By Tom Kirkpatrick
Our recent early March storm made wonder what ever happened to my old Flexible Flyer sled. It’s likely that my mother threw it out after I left home for college. She also did the same with my baseball cards, but isn’t that what mothers are supposed to do? Now Flexible Flyer sleds of 1950s vintage are worth up to $500 on eBay and a new one goes for around $75 on Amazon. My parents probably paid $12 for mine.
My Flexible Flyer was well made and when new it was almost a work of art. The metal parts were a bright red and supported a well-finished white ash deck adorned with the Flexible Flyer logo. Even after several years of hard use when the paint was chipped, the logo faded and spots of rust were appearing here and there, in the hands of an expert, as I saw myself, it could still fly down a snowy hill.
In the 1950s, some winters were warm and dry and sledding was poor. But we also had winters when Arctic air came roaring down out of Canada. As this frigid air passed over Lake Ontario it picked up moisture that grew into snow laden lake effect clouds. These clouds rolled over the cities of Oswego and Syracuse dropping snow as they went before moving on to Utica and Rome and then finally into the central Mohawk Valley where I lived.
That Canadian air was absolutely Antarctic at times with daytime temperatures near zero. Today this condition is referred to this as the dreaded “polar vortex.” Back then we called it either normal winter weather or great sledding weather.
Like the snow we get in Western New York in December and January, this snow was light and fluffy and with proper grooming and compacting it made for a great sledding surface that provided speed and held up well even with heavy use.
Recently a so-called sledding expert rated sleds but did not include the Flexible Flyer in his rankings because its narrow runners only worked on hard-packed snow. Some expert he is because only hard-packed snow makes for real sledding. Everything else, be it on a toboggan or snow disk, is only sliding downhill.
My brothers and our friends did most of our sledding in a village park at the end of our street. From Thanksgiving until New Year's, the village’s lighted Christmas tree occupied a portion of our sledding run in the park. Not letting anything get in our way we found a route under the tree branches. Of course, our young minds never gave a single thought to the cable, supplying electricity to the Christmas lights, that we ran over on each run. It was only years later that I realized what could have occurred had our sled runners cut the insulation.
We had a second sledding spot on the front lawn of the house next to ours. This run was better in the later part of winter, particularly late February when cycles of snow, rain and thaw, and refreezing often created a surface of glare ice.
The run was only about 100 feet long but a running start combined with the glare ice created enough momentum to carry us and our sleds down the hill spewing a trail of sparks as we flew across the bare street at the bottom.
In those long-ago days we would ride our sleds until the cold crept through our heavy coats and long underwear. Finally, in the evening twilight we hurriedly pulled our sleds home to thaw out our nearly frostbitten hands and feet. Then with our adventures done for the day we had dinner and did our homework.
Tom Kirkpatrick of Silver Creek is sad to say that in retirement, he is no longer sledding.