The light in the room was blinding. Where was it coming from? I pulled the covers back over my head. Slowly, the grogginess started to clear as I remembered that the night before, the forecast had called for snow. I threw back the covers and jumped to the floor. All of our hard work was now going to pay off!
It all started one fall day
Two months earlier, the leaves on the trees had just started to turn to a golden hue as fall had arrived. Coming home from school, the crisp fall air caused me to zip up my jacket. It was a reminder of what was to come, every school kid’s winter dream; a snow day! I loved winter. I loved the snow. Nine months earlier, the 1968 Winter Olympics had been aired. It was the first year that the Olympics had been broadcast in color; a treat for those of us that had climbed the social TV ladder to acquire a color TV. The Olympics that year featured Peggy Flemming winning the gold medal for figure skating. Jean-Claude Killy won the downhill skiing even. Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, from the Soviet Union, had defended their pairs figure skating gold medal from four years earlier, from whom later, as an adult, my wife and I were able to meet and take a few figure skating lessons from.
My favorite event was bobsledding
The highlight for me wasn’t watching figure skating or skiing, it was the bobsled events. I dreamed of using our neighborhood hill to create a bobsled track. I envisioned us sledding down the hill, going into a steep banked curve, the G forces pushing us deep into the slats of our sled. It would be great to experience something like that! As I walked home from school that day, I tried to think of who I could enlist for a project like this. Let’s see, there was Chris, Jim and my brother Drew. Surely they had watched the bobsled events from the previous winter Olympics. I called up my buddy Jim and told him my idea. “This will be the coolest track in the neighborhood if we all pitch in and build it before the first snow!” I told Jim. He was on board. Next came Chris and my brother. I would have to convince my brother first since Chris was my brother’s friend. “You want to build a what?” Drew said. “I want to build a bobsled track. Don’t you remember watching the winter Olympics and how fast those guys were going? We can build something like that on the hill in the woods!” Drew was used to my wild and lame brained ideas. He knew that somehow I would get him in trouble as well as make him do the dirty work. Somehow I convinced him to enlist as well as talk his buddy Chris into helping with our monumental task.
The bobsled track planning and design team
School seemed to drag on that first day of construction. Didn’t my teachers know that I had more important things to do? Who needed to know how to bisect a circle with a compass anyway? All I needed was a couple of shovels, rakes and hoes, along with weeks of sweat and achy muscles. The first day of construction, we all met at the top of the hill. Now was the time to share my vision of how to turn this ordinary hill into an Olympic grade bobsled track. As we stood at the top of the hill, I explained the design. “We will have the starting point here next to this dogwood tree. After you push off from the starting blocks, you will point your sled to the right of the track. We will need a banked curve on the right to keep us from running into that big tree over there, then after the first turn we will run down the hill, gaining speed, pointed right for the center of those two sycamore trees. There is just enough room between those two trees for a sled to fit. We will build up dirt on both sides, right before you get to the trees to create a chute. It will guide you right in between both sycamores and shoot you out the back. Our only problem is that after you exit the trees, there is a ditch, so we will have to build a bridge over the ditch in order to keep going.” Chris, Jim and my brother looked at each other. “You have got to be kidding.” Jim said. “That will take forever!” “It won’t take that long if we all help. Think of how fun it will be! Everyone will want to come over and sled down our hill.” I said. “Yeah, I guess it would be fun.” Drew said. It didn’t take too much to get everyone excited as I took them through what the experience would be, that first run down the hill.
Building the bobsled track begins
We worked on that hill every chance we got, moving dirt, building banked turns, removing rocks and roots that would ruin our beloved track. I had never worked so hard and shoveled so much dirt in my life. If my dad had wanted me to hoe his garden, I would have feigned a cramp within an hour, but this was different; this was the creation of a neighborhood sensation! Building the bridge across the ditch proved to be a challenge as none of us owned a Skilsaw. We found a couple of old wooden pallets which proved the perfect width for a sled. We found a couple of 2×4’s that we used to span the ditch and fastened the two pallets to the top. Scrounging around the neighborhood, we found some more wood to fill in the gaps on the pallets. We packed the top of the pallets with dirt and smoothed the transition between each bank and our crudely built bridge. Weeks turned into months as we worked on our track. Each week that passed, the temperature dropped a few degrees at a time. We exchanged our fall jackets for winter coats as the promise of snow kept us on task.
A January snow
As January rolled around, we would listen to the weather forecast, hoping for snow. Back in the 60’s, the weathermen were about as accurate as they are now, only 50% of the time were their forecasts spot on. The chance of snow seemed to only bring rain. Our hill was waiting, our track was ready, our sleds were waxed and poised for action. When was it going to snow? This morning was different. That light that was pouring into my room was from the glistening snow crystals that had fallen the night before. As my feet hit the floor, I peered through the window to see a thick blanket of fresh fallen snow. Our wait was over. I threw on my clothes and headed down the stairs. “Looks like you have a snow day.” my mom said. “You bet, I’m going sledding on our bobsled track!” I said. “Your what?” she replied. Ignoring her question, I put on my rubber boots, gloves and my hooded coat. Out on the porch lay my sled, poised for action. I knew that my brother would head to the hill as soon as he realized what was waiting for him as he awoke from his slumber, as well as Jim and Chris. The snow was deep. Since it was the first snow of the season, it was a little wet which would make packing down the snow on the track much easier. Trudging through the snow, I dragged my sled and saw that Jim was coming down the road with his sled in tow. I have to admit that there were butterflies in my stomach as I climbed the hill with my sled. All of our hard work was now going to be paying off. As Jim arrived I told him, “We will need to pack down the snow so that the track will be fast. Let’s use these pieces of plywood. One of us can sit on the plywood and slide down the hill, packing the snow as we go.” Performing this task was an arduous one, as none of us wanted to take the time to do this. We wanted to take a run on our track, but knew that if we didn’t do this first, the runners of the sled would dig too deep into the snow and our track would not last but a few runs. After about an hour or so, we had finished packing down the snow, adding extra snow to the turns and putting a thick layer of snow on our bridge.
Haste makes you wet!
It was time. The first run of the day was about to begin. Who would go first? We had all worked so hard to prepare the hill for this day. We decided to flip a coin. I took off my gloves and searched my pockets for left over lunch money. I found a nickle. “Hey, how are we going to flip a coin for all four of us?” Chris asked. “Good question.” Drew said. Before I could think of an answer, Jim was on his sled, already heading down the hill. “Hey!” we all yelled. Before we could protest, Jim was already down the hill, headed for the first banked curve on the right of the course. He barely kept his sled from going over the edge as he came out of the curve heading for the straightaway. He was going at a pretty fast clip, too fast it looked, as he dug his toes into the snow to slow himself down before heading between the Sycamore trees. His right hip hit one of the trees to which you could hear him yell with pain, but there was no time to rub it as he was speeding out of the chute, headed for the bridge. His left runner of the sled veered off of the bridge and before he knew what was happening, he lost control and the sled went over the edge of the bridge, into the icy water below. Splash! “Crap!” he yelled as he lay sideways in the ditch, the cold water finding it’s way into his pants. “I’m going home!” he complained as he dragged his sled behind him like a fallen warrior drags his sword on the ground after losing a battle. “Serves him right.” I thought as I watched him waddle home, only imagining how cold his legs must be. We stood at the top of the hill watching Jim head home.
Any Olympic run
“This was your idea, so I think that you should go first.” said Chris, pointing to me. “OK!” I exclaimed. This was the moment I had dreamed of. I lined up my sled in the starting position at the top of the hill, slid the sled back and forwards, imitating what I had seen the Olympic bobsled team do and tried to settle my nerves, having seen what Jim’s first run had resulted in. One, two, three, go! My chest hit the wooden slats of the sled as I cleared the ridge of the hill. Aiming my sled at the first curve, I made sure to not repeat Jim’s handling of this banked turn. I kept the sled in the middle of the curve, feeling the G forces try and pull me off of the sled. Hanging on tight, I shot out of the turn and headed down the straight-a-way picking up more speed than I dared. I wasn’t about to slow down now. The two Sycamore trees were coming up fast; at this speed I had to be in the dead center of the track or I would have hit one of the trees with too much force not to be injured seriously. The packed dirt that we had used to guide the sled into the chute was now covered in snow. The sled was being guided into the chute. The wet snow had now started to turn into ice in this area and the sled zipped through the trees and shot out the back of the chute before I could even realize it. Before I knew it, the bridge was right in front of me. I had to keep the runners on the bridge if I didn’t want to end up the same way that Jim did. I tightened my grip and leaned just enough in order to keep the sled in the middle of our make-shift bridge. The bridge shook as the sled skimmed over the water below. I had made it. The bridge was behind me. I glided onto the flat area and into softer snow as the sled slowed down enough for me to dig my toes into the snow to act as a brake. It was over, the waiting, the work and now the prize. I let out a holler that echoed through the woods. “That was AWESOME!” I don’t remember who was next. I just remember that if I hadn’t of moved, I would have been hit by either my brother or Chris who had just finished their first run.
An Olympic success
News of our bobsled track had gone through the neighborhood and anyone that had a sled or anything closely resembling one was taking a run down our bobsled track. It was a great feeling knowing that I had been part of creating something that so many were now enjoying. As the days elapsed, the snow slowly melted and our bobsled track went the way of most Olympic venues. Our bobsled track turned into a BMX bike racing course. The bridge we had created slowly rotted and had to be removed. Eventually, the lot where the hill was located was sold to a builder who built a house and we were no longer allowed to use the hill for sledding. It’s been many decades since that first snowy morning, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Even now, I get excited at the very first snowflake of winter.