Richard Curfman, known by his friends as Rich, is the current owner of Curfman’s Bike shop on Nebraska Street in Marion, IN. The shop has been in the Curfman’s family for 47 years when Rich’s dad bought it from another local family in 1962. What makes this store unique is not the things it sells or its location, but the man who sits behind the counter; the way he lives and the family traditions he keeps alive throughout the years.
It’s a crisp autumn day, and cars are whizzing past busy Nebraska Street. It’s 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, and it’s beautiful outside. I pause to examine the sign on the outside of the shop, “Curfman’s Cyclery, Bicycle Trainers”. As I open the door it exhales a deep sigh, and reveals the inside’s bright lights and the smell of new tires. Rows of bikes, a pattern of spokes, line a long hallway to the back of the store. On my left are racks and shelves of mismatched bike helmets, riding gloves, spare bike chains and countless other items for sale.
Three men at the end of the hall in cushioned chairs are grumbling about the weather, their women or any other cause for complaint and eyeing me expectantly. Clearly I am the first person to enter the store today. I greet Rich and the two other men, and ask Rich if today is a good day for my project. “Good a day as any, I guess,” he responds. The two other men leave shortly after noticing my camera bag.
Rich is uncomfortable and I can tell. As I prepare my camera, I notice him walking nervously around the store, arranging merchandise and swiping his hand through his hair. He finally perches behind the service counter, easing back in his chair, obviously worn from many long hours. I ask him about the picture frames on the desk, which are of his grandchildren, and admire the far outdated technology that sits in working order on his desk.
Rich shyly asks me to direct him in an action to get his mind off the camera. I ask if he has a bike to fix up so that I can catch him in action. Relieved, he leads me back into his workshop which is littered with old bike parts and tires, bicycles waiting to be assembled, and others waiting to be fixed. He pulls out an old Trek that needs a tune-up on its brakes.
He works confidently and quickly. He seems to slip into another world as he works on the brakes, spinning the tires and wiping the brake pads. I ask him if he learned everything from his dad. He says, “Some. I also went to other schools and seminars to learn different things and to get better.” I photograph as he works, observing his hands and the ease with which he uses the tools. He moves so quickly I can barely catch glimpse of some things he does. Although the workbench was a mess, littered with tools and old grease-stained rags, he seems to know exactly where everything is.
He finishes and pulls the bike off the stand with a quick practiced movement. He bends to examine the bike, and then tags it as “finished”. “That’s a nice bike,” I notice, “What do you ride?” He leads me back out to the storefront and pulls out a black Masi from the line of bikes for sale. “This is the kind of bike I ride”. It is beautiful with a black steel frame, fancy handlebars and big tires. I admire the bike as he checks the air level in the tires. It’s the perfect bike for a bike shop repairman.
Before I leave, we sit down in the comfortable seats the men were all sitting in when I got there. He asks me about my family and about photography. He talks slowly and deliberately, choosing his words carefully before speaking. By the time I leave, I really feel as though I have spent the last two hours well, learning about this man Rich Curfman and his slow life, the family tradition he is carrying on, and will hopefully one day pass to his grandchildren, the way his father passed it tow him.