Back to the future

he Doodlebugs are back. The Doodle Bug Club of America, which was founded here in Webster City, is gearing up to celebrate the specialized motor scooters on Sept. 14-16. 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 71 this year.

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.

There are 157 Doodlebug Club of America members. Individuals come from across the United States and reside in 34 of the 50 states.

Vern Ratcliff, 84, of Webster City, is one of the co-founders 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.”

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.

This year, members of the scooter club kicked off the annual tradition by heading back to where the first Doodlebug Reunion was held 31 years ago: the Harmony Center School. The old schoolhouse is located at the Wilson Brewer Historic Park in Webster City. Club members thought this would be a good kick-off to the upcoming reunion.

Enthusiasts from across the United States begin to fly and drive in even before the festivities officially start Thursday, Sept. 14. Attendees will flock to the Hamilton County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Sept. 13 to drop off their scooters and get ready for the festivities. The Doodlebugs will be at the Music in the Park event on Thursday evening individuals in town for the reunion will also have the option of touring Kendall Young Library. On Friday, attendees will meet for coffee at the Depot. Later that afternoon they will trek out to the airport on their scooters. Saturday morning, the city gives scooter enthusiasts here for the reunion a three-hour window to ride the Boone River Trail. According to Doodlebug Club treasurer Jerry Wells, the ride will start at 9 or 9:30 a.m., weather depending. Club members will also have their annual meeting Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.. On Saturday evening attendees will gather for a banquet at 6:30 p.m.. Riders that stay overnight Saturday may also meet for an optional breakfast Sunday morning at Hy-Vee to conclude the reunion.

Ratcliff noted that the public is welcome to come out throughout the week to see the scooters and meet the enthusiasts. There is no charge to attend the event. For more information about the club visit


View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.

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