Do you remember the thrill of a new snowfall, a snow day, and your parents saying "let's go sledding?" This author remembers dragging a wooden sled with runners down the street to the sledding hill. There we would join other children on sleds, toboggans and flying saucers. As connoisseurs of sledding equipment, we appreciated the pros and cons of the various types. The toboggans were great for a group--pile on and try not to get the front position so you wouldn't get a face full of new powdery snow. The flying saucers--the hard plastic discs--were the fastest down a polished hill, but completely impossible to steer. All you could do was hold on tightly to the straps and hope that the slope wasn't too bumpy. Then there were the Flexible Flyer wooden sleds with metal runners. They were heavy to lug up the hill, and could get bogged down in wet snow (we would wax the runners with candle stubs), but they were steerable--either with your feet on the two "ears" up front, or with your hands if you dared to go down on your stomach, face first.
The Longmeadow Historical Society was recently gifted with a number 5, Junior Racer model, measuring 63" long. That was big enough to pile on several friends for the exhilarating run down the hill.
Flexible Flyer sleds were manufactured by the S. L. Allen & Company out of Philadelphia, PA, and shipped all over the country. Samuel Leeds Allen patented his design in 1889, but sales didn't take off until he started marketing them to toy companies.
Springfield Republican, December 4, 1910
A store called The Toy Shop operated on Worthington Street in Springfield and advertised "We have the Real Flexible Flyer Sleds in sizes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5" and also advertised "Barney and Berry Skates" and "Bradley's Games" in December 1910, just in time for Christmas shopping.
Even Johnson's Book Store sold Flexible Flyers!
Next door to The Toy Shop was another store owned by S. B. Call & Sons. They advertised a variety "of holiday goods that will delight the children. Rocking horses, velocipedes, wheelbarrows, desks, blackboards, wagons and small automobiles are only a few of the things which are carried by this store for the boys. 'Flexible flyer sleds that steer without the need of scraping shoes and are the pride of a boy's heart, because they beat the other sleds on the hill, are to be found at this store."
I'm not sure I would consider wheelbarrows and school items as toys that would delight the children, but the rest sounds good!
Sledding wasn't completely a carefree adventure though. The papers published stories of sledding mishaps, including this one where one Thomas Ryan crashed his sled and ended up with a broken leg. His other 3 companions were less injured.
In fact, there was at one time in 1926 a motion to prohibit sledding on Mulberry Street. The petition failed, and the children "have forgotten the gloomy days when the petition talk first went the rounds. Daily rippers and flyers zip down the incline, high banked on either side by walls of new-fallen snow."
Let it snow, let it snow!
- Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society
Sources: Genealogybank, Longmeadow Historical Society collections