Alvin Rankin used to deliver the Index-Journal on his Columbia Thunderbolt bicycle, which his brother found and restored as a Christmas present for him.

A bright, crimson-framed bike with white handles and a fresh leather seat sat under the Christmas tree for Alvin Rankin in 1961 -- and 55 years later the bike that rode nearly every street in Greenwood before rusting over was given to Rankin restored anew.

The fresh red paint clings tightly to the metal frame, where decades of rust had eaten away at the original coat. The button on the side of the frame still barks out the bike's horn and the fresh, clean tires belie the miles the bike saw in its heyday.

From its handles draped a large canvas back, stuffed full of rolled-up Index-Journal newspapers -- the name of the paper printed on the side of the bag, exactly like the bags Alvin and his brother Thomas Rankin used to carry when they delivered the paper in the '60s.

"I delivered papers back when the Index was up here on Maxwell Avenue, it was an afternoon paper then," Alvin said. "I had three different routes. That's what you did back then -- anything to earn some extra money."

For Alvin, his first bike was his gateway to the world. He could make money delivering the paper after school, and while he did it he could pick up discarded coal bags from people's porches and trade them in for a nickle a bag.

"A nickel -- back then you could see a movie for a nickel," he said.

He rode along Park Avenue, and ran his route for long enough to see the dirt roads in the surrounding neighborhoods paved. When he rode through there while the paving was underway, he got tar all over his bicycle. Though his father was mad, the two worked together to clean it up.

Over the years, his bike and his routes taught him a lot about the people living in Greenwood. He delivered papers to state Sen. Floyd Nicholson's parents, and near the holidays, he said more people baked him cookies than he could count.

"When I was 15, I started working at McCaslan's," said Alvin, now the store's current owner and operator. "Mr. McCaslan asked me 'How well do you know Greenwood?' I had delivered the Index and the Anderson Independent, and I helped my brother with his milk route, so I said I know Greenwood pretty well."

In 1972, Alvin got married and, not long after, the bike was put in storage underneath his house. It stayed there for decades, until Thomas took up cleaning his own house out and volunteered to help Alvin clean his.

"I found it under his house a few years ago," Thomas said. "Late last year, some people told me about Opie-One Custom, said he might do the job."

Thomas -- along with Alvin and his sister, JoAnn Goard and Thomas' son -- pitched in money to have the bike restored. Thomas cleaned up his old courier bag and filled it with newspapers, and the night before Christmas Eve the family gathered at his house, ready to surprise Alvin.

"I walked up and the lights were out, that was very odd," Alvin said. "They said to come in, and turned the lights on."

As the whole family yelled surprise, Gourd said her brother didn't react exactly the way they had expected.

"When he walked in the front door we had it right there to the left," she said. "The bag was hanging from the handle bars and it was hiding the bike."

Alvin didn't even recognize the bike at first, Thomas said -- and asked if it was Thomas'. When the courier bag was taken off from the handles, Alvin was speechless, Gourd said.

"I had no idea Thomas was going to do that, that was such a surprise," Alvin said. "They were tickled to death, too. I was so surprised."

Though the bike looks like a perfectly preserved piece of the past, Alvin said it's no museum piece. He and Thomas had joked about needing to ride the bike for exercise -- but he said he's likely to take those 26-inch rims for a ride around Uptown occasionally.

"Thomas has such a love for things from the past," Gourd said. "That's why he needed to do this. He was so excited when he found that bike. Siblings are really important, that's who you share your childhood memories with."

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.