TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — In My Day, Kids Were (Fill In The Blank)

Last week, I described some of my youthful contemporaries as “daring.” Now I’ll return to my youthful adventures … but this time, leave it to you, the reader, to fill in the blank.

I’ve been describing youthful fun on the Grand Forks skating rink. Now let’s recall a much more dangerous pursuit — the American Flexible Flyer and the Champion Sno-Line downhill sleds.

They were the fastest and the best-steering sleds on the market. They turned, cut and jumped (if you aimed) down any hill, provided you had the proper drivers.

In Riverside Park just down the street from Seward Avenue was what is known as the DeMers estate. A large lot surrounded by a high brick wall, it was an attraction to visitors. Right beside it and outside its walls were a series of hills that ran down to the Red River. It was there that youthful lives were endangered … all because our parents trusted us to have good fun when we went sledding.

Our neighborhood gang of boys loved those hills. Some were steep, some were gradual, and all were fun. We always groomed the hills by first sliding down on cardboard after a fresh snow to flatten it and create a track.

Sometimes those cardboard pieces would drive you right into bushes or trees. But that is a story for another day.

Once the various trails had been created, we created some sled jumps. For those who haven’t had this experience, that means at certain points on the downhill trail we’d create jumps for the sleds to fly off of. They were real jumps, and we really flew.

One day someone got extra creative. We created parallel downhill runs on both sides of the main run. Then we added a cut from one side to the other, right in front of each of the other.

Now imagine yourself on the main hill on your sled, with one of your friends on the run right next to you. Your friend starts slightly ahead of you. Then you cut loose on your sled. If you time everything just right, your friend will get to a jump slightly ahead of you, and — if everything was timed right, you’d fly over the top of your friend, and both of you would continue down the hill.

Now, the first time we tried the jump, we should have learned our lesson. The first time, the jump wasn’t packed right. As the sled on the main run hit the jump, it went through it, not over. That meant crunch time for your friend, who had assumed you would go over, not through him.

But we were young and daring. The experience didn’t deter us. After a few tries and crashes, we succeeded in getting it right without any injuries more serious than scratches and broken sleds.

Once we had conquered the hills and run them for a few weekends, we decided (just once) to get more creative. One of the guys had a big toboggan. Those things came in three sizes — short, medium and too damned long. We opted for the long one, since it was our only option.

Now visualize six young boys on that toboggan, hanging onto the rope handles that were the only means to keep you on it. Now watch as those kids moved it to the center sled run, the one with the jump, yelled like paratroopers jumping out of a plane, and launched.

Hanging on for dear life, they hit the first of the jumps. By golly, that unit launched like an airplane taking off.

The landing, however, was not so good. The toboggan, with no one able to control it, veered to the side, off the jump, and into some brush and small trees — coming to a stop against a tree that was definitely not small.

There is no way to describe that stop, nor the cries of fear when the unit went airborne. Nor was there any way to describe the emotions of the friend whose parents owned the toboggan.

The unit did not have seat belts, so when it stopped, we all went flying into each other, into branches and into small trees. Thank God no one (but the toboggan) hit that big tree. It did, in fact, scare us senseless.

Even more fearful was what we thought would happen when the father who owned the machine came down to view the pieces. The unit was splintered and useless. What did that father do? Since we were not hurt, he just laughed his butt off.

Such were the good times in the early 1950s. And yet, we survived. We were young and sometimes foolish, but we made it the best of times for young men creating their own entertainment. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — In My Day, Kids Were Daring

We all have memories of the good old days. The older one gets, the more unusual they seem.

When I was a young lad growing up in Grand Forks, N.D., the only inside rink in the city was the University of North Dakota arena. It was a glorified farm shed with no heating, and when it was cold outside, it was butt-busting freezing cold inside.

The seating was plain hard wooden benches, but when the Fighting Sioux played hockey, that place was always full. It didn’t have near the seating of the new arena, but it sure was a sociable place to be.

I learned even as a kid that when each period ended, there would be a stampede to the concessions counter for coffee, cocoa, hot dogs and anything that was hot and cheap. I learned early on that when you wanted to get through the crowd in the eatery fast, all you had to do was hold a cup over your head — full or empty — and yell “hot coffee.” The crowd would part like the Red Sea.

Grand Forks had outdoor skating rinks all over town, each with its own warming house. Back in the day, people had just one car if they were lucky. You walked to those rinks or took a bus.

It’s a good thing they didn’t have wind chill charts in those days, or there would have been no hockey games at all. But there would be games every weekend. We’d put on coats, hoods, scarves and big gloves over our Park Board hockey equipment. It was usually so cold that there were no spectators … only the teams playing and those waiting to play.

When we weren’t playing hockey, we’d just go down in the evening and speed skate, jump barrels, barrel into snowbanks and basically show off for the girls. If the wind was low, the temperature didn’t really make any difference because everyone was constantly moving.

The warming houses were always manned by Park Board employees. They kept the furnaces or stoves red hot so the houses were toasty warm. They had no gas-operated stoves back in the 1950s. Instead, they relied on good old hand-chopped logs.

We’d go after supper and not return until the warming house closed between 8 and 9 p.m. All of the ice was cleaned by a pickup truck with a plow, if it happened to be available. Otherwise, we had wide plow-like shovels. We’d push them from one end of the rink to the other until all was cleared. Sometimes by the time we finished cleaning, it was time to walk home. And no matter what the temperature was when we finally got to skate, that night walk home was always colder than a well driller’s behind (as my father liked to put it).

While I was in the first eight grades, my friends and I played hockey all winter on a daily basis. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was lucky enough to make the citywide all-star team that was selected to play the Winnipeg all-stars. The first game was in Grand Forks, the second in Manitoba (Canada). There was not much of a crowd in Grand Forks, but the game drew thousands in Winnipeg. It was both fun and exciting. I thought that hockey was definitely going to be my sport of choice.

Such was not to be. When I started high school at St. James Academy, they dropped hockey. It was restarted when I was in my junior year, but then we moved to Fargo. That year, Shanley dropped hockey. By the time I graduated, both schools had reinstated their programs. For me, though, the four years off denied me my hope of playing college hockey.

In my grade-school years, we liked to go for rides by hooking our sticks on a bumper. A real trick was to sling your hockey stick and skates over your back and then grab onto the bumper and slide to the rink … without killing your buddies who were doing the same thing on the same bumper at the same time.

We got a few nicks and bumps, but we did get there on time. Hitting the old streetcar tracks, though, could be a problem. If you got caught in a rut, your ankles would take a hit. Then you’d usually let go, sliding around with either your stick or the skates that swung from it creasing the heads or other parts of your buddies.

I’m still not sure if it was our parents going nuts trying to figure out why our boots were wearing out so fast or the bus company putting spotters on the back of the bus. Either way, by seventh grade, that had stopped.

Nowadays, if you did what we did, you’d be in juvenile court in a nanosecond. Back then, though, there were very few cop cars to cover a pretty large area. I wouldn’t give up my youthful memories for anything, but it’s probably best. Had I been born in this generation with the same playful tendencies, I’d be writing of my experiences not as a retired judge, but as a reformed juvenile.

I’m entering this year in good health and I wish everyone a happy — and, more importantly, a healthy — new year. Amen.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — What’s My Line?

Even with hundreds of television channels, HBO and all the rest to watch, and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to stream, sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be “much” on TV.

So, every once in awhile, Ginny and I like to watch “What’s My Line?” The 1950s and ’60s game show is seen currently in all its glorious black and white-ishness on the Buzzr network.

Many of us watched it originally Sunday nights at 9:30 on CBS as something of a ritual. One last weekend hurrah before another week of school would begin the next morning. Seeing it today reminds me just how much television has changed and how good it once was, even in its simplicity.

The game show was moderated by John Charles Daly. His day job the rest of the week was that of radio and television reporter and anchor. No slouch in that department either, he was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, among many other feathers in his cap.

The panel was anchored by Bennett Cerf, the founder and publisher of Random House, who introduced the world to fine literature by the likes of William Faulkner and works like “Atlas Shrugged.”

Arlene Francis was a New York actress better known perhaps for hosting radio and television programs, at one point becoming “the first lady of television.”

Dorothy Kilgallen was a hugely popular syndicated columnist who wrote about entertainment and politics. Rumors abounded at the time of her untimely death that she had information about the assassination of President John Kennedy. Questions about how she died linger yet today with a recent biography.

A fourth chair was filled with a rotating cast of panelists including Fred Allen, Steve Allen and others.

All of them were smart, urbane and witty. Mostly smart.

“What’s My Line?” was nothing if not classy. It made an effort to be. The men sometimes wore tuxedoes. The women made their “entrances” at the beginning of the show usually wearing evening gowns and often gloves.

Although they were funny, the panel seemed to take the game seriously.

The game itself was simple. After guests would “sign in” at a blackboard, they would whisper their “line” or occupation to Mr. Daly. Then panelists would ask a series of yes or no questions. “Does your work involve a product?” “Would this product be found in most homes?” For each no, guests would get $5.

Occupations were usually off-beat. A female big game hunter. The father of the Fischer quints. A clearly overweight female packager of “reducing” pills. Often the panel would come up with the occupations with just a few questions asked.

For the “mystery guest” segment, blindfolded panelists would try to guess the identities of people the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jerry Lewis and Colonel Sanders who would try to disguise their famous voices. Often they were movie and television stars “in town” to promote their latest projects. Usually, identifying them wasn’t much of a challenge for the panel, either.

Put all together, “What’s My Line?” was SOMETHING. It had a certain quality that’s hard to define and one that doesn’t exist much in television today. It was popular with people across the board. It was the longest-running game show in prime-time television.

Although several reincarnations of the show were done as late as the mid-1970s, I’d like to see a new version of “What’s My Line?”

My dream panel would include Craig Ferguson, Paula Poundstone (even though she already does the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) and, maybe, Salmon Rushdie. Somebody like that. My first choice for moderator would be Peter Jennings. Since he is not available, maybe Charlie Rose.

On second thought, “What’s My Line?” might best be remembered as what it was. Something special.