Doodle Bugs return

Webster City is the Doodle Bug capital of the world. This week, it will welcome the iconic scooter, and its riders, back home.

-Messenger file photo
Back in the day, Doodle Bugs sold for less than $100. Today, they are the focus of the Doodle Bug Club of America and a unique collector’s item. Doodle Bugs originated in Webster City. Each year, the Doodle Bug Club of America gathers there in honor of the popular post-World War II scooter.

WEBSTER CITY — Doodle Bugs, the motorized red scooters that were built in Webster City during the late 1940s, have gained enthusiasts from throughout the country.

Many of them each year find themselves back in the little Iowa town of the scooters’ inception.

This year the 32nd anuual Doodle Bug Reunion is Wednesday through Saturday. The reunion, hosted by the Doodle Bug Club of America, will be at the Ed Prince Building, which is located at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Webster City.

The iconic Doodle Bug was first manufactured by Beam Manufacturing in Webster City when an engineer who worked there, Harry Mertz, was also working on an early automatic washer.

That washer is what led o Mertz’s invention of the scooter.

Back in the day, Doodle Bugs sold for less than $100. Today, they are the focus of the Doodle Bug Club of America and a unique collector’s item.

He patented his work with the little red scooter, giving it the name the Mertz Motor Scooter.

Beam Manufacturig did four production runs of 10,000 scooters each run between 1946-1948, which was just on the heels of World War II.

A Briggs & Stratton 1 1/2 horsepower gas engine was used for most of the scooters, but during the first run of production almost 1,000 of the scooters were built using a Clinton 1 1/2 horsepower gas engine. Those are the rarest of the Doodle Bugs.

Over the course of the runs, new features were added.

Gambles Department Stores acquired the “Little Red Bug,” and began selling them under the name of Hiawatha.

Western Auto Stores also obtained some of the scooters, giving them the names Western Flyer or Wheel Goods.

Most of the scooters could be bought for $69.95 during the post-war era.

It wasn’t until September of 1987 that two big fans of the Doodble Bug — Vern Ratcliff, of Webster City, and William Moore, of Mason City — decided to hold the first Doodle Bug Reunion.

That reunion was held at Wilson Brewer Historic Park the second weekend after Labor Day. More than three decades later, the reunion has become an extended weekend’s worth of activities.

This year’s the festivities kick off at 8 a.m. on Wednesday when the public is invited out to the Ed Prince Building on the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. Visitors will be encouraged to check out the different scooter models, Doodle Bug memorabilia from the past 70-plus years, and the wares on sale through parts vendors for anyone wanting to restore their own scooters.

The Ed Prince Building event will be open to the public from Wednesday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To catch Doodle Bugs in action, there will be a round trip ride to the Grid Iron Restaurant in Webster City on Thursday at 11 a.m. for lunch, or again at 6 p.m. for supper.

There is also a 5.5-mile round trip ride to the Webster City Municipal Airport and back to the fairgrounds at 1 p.m. on Friday.

An 11.5-mile round trip along the Briggs Woods Park river trail will begin at 9 a.m. in Webster City on Saturday.

A $5 pork burger meal hosted by the Future Farmers of America will be Friday afternoon at 4 p.m . at the fairgrounds.