Sledding

Coleridge, 1949
There’s an art, and a science, to sledding in Nebraska in Coleridge in the 40’s. The snow had to be fresh, but not too fresh. Sleds were not toboggans, they had runners, so snow packed by tire treads was optimal.
When these optimal conditions occurred, kids appeared outside in front of our house, on the hill in front of our house, with sleds. Lots of kids with lots of sleds.

But first we had to dress for the weather.
First layer: long johns or pajamas.

Second layer: jeans, warm flannel shirt, and two pairs of socks.

Third layer: Plaid wool coat after snow pants but before shoes, shoes (usually high tops), a billed plaid cap with flaps that tie under your chin to keep ears from freezing, a scarf if you have one (helpful to cover your face in the face of a biting wind) and homemade mittens with a knitted string that connected them through your sleeves so as not to get lost if you took them off. (We did not yet have parkas.)

Fourth layer: overshoes (rubber, with latches that allowed some discretion as to how tight, and tall enough to tuck your pants into.) Actually, you might want to put these on earlier when you could still bend over to buckle them. (Hopefully you remembered to go to the bathroom before you started dressing.)

We would pull our sleds to the top of the hill with the rope whose knotted ends were attached to the sleds control mechanism (but only long enough to be put under the ends of the slats when riding) . Most of these steering devices were the same, wooden crosspiece attached to a metal piece which in turn was attached to the sled crosspiece above and to the middle and longest piece of wood on the bed of the sled. By twisting this wooden crosspiece the runners would turn and guide the sled. This was the science of the sled that made it different from the toboggan. (This all worked until the long board broke from long use and then various jury rigging was necessary to try to maintain some form of control)
There was an additional feature, if you were lucky enough to own a Flexible Flyer sled, the runners in the back were turned up, permitting you to sled backwards if needed.

Each size of sled had its own advantages and disadvantages. Small sleds were more maneuverable and you could pick them up to go back up the hill once your run was completed. Long sleds permitted more than one person on them and were better for lying down, or both.
So, the technique was this: pick up your sled, tuck the rope under the slats at the back, run as fast as you can (given your winter gear) and simultaneously lay your sled down with you on top of it. Steer to avoid kids walking back to the top and wave your feet, bending at the knee, to increase your speed. This is all enhanced if you are racing someone else.

All of this leads to the premier event of the afternoon: the sled train! All kids (or at least eight or so) gather at the top and begin building the train by laying down on their sled and placing their toes into the guidance mechanism of the kid behind you. The train grows as sleds of different lengths and different ages and conditions link up. 

Hopefully there are some kids left over who will push this train of sleds enough to get them going.  Then the train goes, snaking down the hill at a speed determined by snow pack, ice, weight, and runner condition, faster and faster.

And the you do it again, until you have to go in and take a half hour or so to get out of your clothes, hang the up to dry, eat supper and go back for night sledding

  
– Small Town Boy

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