Archive for February, 2014


February 28, 2014


As the world looked on, the United States Olympic Team won the first prize in the hideous fashion award. The worst pattern grandma ever knitted could only rival those USA sweaters. Toss the Christmas sweaters competition, those Olympic sweaters won the ugly prize.

In times past, warmth was the top consideration for winter apparel, but with the advent of long underwear, and thermal everything, fashion returned as a top priority.

Gone are the days of rubber galoshes. Most of those rubber galoshes were a “flattering” black with metal buckles. My mother used to insist that they were warm, but they weren’t. Yes, they would keep your feet dry, but any one knows that cold rubber is COLD. By the time I was forced to wear galoshes, they came in colors other than black. Mine were a striking red. Still cold, and only a bit prettier, but not black. Only the boys wore the black ones, probably because they didn’t care what they looked like.

As I scan old school photos I notice that in winter at the turn of the 20th century a most of the children didn’t have galoshes, but the girls wore long stockings and low-heeled high-topped shoes. Even those were more flattering than the US sweaters. Although the long stockings look warmer, I wonder how many young girls had to shed them when their shoes became wet on the way to school. I wonder if the understanding teacher let them hang their socks near the wood stove to dry during the day, so they didn’t have to wear wet stockings all day and then trudge back home in freezing socks risking frostbite. Thank goodness for insulated boots and warm socks.

Apparently in Sochi there was no need for warm clothing, those form-fitting ski outfits provided enough warmth from the slushy snow. However nothing, nothing shielded the human eyes from the ugly sweaters.



February 21, 2014

Most pioneer children weren’t fortunate enough to have a sled, but other means of accomplishing the task were, with a little imagination, successful. Perhaps the best sled was a worn-out wash tub. If the tub had a hole declared to be impossible to patch, the tub was an excellent sled. I sometimes marvel that it took so long to come up with the modern snow saucer, when pioneer children had been using them for years.

Once again barrel stays became a great toboggan and in the 20th Century the hood of a wrecked car worked well when tied behind a horse or a car. Speeds kept under 40 mph. Any imaginative child could find something that slid down a hill.

In my childhood our first and most unsatisfactory downhill transportation was an old sled. The runners were a thin metal guaranteed to slice your snow pants or your leg open should they happen to be in the way. The sled, however, did not slide. Despite all your optimism as you pulled the sled up the hill, reality came crashing down once you jumped onto it. It was made even worse if your younger sibling hopped on too. The sled sunk into the snow even with the seat, effectively stranding it. Back to packing. Stomping the quarter-mile of snow from the top to bottom of the hill took most of the morning or afternoon, leaving no time for play.

The sled was a bust. No wonder we preferred the skis, which packed down the snow faster and better.


February 14, 2014

Winter fun is timeless. Despite overwhelming cold there’s hardly a child in cold weather climates who can’t relate stories of their personal winter games. If you were a pioneer child, or even a more modern child, fun in the snow was a way to beat the winter blahs.

THE SKIING EVENT—many tales are told of children who, lacking a proper set of skis, waxed down a pair of barrel stays and took to the snow. These skis were a distinct advantage when drifts were over three feet deep and ice crusted enough to support a child on a pair of skis.

The area surrounding my childhood home is hilly, so skiing was a perfect winter occupation. Somewhere along the way in my father’s younger life, he had acquired a pair of downhill skis. Made from wood with a leather strap as a fastener, the skis were about eight feet long. Really that may be an over estimate, but when your nine or ten anything looks long. Enter the ski run. Due to the hilly land, several spots were optimum for skiing. Let us note here, that we had to be within sight of the house in case one of us became seriously maimed. After the hill was tamped down to make gliding easier, (read that as solid ice) we would take off down the hill dodging yucca plants and barbs as we went. On our favorite run the object was to ski down the hill, lay down backward on the skis to go under the barbed wire fence, stand back up and get stopped before you went off the edge of the ten foot creek embankment. It would have been great to go over that embankment if there hadn’t been a large cottonwood tree at the bottom. For some reason the barbed wire fence didn’t bother my parents, but the tree did. Both of my siblings became competent skiers in adulthood: my enjoyment ended as a teenager.

Perhaps one of the most interesting uses of skis occurred when a local teenager decided to fasten skis to his beloved motorcycle. Disappointed that snow hampered riding the motorcycle in winter, he devised a method of attaching the skis to the motorcycle and was able to continue riding to school all winter.

Next week some thoughts on the pioneer bobsled.



February 7, 2014


As winter’s cold breath settles over the northern United States from Montana to the eastern seaboard, some folks question why school districts will occasionally call for schools to be closed for the day. School closings hark back to pioneer times and fall into several categories, which are still valid today and we will discuss here.


When pioneer children traveled several miles on foot or horseback to school, the likelihood of severe frostbite became a concern. Children didn’t own the warm down and fiber-filled clothing available today. If they were extremely lucky, the children had hand-knitted scarves and mittens. Even though the shoes might be high-topped with several pairs of knitted socks, the possibility that the shoes had a hole in the sole was very real.

One man described to me the process of wrapping his feet in newspaper before donning his boots for the trip to school. He explained that the newspaper helped a little to keep his feet warm, but at least he arrived at school with dry socks.

Young fingers and toes were often frostbitten by the severe cold. Extreme frostbite can result in the victim losing fingers or toes.


It is not uncommon for Colorado weather to be sunny and 60° at noon and be below 0° with a full-scale blizzard, three hours later. These sudden storms can cause zero visibility. Snow stacks into drifts of six or more feet. Children riding school buses are put in jeopardy.

One story from the 1930’s tells of a bus full of children that slid off the road in eastern Colorado. The driver walked several miles to a farmhouse while one of the older children kept the small children moving up and down the bus aisles to keep them warm.

School districts are aware of the hazards of winter cold and snow. They keep a watchful eye on the weather so none of their charges are put at risk.