Remembering the kicksled of winters past

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Winter’s grip is broken.

I can hear some people cheering; others are pleading, “Not yet!’

Either way, the cycle of seasons is moving ahead, although it’s always a risk to say that spring is just around the corner.

Throughout the winter, I was hoping I would have an to opportunity to bring the old kicksled out of the barn.

A kicksled is a real curiosity these days. It’s designed for two passengers. It has one seat that looks a lot like a wooden kitchen chair. The seat is mounted on a pair of long iron runners curving upward about 12 inches at the front, and the seat is about midway on the 10- or 12-foot runners.

Many years ago, kicksleds like mine were built and sold commercially, but they definitely resemble a homemade contraption.

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With one person along for the ride in the chair, the “kicker” stands astride the runners and holds on to a crosspiece on the chairback.

Those occasions when conditions were just right were few and far between. The kicksled glides best on a roadway with hard-packed snow. It calls for just the right combination of temperature and road conditions, so there are few opportunities for an old-fashioned kicksled to be used these days. Even our country road in Auburn now has too much traffic for using a kicksled safely.

My grandparents bought and used our old kicksled. I was once told how they often used it to travel the mile to downtown Auburn.

True to its name, the kicksled would glide very smoothly along level stretches. With one foot on a runner, and a tight grip on the seat’s handlebar, it was obvious why it was called a kicksled. That kicking leg was sure to tire quickly.

Considering its limited control, a kicksled wasn’t very safe on any but the gentlest of downslopes. Steering was done by the person standing behind the seat. With certain twists of the feet, there was some ability to shift the sled’s course.

The uphill options are obvious . . . everyone off and walk.

My online search for kicksled information revealed that they may be called a “spark.” That name comes from Scandinavian languages in which “sparke” or “sparka” meant propelled by foot-kicking.

“Kicksled” is a direct translation of the Finnish word “potkukelkka.” Some other possible translations are “kicker” and “chair-sled.”

From 1890 to 1910 kicksled racing was a popular sport, especially in Sweden. Kicksled racing was a major event in the Nordic Games, which were the predecessor of the modern-day Winter Olympics.

Around 1990, kicksled racing was revived as a serious sport in Finland. There are races of up to 62 miles, and the average speed is around 19 mph. Often, the kicksled races are held in conjunction with marathon speed skating races on natural ice. The kicksleds use the same ice track as the skaters.

Our family’s old sled is sitting across a couple of rafters high in the barn. It has been two or three years since I considered taking it out.

We are thankful for today’s local public works department that plows and sands our roads with great efficiency. On the other side of the coin, the old kicksled can’t be used as often on the treated roads . . . and in any case, it would be a hazard to put it out on any public road.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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