The invention of the sled made him king of the hill [I Know a Story column] | Together

By the 1950s we had settled outside of Manheim where my wife, I and our four children enjoyed living in the countryside. About half a mile from our house was the Metzler Farm, abutting the rather steep road from Temperance Hill. The snowy field next to the road was used during snowy winters by local children and adults for sledding.

There were floodlights mounted on the corners of the barn that lit up the hill, and night sledding was a great activity when the conditions were good. In addition to the sleds, several families had toboggans and one guy had an old bobsleigh.

As my children began to have friends who liked to sledding, and my wife and I also had friends who liked outdoor activities in the winter, we lacked sleds for anyone who enjoys this sport. I found a creative, low-budget solution to the shortage problem.

One of the perks of working for Howmet Aluminum Corp. was the availability of materials. I bought a heavy sheet of scrap aluminum, 2 1/2 feet wide and 12 feet long and about 1/8 inch thick. I made a v-shaped angle on both long edges and riveted heavy 8 inch wide stove pipe to one front end.

I bolted on some wooden side rails for extra rigidity and to act as a handle for the runners. I tied a long loop of rope running from the front, so I could stand up in the back as I rolled down the hill like a mushing dog sled from a Jack London story “Tales of the North”. For a final touch of comfort, my wife brought our own old lawn furniture cushions and I glued them to the sleigh bed. We were ready to face the hill of Metzler.

On a snowy winter afternoon, we loaded the craft and the kids into the back of the station wagon and drove up the hill. There were probably about 20 people sledding and having a great time. We unloaded the aluminum marvel and put it up the slope.

Some parents saw our preparations and called down the hill, yelling at the kids to clean up the area below because this thing, formidable in size and loaded with our family, could obviously mow down a legion of little people and do real damage. in the process .

The wife and children charged. I stood on my back with the guide rope in my hand and pushed. It started rolling, slowly at first, but gradually gained momentum, heading towards the wide gap in the hedge that separated the upper field from a slightly lower field. He sailed perfectly – the family screaming with joy and clinging to life. The thing was very fast since it appeared that the shiny aluminum surface, in contact with the snow, had a minimum of friction, which allowed him to fly over the surface in style.

Leaving the upper field lip and descending about a foot into the lower field allowed the slide to lift off a short distance, causing slightly sore buttocks from the impact and added excitement.

We all descended to the bottom and found that this beast, which had flown so lightly above the surface on its way down, had enough weight that a concerted effort must have been made to bring the thing up to the top of the hill. I explained to the kids that everything in life has some sort of trade-off: lots of fun going down, but lots of energy needed to get back up. There’s nothing like adding a hands-on lesson for kids when the opportunity arises.

For the next race, a lot of other people wanted to ride. We had up to 14 at a time, mostly children. All were good enough to grab the rope and help bring it back to the top. We started organizing sledding parties for our adult friends, and once we had 12 adults on board with a calculated weight of over a ton! When driving at full tilt on crisp, gritty, icy snow, it produced a loud hissing sound, somewhat like a jet engine muted or steam escaping from an old boiler.

We’ve used this thing for many years, and it’s held up well. The farmer let us store the sled in his barn, so we didn’t have to haul it home every time. I simply forgot about it in the following years. The kids had grown up, my wife passed away, and I built myself a little house further away and rarely passed by. I often wonder what happened to the multi-passenger aluminum flyer. When the snow is on the ground these days I hope someone with a bit of winter spirit and energy still uses it today for the thrill and fun it was built for there all those years ago.

The author lives in Mannheim.

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