View From Hickory Heights

Until very recently I did not know that there was a sled museum. A small town in Pennsylvania has a museum devoted to wooden sleds that were the staple of the 1940s and ’50s and much earlier it turns out. The former factory in Duncannon, Pa., of the Standard Novelty Works which manufactured Lightning Glider sleds now houses the museum.

When I noticed the news blurb about the museum I took notice. I had a Lightning Glider sled when I was young. In fact, I still have that little sled and use it as a Christmas decoration. It was my very first and actually my only sled. There is a picture of me as a toddler riding in a box made by my grandfather that sat atop my sled. He made the box so that I could enjoy my sled even though I could hardly sit up. He did the same thing for my children – but it was a seat for the American Flyer red wagon.

I looked up the photo so I could be sure that I remembered correctly. My outfit was a light fuzzy coat complete with a fuzzy hat and some mittens. I suppose I had leggings on as well to keep warm while someone pulled me around.

As soon as I was able to use the sled on my own the box was removed so that I was able to use the front bar to steer the thing. In those days traffic was light if we had a big snowfall. The neighborhood kids took their sleds into the street and rode as far as we could go.

I found a picture of a young girl standing beside an old sled just like mine. There was even some green decorative painting on the steering bar just like mine. The caption said that the photo was part of the museum exhibit.

The company history said that Lightning Glider sleds were manufactured for 85 years in that little town. A sled similar to mine, but with a different steering bar was marked manufactured in 1911.

When the company ceased operation about 1990 the idea for the museum was born. Antique sleds proudly took the place of the manufacturing machinery.

In publicity of the 1930s and ’40s the company used the slogan “Ask the boy who owns one,” featuring a local youth on the poster. While I was not a boy, I can attest to its durability.

As the company gained in prestige they adopted new names for their sleds. Names like “King of the Hill” and “Master Bomber” were introduced. The inventive names just kept coming, and the company thrived.

By 1920 the plant turned out close to 2,000 sleds a day. Each sled featured steel runners that were processed to withstand the rigors of moving in the snow.

In 1949 a newspaper advertisement featured Lightning Glider sleds for $2.95 each for a 40-inch sled. I figured that was what it cost “Santa” to bring me mine – or maybe even less than that since by that time I had mine about six years.

Company history revealed that the market was strong even in the 1970s. Snowy winters made for profitable seasons for the sled companies. The company turned out 100,000 sleds for the season, and they sold out. That was approximately when my son received one as a Christmas gift from his grandparents.

We often took the sleds up behind Hickory Heights to enjoy obstacle free rides in the pasture. The only thing we had to steer around was trees. When we were up there with the sleds the skis usually came out as well.

The skis we used were not the expensive ones with bindings and special boots. The skis we used were the old-fashioned wooden variety. My husband had a pair of his own from his childhood. By the time we were using them there was no way to securely fasten them on the feet. The second pair we had came from my grandparents’ cellar. They belonged to my uncle when he was young. They had springs to fasten them on, but they really were not secure.

Somehow we made all of the antique equipment work so that we had a lot of fun. Often on a Sunday afternoon we headed out to enjoy winter sports in the back forty after the barn chores were done. One afternoon I put my knee out and my husband had to carry me home. The kids both remember that. I had an injury from my junior high school days that caused trouble if I twisted wrong.

I think the best part of all of this is that we did not have to leave home to have fun. There were plenty of spots for fun on the farm. Sometimes the cousins gathered to sled. Sometimes it was the neighbors. When the lips were turning blue and the feet felt frosty, it was time to head into one of the kitchens for hot cocoa. Sometimes we had cookies; other times we just had crackers.

The proliferation of sleds made of plastic with no runners spelled the death toll for the wooden sled manufacturers. By the time the grandchildren came around I was the proud owner of two plastic sleds and a plastic saucer. We had many happy hours out in the snow. If we started out back near the grass line we could ride all the way down to the fence in the front of the house. Usually grandma made the first pass packing down the snow, then, the little ones could make their sleds go. The best time for sledding was if there was a slight thaw. When the snow was melting it created a wonderful track.

So many things have changed. We know we are fortunate to live in the country where we can just go out the door to go sledding. We do not need any designer outfits either. Any old coat, hat and mittens will do.

There is no snow this Christmas season, but I am sure those who received winter sport equipment will get a chance to use it soon.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.