“That’s a real sled,” a mom tells her son.
They’re talking about the vintage Flexible Flyer that I’m carrying home, after a morning of sledding on a gentle hill in Stuy town with my younger son. That’s a picture of it on the right. It’s more than forty years old and served me well in Riverside Park, where my sister and I used to hurtle down the double hill below street level at 116th Street (what we used to call “down in the park”). It’s a model Model F052, produced at 400 Lake Road, Medina Ohio, 44256,according to the markings on the bottom side of the slats. You can see workers posing in front of the Medina plant in 1969 in this recent article from the Medina Gazette. (The sled on the far left looks like mine.) Apparently, the sleds were produced there from 1969-1973; 1969 would have been the year that my parents bought the sled.
As its model number would suggest, it is 52 inches long; it has a chrome front bumper and steel runners, painted red. It’s still in great shape after all these years, though the yellow nylon cord is new this year. The old white rope that my dad had put on broke this year while my wife was towing one of the boys on this year’s Snow Day #1 (much to her chagrin).
The F052 was actually my second sled. My sister inherited our original 41J, which as its name would suggest is 41 inches long. It’s very similar in design to the F052, though the wooden side rails are painted red. This sled was manufactured by the S. L. Allen Company in Philadelphia, PA.
It was Allen who originally designed the Flexible Flyer in the 1880s. Allen’s company was a manufacturer of framing equipment and garden equipment, which was a seasonal business. Allen began designing and manufacturing sleds in order to provide work for the employees of his company during the winter when sales of farming equipment was slow.
According to this history of the “Flexible Flyer” at eHow.com, the sled design was patented on February 14, 1889. What made it “flexible” was the bendable spot at the front of the sled that allowed the rider to turn the sled by flexing the runners. Below is an ad for sleds that appeared in comic books in the early 1960s:
Walking home with the Flexible Flyer under my arm, I realized that it and its sibling are among my most prized possessions. It makes me happy to see my sons riding them down a snowy hill. I’m hoping that one day they’ll be bring grandchildren the same kind of joy. They’re certainly sturdy enough.