Growing Up In Waterford, PA


A Sled-Riding Kid
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

When the winter winds blow and the winter snows snow, I often think of when I was a sled-riding kid back in the 40's.

Those were real sleds we had back then, not the dinky plastic thing you see around nowadays. No sir! Our sleds were build tough --- hardwood bed, steel frame, steel runners, nuts, bolts, rivets --- oh yeah, those were sleds!

My first sled was a 3-footer, and my sledding consisted primarily of Mom and Dad pulling me around. All kids had sleds, and if there was no one to pull you, you just pulled the empty sled around by yourself.

The big kids would go belly-slamming in the road. It was fairly safe, there not being much traffic then. To belly-slam, you carried the sled in front of you, ran like the dickens and slammed yourself and the sled down onto the hard-packed snow. It was surprising how far you could go!

I was too young for this. Heck, I wasn't even allowed to cross the street much less slide on it. After watching the big kids, I thought I ought to be able to do the same thing in the safety of the backyard. I didn't realize that hard packed snow is a must for belly-slamming. So I tried it in the soft, fluffy stuff. I ran as fast as I could and slammed down onto the sled. The sled never moved and inch! Neither did I, having a very good grip for a little kid. Except for my head. It went down, driving my chin onto the steering mechanism. I still have the chipped front tooth, which was brand new at the time, to remind me of that episode.

For really good sledding, three things are required: a sled, a kid, and a hill. In our part of town, there just weren't any hills. Well, there were, but as I said before, I wasn't allowed to cross the street.

My cousin, Neil, (older and bigger than I), came to the rescue. With a little ingenuity and a snow shovel he built a hill by packing snow in the front steps. Starting with a push off the porch, I would go zooming down the steps, down the long sidewalk, and down the bank to the ditch, stopping just short of the road. I couldn't go any further because I wasn't allowed to cross the street.

What a fun day that was! I think I nearly wore out the sled runners. I nearly wore out Neil, too, since he had to re-pack the steps after every couple of runs.

After I had muddled my way through more than ten years of life, we moved way up to the other end of town. What a great place it was! I was practically out in the country with my school chum, Bud, living right next door. And in back of our home, a hill!

There was a narrow cornfield between Bud's house and mine, and when the first snow fell, we walked back through the field and up the hill. At the top of the hill was a small woods, and as you entered the woods, you went downhill again. We slid both directions --- into the woods and out of the woods.

Sliding in the woods was really the most fun because you had to go around trees. And until you got a track made, you didn't always go around the trees. Slow as we went, it was still a bone-jarring experience to impact even a very small tree.

Many times there wasn't very much snow in the woods. After a few trips down the hill, we were sliding mostly on wet, half-frozen leaves. I didn't care. It was a hundred times better than our old place.

Bud was more daring than I. He had a pair of skis, the kind with straps that you just scuffed your feet into. He used to ski down through the cornfield. Maybe I should say he used to try to ski. It seems like the snow was never quite right for skiing, and besides, the hill just wasn't steep enough.

I don't think he ever went more than a few feet at a time. Nevertheless, it looked too dangerous to me, so I never tried it.

My cousin Donnie often came over after school to go sledding. He and I usually slid in the field instead of the woods. We'd slide and slide until the street lights came on, the universal signal for all kids to go home.

One day we were sliding in what had been a couple of inches of wet snow. When the street lights came on, we said, "One more time!", and climbed back up the hill.

"One more time" is a very dangerous thing to say and even more dangerous to participate in.

Donnie went down first. I followed. By now, the snow was worn away to mud at an old dead furrow near the bottom of the hill. I came down faster than any trip of the day! The sled hit the mud and stopped dead. (Hence the name "dead furrow"). This time, I didn't stop! I zipped off the sled face-first through mud, snow, stones, and perhaps a few small rodents who had been hibernating there until I passed through!

Well, I didn't break anything and I didn't bleed too much, but I did have a sore nose and mouth for the next few days. Sometimes I think I could still spit out a little gravel, but I guess it's just my imagination.

A few years later, I got a toboggan for Christmas. Toboggans are neat because they go in almost any kind of snow whether it's deep or not. A regular sled needs special snow and not too much of it.

For the uninitiated, a toboggan is a runner-less sled made entirely of hardwood --- maple or ash or something. The wood is curled into a half-circle at the front which makes it glide easily through the snow and helps make the toboggan look like something other than a plank.

Rather than go into all my tobogganing exploits, let me instead give you of a few basic toboggan rules that I learned:

1. If you are barreling downhill and over a "jump", try to maintain contact with the toboggan. If you and the toboggan become separated, there is no guarantee as to what position either will be in upon landing.

2. If a collision with a tree, house, or large animal is imminent, it is perfectly ethical to leave the toboggan in any convenient manner. You are under no obligation to stay aboard.

3. Do not allow yourself to be towed on a toboggan behind a car. When the car stops, you will not, and will therefore get to see a lot more of the underside of an automobile than is necessary.

4. If, while lying on a toboggan, you see good prospects for a "head-on", do not stick your head under the "curl" for protection. While it may seem like a good idea, independent research has proven otherwise.

Over the last few decades, my sledding days have dwindled to zero, but you know, it still sounds like fun. I have an old sled. And not too far across from our place, there is a dandy-looking hill. I'm often tempted to try it out some winder day. Only three things keep me from it: (1) I get cold sooner than I used to; (2) I get tired sooner than I used to; and (3) I' m still not allowed to cross the street!

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