bug from the frame up, and we have some others with used parts."
He said the reunion started in Webster City with about five Doodle Bugs on display and it expanded from there.
Club member Don Nokes, who first bought a Doodle Bug at 12 years of age, said a Doodle Bug cost him about $1,000 when he purchased one 10 years ago. Lately, Nokes has seen prices upwards of $5,000 for a Doodle Bug in good condition.
Those prices don't stop people from around the country from visiting the reunion and showing off their own Doodle Bugs. Ratcliff said 19 states were represented at last year's reunion. He mentioned an Alaskan Doodle Bug owner who has flown down the continent for the reunion the last several years. Nokes said Doodle Bug owners come in many shapes and sizes.
"You meet people from all walks of life at these reunions. Many of them have been coming for several years and it's nice to see them at this reunion" Nokes said.
Wells said he expects the number of visitors to increase this year due to the number of inquires he's received. He is also the webmaster for the club's website, and said it has been great at increasing exposure.
Those who visit the reunion with Doodle Bugs in tow will be treated to several rides that are planned. Nokes said a ride out to the airport will be their major distance ride and Wells said there will be a ride along the Boone River biking path as well as tours around town to see new sights such as the new Webster City High School addition. Tours also show off the history of older buildings in Webster City.
All three club members expressed gratitude to the city for allowing the Doodle Bugs to ride around town during the reunion. Wells said the southern half of the path was finished about 3 years ago. Before that was dedicated, the club had permission from the city to ride the trail even though they typically don't allow motor vehicles on the path.
"The ride to Briggs-Woods started with a two hour window and the city now allows us three hours to use the trail. It's one of the highlights of the reunion, because visitors to Webster City are in awe at how a city this size could afford such a nice path," Wells said.
The reunion also hosts owners of other scooters, as Ratcliff said that many Doodle Bug owners are overall scooter enthusiasts. The reunion is open to the public and there is no cost for admission. Ratcliff said the event brings people to town to support the local economy, and he hopes that more people will come out to support him and the club.
"People come to meet old friends and make new ones, and we're trying to get more young people involved locally," Ratcliff said. He continued while laughing, saying "I've been part of this club for 26 years, and well, I'm tired. Anyone interested should definitely come out."
Anyone looking to take some work off of Ratcliff's hands, break out their own Doodle Bug, or to simply see the Doodle Bugs and other scooters can do so at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds from Sept. 13 through 15.
"It's a lot of fun for all of us, and I think it's going to be a super, super reunion this year," Wells said.