Omahan Brady Murphy rides Old Yeller six miles to work each day — even during the winter months.
Twice a week he joins a group of lunch cyclists for an additional 18 miles.
He probably has put 10,000 miles on that bike, a hand-me-down from his younger brother.
To them, Old Yeller is more than just transportation. It has a name, after all. And it was their steppingstone to fitness.
The brothers vowed to become more physically fit after their father had a heart attack a few years back. Murphy went from running marathons to competitive triathlons. Old Yeller was faithfully there for every grueling mile.
Murphy's Old Yeller is every bit as precious as the dog Disney made famous, so you can imagine Murphy's panic when Old Yeller disappeared.
Two weeks ago, someone took it from a downtown rack.
“I should've moved it,” Murphy said. “Why didn't I move it?”
The 10-year-old road bike was parked a half-block from his office. The day it disappeared, Murphy rushed in for an early morning meeting and didn't check on the bike until late afternoon. It'll be fine, he thought.
At just after 5 p.m., Murphy broke for coffee. As he walked to a local java spot, he noticed that Old Yeller wasn't latched onto the bike rack. Someone had cut the Kevlar cable, removed the lock and grabbed the bike.
“No!” the 39-year-old said. “I can't believe this is happening.”
Murphy immediately dialed 911 to report the bike stolen. He started a missing bike campaign the same day. After work, he hit the pavement with fliers offering a cash reward.
Does the story sound familiar? You betcha.
An eccentric man-child named Pee-wee Herman posted a similar stolen bike flier some 25 years ago in the movie “Pee-wee's Big Adventure.”
Pee-wee becomes distraught after his nemesis, Francis Buxton — a fellow man-child and neighborhood rich kid — steals his beloved shiny red bicycle.
Pee-wee's wild cross-country adventure happens after a fortune teller says his bicycle is in the basement of the Alamo. Along the way, Pee-wee meets an escaped convict, a waitress with wanderlust and a jealous boyfriend, and a mysterious female truck driver.
Murphy chuckled at the comparison. He's a lean guy, but not a 98-pound weakling like Pee-wee.
“Who knew?” he said. “Who knew we'd share the same story line?”
Well, minus the convict, waitress, jealous boyfriend and female trucker.
Although Murphy didn't have help from a mystic, Old Yeller was known in local biking circles. And that helped.
The bike gained its reputation because of its bright hue. When Murphy rode trails, people often asked about it.
Some wondered if the bike had anything to do with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation. It doesn't.
Some wondered if it had something to do with the Yellow Bike Project in Portland, Ore. It doesn't.
To be honest, it's yellow by default.
The 1999 GT ZR-4000 aluminum road bike was originally metallic green. It needed a lot of maintenance. The paint was scratched. The chain was stretched, and the index shifting was worn out. So Murphy stripped the bike down to the frame's aluminum finish and took it to R&R Powder Coating for a new paint job.
Yellow was the color of Murphy's very first bike. And, coincidentally, the paint shop where Murphy took Old Yeller painted tools for Union Pacific Railroad.
Which color? The company's signature yellow, of course — the shade you'd find on a railroad locomotive. It was fitting, because Murphy is a senior project engineer at Union Pacific.
With a bike that bright, Murphy had to believe that someone had seen it after it was stolen. Rather than rely solely on the Internet to spread the word, Murphy went the Pee-wee route. He called it his “old-fashioned sneaker-net.” And he prayed it would work.
He posted fliers at downtown businesses and on bike racks. He handed them out to friends and strangers. Over lunch, he canvassed the Gene Leahy Mall seeking tips from outdoor diners and homeless people. After work, he visited local bike shops, pawnshops and homeless shelters.
He also followed a tip that led him to a cache of stolen bikes under the Missouri River train bridge. He didn't find Old Yeller, but he did discover parts of Omaha he never knew existed.
“It was a sad story, because he literally built the bike up from a frame,” said Scott Redd, a co-worker and an Omaha cyclist. “Everyone knew Brady's bike, and how much Brady loved it. I was always encouraged to see his yellow bike on the racks, even as fall and winter set in.”
“There were some days when I would lock up to the racks,” Redd said, “thinking I was the only one who braved the snow and ice, only to see Brady's bike show up later in the morning.”
Most people refer to their bikes by what they are: “This is my road bike” or “This is my Trek bike.”
“Brady's bike has an actual name, and perhaps even its own personality,” Redd said. “I was off the day that Old Yeller was stolen. I was browsing at the bike shop when one of the employees announced that Brady's bike had been stolen. Later, I saw Brady's Twitter messages.”
Murphy blogged about his bike adventure: “Just like with a missing child ‘Amber Alert,' this ‘Yellow Alert' demands a quick distribution, hence the blog post with picture.”
He tweeted on Twitter. “OLD YELLER STOLEN!” and “Keep an eye out for my bicycle — its kevlar cable was cut and stolen in front of the downtown public library.”
Within minutes, a friend retweeted the message. Others did the same. In a flash, hundreds of people across Omaha knew of the theft.
Lonely hours turned into lonely days. Finally, last Thursday, Murphy received a call.
A man eating at a local sandwich shop saw his poster and phoned in a tip.
The man said he had seen Old Yeller wheeled into a downtown pawnshop the day it was stolen. Murphy was skeptical, but he followed up the call with a visit.
It took a lot less time to find Murphy's bike than Pee-wee's. In the shop's back was Old Yeller, waiting to be processed. Murphy had to pay $20 to retrieve it. That hurt, but not as much as Old Yeller's disappearance.
“I was as shocked in getting Old Yeller back as I was in its theft,” he said. “Old Yeller's been through a lot in the past 10 years.”
And, thankfully, more adventures await.
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