By Bill Ward
---- — As I get older, my liking for snow tends to diminish. But when I was young, naive and full of vim and vinegar, I loved it. I had a sled with metal runners as did all my friends. We could hardly wait to get the sleds out and start sliding. Snow forts and snowballs were the fun things of the day and they usually lasted a long time.
The city did not do much to the streets in my youth so the snow got packed down by cars and boy did it make for fun sledding.
Of course there were a few bad things about snow, shoveling it for one. I was expected to shovel the walkways into the house in the front on off 13th Street. Also the walk along the property should be cleaned off for the usage of those who used them. Dad had chains for his truck and mom’s car so he was set and hoped mom was too.
We would get several youngsters together and have a great time sledding, snow ball fighting and just plain playing in the snow. If mom was home at the time, we finally got cold and wet enough to come in to warm up we had hot chocolate with marshmallows in it. We also managed to have the same in any other homes we ended up in. Seems the mothers of the time felt that hot chocolate cured cold and wet youngsters of most anything.
The city would actually have Perkins Street hill between 4th and 5th streets blocked off just for sledding, we thought. Dad later told me it was as much as the hill was steep and almost impossible for some people to go up and not slid back. Boy did that burst my bubble. But they did block it off and did not seem to care if we sledded on it so off we would go.
At the time there was no signals at the railroad track, they had a small wooden hut and a live (usually retired) railroad man there. In good weather or bad, he would get out of the hut summer or winter and hold a sign stating STOP in red letters on a yellow background. The drivers always did stop when the signalman was out and holding his sign.
That little hut had a coal stove in it. And of course the trains of the time were coal fired and were much more frequent that today. The trains were shorter too, but at the time we did not care as long as it came through rapidly. The signalman would flag down the local that twice daily would come through town and switch cars around that were destined for Rushville. They would fill his coal bucket and he would keep his hut warm during the time he was there. They were on duty only during the day and only for about 8 or 9 hours.
The gentleman who was there during winter months would allow the youngsters who got cold sledding on the hill to stop in and warm up. One even had hot chocolate for the youngsters; he was a very popular man during the winter. They would also make us stop sledding when trains were coming through which I would think someone would try to sled in front of a train going through so it was good he was there and did make us behave.
We had a wonderful time during daylight hours, the only time we were allowed by our parents to sled on this hill. This went on for several years then the city decided to leave Perkins open even with snow on the hill. This was not a universally accepted idea we young people did not care for it.
When they closed Perkins Street hill, we made do with the hill on 5th Street next to St. Mary’s Church. That was fine except for the slight curve in the street which caused several crashes over the winter. During this time Dad would also in the evening tie up to 14 sleds and boys behind his truck and pull us through the neighborhood, and we loved that too.
My father sold Philco appliances which include refrigerators and washers and dryers. And they came in cardboard boxes. I rapidly found that a huge hunk of cardboard was as much fun sliding down a hill as a sled, more actually. And that cardboard sled lasted a long time as long as it stayed somewhat dry. Dad was a good appliance salesman so I had a pretty steady supply of cardboard sleds for me and my friends all winter. I also found that in the summer if you wet down a hill that was mowed and full of grass or if the grass was only slightly wet wow was that fun sliding down on the cardboard slab.
Between the sledding, snow forts and snow ball fights our winters were fun and enjoyable. As we got older other things were added to the mix. We would go to Herkliss Pond on Fort Wayne Road by the railroad tracks and ice skate. My parents were adamant that I NOT go as they felt if I would to fall through the ice. I would be toast. And as most all youngsters I paid little attention to them, unless they happened to be around. It seems my parents felt that the pond was full of fallen trees and limbs and were concerned if I should be caught underwater if I did indeed fall in. I was not to swim there in the summer for the same reason which again sort of got lost in translation. I liked fishing there too. And the hobo jungle was near by and they were fun people too.
We had fun, stayed relatively safe and pretty well were on our own in those days. We had to make do as there were few things we could go out and buy to keep our attention. We had to improvise at times but we also seldom had problems doing so and having a fun time afterward too. I miss those days and yes I do not particularly care for snow and cold at this stage of my life.