At age 7, David Wheat’s scooter was a prized possession.

The youngest of five, “I was at the bottom of the feeding chain. … I got to ride everybody else’s stuff, but the scooter was mine,” he said.

After nearly 73 years, the Duluth man was reunited with his old set of wheels.

“It’s kind of amazing … to get that toy back in my hands.”

If you don’t know Wheat, he spent nearly eight years as a POW in Hanoi, Vietnam. There’s a statue of him at the Duluth International Airport. Dec. 16 is David Wheat Day in Duluth.

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But before he was a local hero, Wheat used to ride his scooter down the alley above First Street and down the corner toward Fourth Avenue East. That’s where he lived with his grandparents, parents and siblings for three years before they moved into their home.

Wheat can’t recall why, but he replaced the scooter’s handle with a wooden piece shaped like a boat hull. That would later be the key factor in the scooter’s return.

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David Wheat’s childhood scooter hasn’t been ridden in decades because of a flat rear tire. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
David Wheat’s childhood scooter hasn’t been ridden in decades because of a flat rear tire. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Fifty years ago, Harry Pearson was working as a contractor for Wheat’s father. “He said, ‘You want it? You’ve got a little boy,’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’” Pearson recalled.

His son, Scott, was 5 at the time, but he never rode the scooter; the back tire has a hole in it.

Pearson knew the bike had a flat and was unrideable, but he took it anyway. “I have a knack for antiques,” he said.

The scooter’s paint was worn near the pedal, so Pearson’s wife painted over the red with blue. It was eventually displayed in the Pearson recreation room among the antique furniture and wall hangings.

When he was downsizing, Pearson sold the scooter at an estate sale, and the buyer contacted Ken Stromquist, who is friends with Wheat.

“I remember when I was a boy, I lost my little wagon, and I wondered ever since where it is,” Stromquist said. He has known Wheat for nearly 30 years, and it was important for him to try to verify if the scooter once belonged to him.

Wheat received a text message and a photo of the scooter.

“I said, ‘Well, Ken, does that thing have a wooden boat handle on it?’ And, he came back with a text and a big, ‘It’s yours,’” he said.

David Wheat identified his childhood scooter by its wooden, boat-shaped handlebar. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
David Wheat identified his childhood scooter by its wooden, boat-shaped handlebar. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

As for payment, Wheat covered the cost of a couple of beers for himself and Stromquist at the Pickwick.

Pearson has never met Wheat, but they spoke when he called to thank Pearson for holding onto the scooter all these years. “I was hoping someday that he would get it back,” he said.

Wheat plans to paint the scooter its original red with white trim, repair the tire and replace the handle with a piece of pipe threaded on both ends. Because this scooter’s going places.

“I have some grandkids out in Washington, D.C., and we’ll give it to them. They can play with it rather than play with their laptops,” he said with a chuckle.

A family photograph from 1947 shows a five-year-old David Wheat riding his scooter down Third Avenue East between Second and First Streets. (Photo courtesy of David Wheat)
A family photograph from 1947 shows a five-year-old David Wheat riding his scooter down Third Avenue East between Second and First Streets. (Photo courtesy of David Wheat)

David Wheat poses with the scooter he owned as a child within feet of where he was photographed using the vehicle in 1947. Wheat was recently reunited with the scooter. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
David Wheat poses with the scooter he owned as a child within feet of where he was photographed using the vehicle in 1947. Wheat was recently reunited with the scooter. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)