The Story of Supergrandpa.
In 1951 the newspaper Stockholms Tidningen, and the weapon company Husqvarna Vapenfabrik, arranged the biggest race ever seen inSweden. The race was open for amateurs and was only open for standard bicycles (no racing bicycles). The riders were not allowed to have been a member of the Swedish Cycle League within the past two years. The aim was to find some of the strongest Swedish people that were using their bicycle every day and make a competition between those riders.
The race was 1.789 km in five stages:
Haparanda – Umeâ: 447 km
Umeâ –Sundsvall: 308 km
Sundsvall– Falun: 308 km
Falun – Huskvarna: 397 km
Huskvarna – Ystad: 329 km
The race was designed as an “ideal-time race” with a minimum average speed at 18 km/h and a “free-speed ride”. The winner was the first rider that crossed the finish line in Ystad. The race took part on regular roads with daily traffic.
The start in Haparanda took place at midnight 0:00 at 1.th July 1951.
The Husqvarna Vapenfabrik was supporting every competitor with a new Husqvarna bicycle with a 2-speed Novo hub. Every participant who fulfilled the ride was allowed to keep this bicycle beside 200 kr. in cash. The winner was given 5.000 kr., the second price winner 3.000 kr. and the third was given a prize of 1.000 kr.
More than 1.500 people wanted to take part in the race but only 50 people were allowed, so many people was left disappointed when they were rejected to take part. The age limit for the race was from 23 up to 40 years old. All competitors should have a medical statement, saying that they were in a good physical condition.
Among the participants came a 66 year old man arriving at his own bicycle. He was riding in regular clothes on his Kärnan bicycle fromHelsingborg. This old man was the former carrier Gustaf Hâkansson. He rode by bicycle to the race from his home in Gantofte in South Sweden. By this time he has been riding the 1.700 km in two weeks up to Haparanda to report him self for The Sweden Race.
When he wanted to sign up at the tour manager, his plan of being a racing bicyclist was spoiled. One of the much younger organizer said to him, “Old man, go home again to your rocking chair. You have passed the age limit by 26 years.”
However Gustaf had made up his mind; he really wanted to do this race; not necessary for being number one, but anyway he had to ride back home again so he might as well join the riders of The Sweden Race, and if he was not allowed officially he would make his own race.
At midnight the first group of 6-8 riders took off. Five minutes later the next group took off. The race was an extraordinary event – more or less all the citizens of Haparanda and the neighbor villages, were on the street to see the start of this race and meet all the heroic competitors.
About 0:30 a.m. after all the officially riders had left; Gustaf Hâkansson started his own race. He put a “0” at his chest and slowly began his ride back home to South Sweden.
He had to carry all of his baggage himself, since the tour manager had rejected to carry his baggage in the officially follow-up car.
Gustaf was very easy to know from all other riders. On his face he had a long white beard that’s was flapping in the wind. In 1907 when he met his wife Maria he decided not to cut his beard ever again, so in 1951 he had a nice long white beard on his face.
During the ride with the officially riders of The Sweden Race a little child saw Gustaf riding on his bicycle with his long beard and shouted “Look, look there is an old man riding. He is a real Supergrandpa!” A journalist heard this little child and wrote the word in his article. By this Gustaf Hâkansson became Supergrandpa with the entire Sweden.
Just outside the town Skellefteâ a journalist got an interview with Supergrandpa while he was eating his own food; two soft cakes and some sugar water.
To the Journalist Gustaf told that he had made a little detour up in theNorth Swedenover the hills before he came to Haparanda.
“Every year I use go up to the Laplander at Kebnekaize and help them to seed the potatoes at their fields.” He continued: “Well, I must leave now. I want to be in Ystad before Sunday evening so I can congratulate the winner of The Sweden Race.”
Gustaf was aware that nobody should claim him for been cheating on his own race, so he ensured his own documentation in his distance book – actually it was the Guest Book from his home in Gantofta – it was also used as his diary.
When he passed a police station in the biggest cities he had his kilometers counter on the bicycle read by one of the locale policemen together with an official stamp from the station in his Guest Book.
Very soon Supergrandpa became so popular that at some police station the policemen waited up after closing time for Supergrandpa to arrive so they could sign up his distance book.
Gustaf rode the first 420 kilometers without any sleep day and night; “Sleep?” he said! No! Sleep is only when you are tired!”
The first 300 kilometers was ridden in 15 hours. On his first stop he was already nine hours in front of the competitors. Gustafs’ average speed at this time – after 420 km – was13 km/h.
Later he got his first sleep – at a police station in the lock-up that wasn’t in use.
After a short while the publicity about “The riding beard” was enormous, and many people were standing out in the street just to see Supergrandpa when he rode through their village – waving and yelling at him. When he came to Örebro on the fourth stage he took his time to have a check at the local doctor. The doctor concluded that Gustaf was in a very good condition, and Gustaf went off to the race again.
In Hallsberg he joined another bicyclist and was invited to his place at Hemsjön – a lake – where Gustaf took a bath and relaxed some hours before he went off again.
The route between Askersund to Medevi – about south of the Mid-Sweden, became a 40 km. triumph ride ending up in Medevi with an orchestra playing and Supergrandpa singing “När ljusen tändas därhjemma” [when the candles are lightning at home].
When the officially riders were approaching the final stage, some of the publicity about Supergrandpa changed. Some of the officially riders were asking for permission to brake out from the race to catch up on Supergrandpa before he reaches the goal in Ystad, but they were rejected from the organizers.
Some journalist also started some criticism of Supergrandpa calling him a non-fair rider, not respecting the rules of the race.
Supergrandpa himself made a statement to a newspaper; he was actually very happy that he wasn’t allowed to take part in the race, because he realized that he couldn’t keep up with the other competitors’ speed.
Pruth, one of the organizers of the race was perhaps a bit impressed of Supergrandpa and his own race. He asked Gustaf if he had a wish for his ride. “No, not really. Although a nice bacon steak will be very tasty when I come to Huskvarna.”
The rumor about the steak came to the town Motala before Supergrandpa did. At his arrival to Motala, the hotel of the city had set the table for dinner with Bacon steak and Strawberry with crème for dessert. Supergrandpa took time to enjoy this meal and at 10 p.m. he was on the road again.
When he came to the town Ljungby the workers and the officers from the biggest company “CTC” had joined in, to buy a watch for Supergrandpa together with a lot of flowers.
After 6 days, 14 hours and 20 minutes Supergrandpa cross the finish line Saturday the 4th July in Ystad – one day before the officially riders of The Sweden Race. Gustaf slept 10 hours all in all within these six days
There were a huge crowd of people, a brass band was playing and the next day the King of Sweden met Supergrandpa to congratulate him.
After The Sweden Race Supergrandpa did a lot of commercials for bicycle and motorcycle companies and made tours around in the Parks inSwedenwere he sang hymns. In December 1951 he even became an actor in the movie “One summer of Happiness”.
Europe tour and oldest recording artist in the world
Gustaf had always wanted to go to Jerusalembut he and his wife couldn’t afford this trip. When he was 75 years old, he decided that it was the right time to do this ride. He began a bicycle ride through Europe on the 16th May 1959 ending up inJerusalem. He rode 6.500 km in 6 month throughDenmark,Germany,Austria,Yugoslavia,Greece,Turkey,Syria,Lebanon and finallyJordan.
For the children in Jordan (nowadays Israel) Gustaf was the true Santa Claus coming from North.
At Christmas he visited the Danish UN-Battalion to sing Christmas carols and preached Gods Word.
He became very known on his way toJerusalem. He met a lot of nice people and was also present in several newspapers. In Turkey, when he was very tired and while resting at the side of the road, a farmer offered him some grapes. The grape was very exotic and unknown in Sweden at that time, but Gustaf realized how much energy he got from the grapes, so he introduced the grape to the Swedish people when he returned the following year.
In 1960 he took the ferry “M/S Tundraland” back to Landskrona inSweden- with bringing his bicycle of course. That ended his journey to The Holy Town Jerusalem.
Gustaf loved to sing hymns – it is told that you could hear him singing when he was riding his bicycle in The Sweden Race. Gustaf recorded hymns at records from 1976 to 1985. When he was 100 years old, he became the oldest record recording artist in the world.
Gustaf Hâkansson started to ride bicycle after he was retired and the children had left home, at the age of 41.
Gustaf did The Sweden Race two times - in 1951 and 1953.
Gustaf was married to Maria in 1908, and Maria gave birth to 10 children whereas two of them died before they were grown.
Maria Hâkansson died in 1986, 104 years old and Gustaf Hâkansson died in 1987, 101 years old
They were married in 77 years 44 days – a Swedish record that still counts.
In 1991 the writer David M Schwartz wrote the book Super Grandpa. It is a book for children that tells about Gustafs’ effort as a “The Tortoise and the Hare”-story.
The book is an award winner from the Film advisory board Inc.
All information about Gustaf Hâkansson and his life including the pictures is from the museum “Johanna Museet” in Skurup, Sweden.
All information about The Sweden Race is collected from Âke Stenqvist, Forsskâlsgaten 12, 12145 JOHANNESHOV, Sweden