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.