It’s Winter – Time to Grab a Sled and Find a Hill!

We finally got our first big snowfall of the season up here in Northern Michigan – just in time for the New Year! I haven’t been sledding in years, but I just might have to get out and do a little this winter. All this white stuff has me reminiscing about my childhood in New Jersey. My hometown of Hawthorne has a wonderful county park that runs much of the length of the borough. Not far from my family home on May Street were three of the most wonderful hills for sleigh riding. This is where you could find me, my sister, and nearly every other kid within walking distance after school and on snow days, many of us on a Flexible Flyer.

My family had two Flexible Flyer sleds; a large one for when Mom and Dad joined us, and a small one that was just right for my sister and me. Oh, those joyous days of speeding down the hill in sub-freezing temperatures are indelible memories! The ride was almost always good, which made the climb back up the hill tolerable. Our biggest fear was not stopping before we hit Goffle Brook!

My fondest memory is of a Saturday afternoon when my sister was quite young. Mom and Dad decided to join us for some wintry fun on the hill. After about an hour, Dad decided that we should all get on the big sled together. So, on we piled; Karen up front, then me, Mom, and finally Dad. He gave us a good push and off we went! There must have been a nice little layer of ice on the snow, or the sledding gods were feeling especially generous. We not only went down the hill, but we also crossed the footbridge across Goffle Brook and stopped about halfway across the field on the other side! We never went that far before. We never were able to match the length of that ride again, either. Exhilarated and exhausted, we climbed off the sled, took a look at where we were and from where we just came and decided we couldn’t top that. So, we laughed our way home then enjoyed some hot chocolate to warm our bones. Ah, those were the days!

vintage Flexible Flyer sled
vintage Flexible Flyer sled

History of the Flexible Flyer

Yes, there are many ways to traverse a snowy hill today, but my favorite will always be the Flexible Flyer. The Flexible Flyer was born on a farm in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, which makes it, like me, a “Joisey” creation. Samuel Leeds Allen patented the sled in 1889. He created the steerable sled for his daughter, Elizabeth, and her friends. He built them on his farm, which also manufactured farm equipment. Making the sleds kept his employees busy during the off-season.

Sales of the sleds were slow at first but picked up dramatically after the turn of the 20th century. By 1915, the S.L. Allen Company was selling 2,000 sleds a day. Today, the Flexible Flyer is mostly made in China, although some are manufactured under the direction of Paricon LLC in South Paris, Maine. Paricon’s roots are in Paris Sleds, which was a competitor of the Flexible Flyer. The company’s goal is to bring the whole manufacturing line back to the United States.

What might ladies have worn to go sledding at the turn of the 20th century? Here are a few examples from Recollections; Edwardian Velvet Suit, Iris Victorian Velvet Suit, and Edwardian Velvet Long Jacket Suit.

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