(Editorial Note: Part 254 of a series of further development in the early days that impacted Franklin County. Sources: Franklin County Citizen, 1914-1932; Southeastern Advocate, 1914; Cache Valley Newsletter, compiled by Newell Hart; Gems of Our Valley, compiled and edited by Vivian Simmons and Ruth Varley;
There is more than one type of sleigh. Those pulled by horses for transporting groups of people were similarly constructed in the likeness of what we consider Santa’s sleigh. Another type, usually pulled by animals, might be a bobsleigh, a long sled with two pairs of runners, a brake and a steering mechanism. Some were outfitted with box-sides to enclose their loads. These served to transport heavier items and freight. A hand sleigh, or sled, was small enough to be operated by one individual, with a single pair of runners and a bar attached to steer the runners. These were favorites of the youth for sleighride parties.
Winter parties were often held during night-time hours, after chores were done. An event in February of 1914, held at the home of E. S. Merrill in Mapleton, is described as a “howling success.” It began with “coasting and sleighriding, then “jolly games’’ were played and at 12(midnight) supper was served, which consisted of fried chicken, mountain trout, cream biscuit, coffee, fruits and bonbons.” This was no light snack or party refreshment! It must have been an all-night party for those eight people attending, plus chaperones, Mr. and Mrs. E. S. Merrill. Their larger sleigh was reported as bringing the group to Preston early the next morning.
While there was much fun and frivolity in the days of the big sleighs there were also dangerous situations connected with their use, other than that of whirling and turning over. The Advocate news reported in that same month of 1914 that a little girl was nearly run over by a team and sleigh. ”She was hanging on to a sleigh and went to get off, she fell, and another team coming along nearly ran over her. It is dangerous. Something should be done to stop people from hanging on or riding on a hand sleigh (pulled)behind, as someone will surely be killed, sooner or later.“
Kids felt they could hitch a ride on the back of a bobsleigh by catching on and planting their feet onto the runners. Newell Hart wrote of a time when he and friends caught on to a boxed outfit traveling near the railroad, figuring on a ride to school. As the big sled turned the corner, in front of the present Edwards’ Floral, the whole side of the box gave way and a dozen kids and the box-side were dumped into the snow, luckily with no one hurt.
Years down the road kids still felt they could manage a grab and go with passing vehicles, even as time went into the age of the automobile. In 1932 Police chief Davis published, “The practice of catching rides with hand sleighs or with skates on, behind or holding of autos must stop, says Chief of Police Dave Davis. Mr. Davis has instructed the members of the police department to arrest any boy or girl caught violating the city ordinance pertaining to that. The Chief suggests that parents and school teachers cooperate with the police in stamping out the practice which he considers hazardous to life and limb.”
Bob sleighs were a necessary piece of equipment on a working farm during the winter. In the CVNL, Scott Nelson described himself and his brothers “loading up all the manure they could find behind a dozen or more barns and bobsledding the stuff out onto our fields.” The area covered would be 10 acres of their fruit and vegetable farm. It was a smelly task in the winter but they knew the improved results of their warm weather crops were worth the chore during the winter.
Nelson also used the bob sleigh to transport several tons of beet pulp from the sugar factory in Lewiston or Whitney and barrels of beet syrup that was a by-product of the sugar refining process. These two items were part of their winter feed for their animals. Imagine how much harder the winter work would have been without these pieces of equipment that would slide over the icy, snowy surfaces of their fields and barnyards.
Winter presented many hours of back-breaking work for the hardy souls settling this area. During the down times both grownups and children found ways for recreation. A fitting example comes from the history of two Mound Valley families, that of John Allsop and James McGregor, both farmers at that time in the southern end of Gentile Valley. This is estimated to have taken place about 1885.
“One afternoon John Allsop, his brother Charles, Johnny Perry, and James McGregor decided they needed some recreation. It was midwinter, so they took a pair of skis and fastened a barn door on top of them. They took the makeshift sled high on the hill, which gave them about ¾ of a mile run before they reached the (Bear) river. It went down the first slope, across the level portion where the buildings were, and headed for the river–gaining momentum every yard it traveled. There was snow enough to take it over the rocks and the stiffest of the shrubs; then they came to a sudden drop and their humble little barn door arrangement immediately took on the dignity of a great airliner. Headed downward, it maintained this angle, until it landed in the middle of Bear River. The impact broke the ice, and the whole passenger list was thrown into the river. Fortunately, the water was shallow enough for them all to get their footing. They took time out to drag their craft to safety, then all set out for home sincerely hoping they would find a nice warm fire and some clothes that were not so stiff.”