I have been watching with great interest the Winter Olympics, especially the four-man bobsledding events.
These young men and women have the neatest looking aerodynamic sleds made out of space age materials. The sleds are equipped with runners, steering handles, push bars and brakes. They can reach speeds over 100 mph. The teams consist of a driver, two crewmen and a brakeman. Their safety equipment consists of skin tight suits, gloves, goggles, cleats and, of course, sleek-looking helmets — all designed to help the team go faster.
As boys growing up in Richmond County, my friends and I had our own bobsleds, even though it might not snow but twice a year. We started with a piece of tin or an old Western Flier wagon bed but we were always thinking about how we could go faster and farther. After a big snow one year, we decided to form our own four-man bobsled team. Our team consisted of two brothers, myself and my dog Britches. Our safety equipment was World War II Army helmets, several pairs of dark welding goggles, football cleats and all the other clothes we could get under our canvas hunting overalls. Now all we needed was a sled that would hold us all.
It wasn’t long before we came up with an old model Ford truck hood. The way it was made would be a perfect sled but what could we use for brakes? We knew we needed some type of brakes because the hill we had chosen for our run was very steep and was coasted with ice. There also just happened to be a tobacco barn at the bottom of the hill. So we decided to use an ocean boat anchor that we felt would stop us.
Alas, our team was ready. I was chosen to be the driver, the younger brother and Britches would be our two crewmen and the oldest and bigger brother would be our brakeman or, in this case, anchorman.
We all started pushing the sled off the top of the hill. Me and Britches were the first in, then the younger brother jumped in. The older brother was bound and determined to get the sled going as fast as he could before he jumped in. Down the hill we went and making good time until we hit a terrace row (ditches farmers plow to keep the hills from washing away).
Why, that sled lifted a good three feet off the ground and came down with a thud. Faster and faster we were going. “Man, this is cool,” I thought as I petted Britches on the head. Little did I know how fast we were going ‘til we hit another terrace row and that sled lifted at least six feet in the air. When we came down, that’s when we lost our smartest crewman. Ol’ Britches done and bailed on us.
The sled was gaining speed and that tobacco barn was getting closer and closer. I yelled to my brakeman, “throw out the anchor.” Little did I know that someone forgot to tie the anchor to the sled, but the rope was wrapped around the younger brother’s feet. Out goes the anchor and out goes our other crewman right behind it.
It was just me and my brakeman on a collision course with the tobacco barn. To make a long story short, we missed the main barn but knocked down every post that held up the barn’s shelter. You know the good Lord looks after fools and mules. The collision threw us into a snow-covered field but when that shelter fell, it crushed that truck hood like a pancake fritter.
That spring, ol’ Britches watched as we three boys rebuilt that barn shelter. But you know, none of us ever regretted that bobsled ride down Tobacco Barn hill.
J. A. Bolton is Richmond County native and a member of the Story Spinners Guild, which meets at the Storytelling & Arts Center of the Southeast.