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Answer Man: Years ago, the Springfield Police Department had a “Talking Bicycles” program where a couple of officers would go into schools with bicycles that could “talk” to kids about bicycle safety. The officers did not ride the bikes, but they figured out a way to make the bikes say things. What else can you find out about this? — Charlie Fielding, of Springfield

By the time officer C. J. “Buck” Tindle, who was once Springfield Police Department’s Officer Friendly, retired after a stroke in 1978, it was estimated 500,000 area school children had attended the Talking-Bicycles program.

The program began in 1961 — a year after a girl on a bicycle was hit by a car and killed at Cherry Street and Jefferson Avenue.

Tindle, who died at 69 in 1994, worked with a handful of other officers over the years in bringing talking bicycles “Danny” and “Debby” to school assemblies.

Program effective in curbing bike accidents

According to stories in the News-Leader, in 1961, the police department sent Tindle and officer Jim Grammer to Oklahoma City to meet Oklahoma State Trooper Don Cannon, who had a similar program, but with one bicycle.

Tindle also worked with Springfield officers Ira Copeland and Ron Worsham.

In a 1969 News-Leader story, Municipal Judge Gerald Gleason recognized Tindle and Grammer for the program. Gleason said that since the program started, there had been only one traffic fatality involving a bicycle rider.

A 1970 News-Leader story talked about the reach of the program:

“Since that time (1961) it has appeared in all of the major cities of Missouri, and invitations have been received from outside the state asking that it be presented there.

“… It was featured in the June issue of the 1969 FBI Bulletin, a monthly magazine put out by the FBI. For a short time the program had to be cancelled when equipment wore out and there wasn’t money to replace it.

“In the time since the program first was presented, bicycle accidents in the city have decreased 50 percent despite a growing population.”

The story described the program’s presentation.

It started with Tindle explaining the purpose and joking with youngsters.

‘Nearly every safety rule is covered’

“Copeland takes over and the talking bicycles take the show.

“Each is rigged on a low table and has a stereo speaker in front of it. Copeland controls the voices of the two bicycles through his hand-held microphone.”

(It is unclear to me if the bicycle voices were pre-recorded or if someone unseen by the audience did the voices live. I suspect some of you readers know how the bicycles “talked.”)

“The boy bicycle, Danny, describes his summer in which he collided with a car while ‘popping a Wheelie.’

“From there, the two talk of correct procedures of bicycling, while Copeland fills in with discussion of signals and safety.

“Following the program, both officers open the discussion to questions and by this time the young audience has a lot of them. Nearly every safety rule is covered, down to and including how far a person should signal before making a turn.”

Joined department in 1951 as motorcycle officer

The story states the bicycle voices were those of 9-year-old twins Shawn and Serena Brixey, whose mother was Mary Lou Brixey of Channel 10.

A 1972 story states Tindle and Worsham planned to take the program to Junction City, Kansas.

Tindle was president of the National Police and Fire Safety Education Officers Association from 1973-1975.

In 1976, Tindle was given the annual Liberty Bell award by the Greene County Bar Association for the program.

He retired in 1978 after 28 years with the department. Following surgery to remove a tumor at the base of his skull, he suffered a stroke and needed to use a wheelchair.

He had joined the department in 1951 and was initially assigned to the motorcycle patrol.

Before bicycle safety, searching for Cobras

In 1953, Tindle was one of many officers who patrolled the streets and sheds of Springfield looking for escaped Cobras.

In the end, at least 11 Cobra snakes were found during the three-month ordeal.

In 1988, Carl Barnett confessed to Springfield News-Leader reporter Mike O’Brien that he had released the Cobras 35 years prior.

Barnett said he was upset with Reo Mowrer, who owned an exotic pet shop on St. Louis Street. He said Mowrer declined to compensate him after an exotic fish he bought died a few days after purchase.

So on his way out of the store, he told O’Brien, he opened the lid on a crate of snakes.

Kaitlyn McConnell, of Ozarks Alive, wrote about the Cobra Scare of 1953 for the Springfield Daily Citizen on Sept. 12.

This is Answer Man Column No. 32.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin