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Engines Running

Doodle Bug Club to celebrate 30 years

September 9, 2016
Adri Sietstra ( ,

The Doodle Bugs are coming back to town. Locals will soon see the rare, specially-made scooters zipping along the Boone River Trail and other parts of Webster City. The small-engine scooter turns 70 this year. The Doodle Bug Club of America, which was founded here in Webster City, will be reuniting for the 30th year in honor of the scooter.

The Doodle Bug motor scooter was built from 1946 to 1948 by the Beam Manufacturing Company in Webster City. They were sold through the Gambles Stores. The small inexpensive scooters were sold for as little as $69.95, according to the Doodle Bug Club of America's website. The little red scooters are now prized by collectors. Club members believe there may be as few as 1,000 left in existence. The specially made Webster City product turns 70 this year. To learn more about the Doodle Bug visit

This year's reunion is Thursday, Sept. 15 through Saturday, September 17.

Article Photos

Enthusiasts from across the United States begin to fly and drive in before the festivities officially start Thursday. The Doodle Bugs will be in this year's high school homecoming parade on Friday. Saturday morning, the city gives scooter enthusiasts here for the reunion a three-hour window to ride the Boone River Trail. On Saturday evening attendees all gather for a banquet. Riders that stay overnight Saturday also meet for an optional breakfast Sunday morning at Hy-Vee to conclude the reunion.

Vern Ratcliff, 83, of Webster City, is one of the organizers of the long-time gathering.

"I had one when I was 14 years old. I'm old enough that I had a brand new one when I was 14 in 1947," said Ratcliff. "Of course when I got old enough to get my driver's license and a car, I sold it in 1951 to a gentlemen in Humboldt for $25."

Fact Box

Built from 1946 to 1948 by the

Beam Manufacturing Company in Webster City

As few as 1,000 left in existence.

Ratcliff began researching the history of the Doodlebug, and its origins in Webster City. He visited Kendall Young Library and browsed through the industry drawer and found the maker of the classic scooter, Beam Manufacturing.

"As years and years and years went by, I got to thinking it would be nice to have something that represents way back then," said Ratcliff.

Ratcliff called Bill Moore, Mason City. The two compared notes and information about the once-popular scooter. After much discussion, the scooter enthusiasts organized the Doodle Bug Club of America.

"Bill and I got together and decided to put a show together in conjunction with Jubilee Day at the Depot Museum in 1987, and that's how it all started," said Ratcliff. "The first year I think we had five Doodle Bugs on display."

"It just kept growing and growing and eventually we had to go to the fairgrounds," Ratcliff said. Ratcliff noted that the reunion would not happen without the help of other club members and family members.

"The guys are always a big help and I've had a lot of help from my wife, Viola, too. She's done a lot of phone work and if there's any writing and correspondence to do, I try to get her to do it," said Ratcliff.

Ratcliff has five complete Doodle Bugs.

"Throughout the years we've had 31 states represented," said Ratcliff. "We even had a retired doctor fly down from Alaska."

"The last couple years we had people from New Hampshire, New York, Texas, and California," said Ratcliff.

"It's like a big family reunion," said Ratcliff. "That's what I enjoy about it."

Jim Juon, 73, of Stanhope, bought his first Doodlebug when he was 12. Juon bought it from a friend for $35.

"I lived on a farm and it was a long walk to any of my friends' houses, so when I got my Doodle Bug it was like a whole new birth of freedom," Juon said. "I could get on the bike and it would take me wherever I wanted to go."

Some of Juon's fondest memories are centered around the scooter. Relatives of his from Ankeny would ride the Doodle Bugs when they visited his family. Five years ago his cousins mentioned to him how special their time spent on the farm riding the scooters was.

"I thought it was kind of special that they remembered that," said Juon.

Juon also repairs and puts together Doodle Bugs for clients across the United States.

"It started out as a hobby and it's turned into a business. I restore them for people. I buy and sell parts and try to help people out," Juon said.

"I really enjoy the rides we do," said Juon. "We don't get much of a chance to ride them anymore because they aren't licensed. But with the reunion, we get the freedom to go on several rides. It's a special ride."

Juon currently has 11 working Doodle Bugs.

Don Nokes, 74, of Webster City, reminisced about his first Doodle Bug.

"When I was 12 years old, the neighbor kid had one and wanted to sell it, so I bought his Doodle Bug for $10. That got me started on Doodle Bugs," Nokes said.

Nokes and his pals in the neighborhood rode their scooters all around town.

"We would ride them to Hy-Vee and back picking up pop bottles and that kind of thing, riding the river trails," Nokes said. "As we got older, we wanted to go faster so we put bigger motors on them."

When Nokes turned 16 he sold his scooter and got a car. Many years later he began thinking back to his Doodle Bug days.

"When I was about 50, I decided I wanted a Doodle Bug back," Nokes explained. "I went to a Doodle Bug meeting and everybody was having Doodle Bug fun, so I went and found another Doodle Bug."

Nokes currently has two Doodle Bugs.

Nokes has been attending the reunions for the last ten years and most enjoys the camaraderie with other enthusiasts.

"We have a lot of fun riding and talking," Nokes said.

"This is an important part of Webster City history," said Nokes. "I'm pretty proud of the fact that I'm right from where they're made."

Jerry Wells, 79, of Webster City, got his first Doodle Bug at age 14.

"I was 14 years old. I bought it for $65," said Wells. "It was pretty well decked out. It had the twin levers and the headlight, generator, and tail light."

Wells drove it for two years until he bought a car. Then he sold his Doodle Bug.

Nineteen years ago Wells went out to a Doodle Bug show and was reintroduced to one of his favorite past times.

"It brought back some memories," Wells said. "The bug bit me and that's history. I've been involved ever since."

"You make friendships that last forever," said Wells. "It's kind of like being in the military. You meet friends and you never forget those people, no matter how long it's been."

Ratcliff is excited for the upcoming reunion and the time to catch up with enthusiasts around the country.

"It's the item that gets you there, but it's the people that make it worthwhile," said Ratcliff.



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