If you were looking for some good outdoor entertainment on a winter weekend in the 1940s, you might head for Middle Range Pond in Poland.

That’s where ice racing was drawing some good crowds. It wasn’t autos on ice, and it wasn’t snowmobiles. It was harness horse racing . . . drivers in sulkies behind some of the area’s outstanding trotters and pacers that were normally seen on racetracks at fairgrounds in the summer and fall months.

The Lewiston Evening Journal of Jan. 25, 1947, announced several matches on ice between horses from the Gardiner area. The story said, “A quarter mile space has been cleared and the finish line will be in front of the boathouse near the highway.”

Six horses were named for that day’s competition. They were Lou Hal against Takoma Hanover, Ripple Lee against Jolly Worthy, and Rex Tide against Provocative. The story didn’t mention wagering, but no doubt there were plenty of friendly bets being placed on the outcomes.

The event was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26. Only two horses were matched for each race, probably because of the chance of injury to the horses and fans. A photograph in the following day’s paper showed two of the horses and sulkies speeding past a line of spectators with a long row of automobiles parked on the ice behind them. The reporter said the race fans frequently retreated to the warmth of their vehicles.

I have read about horse racing on the Androscoggin River in the early 1900s. It was a very popular sport that came to an end in the 1920s because Gulf Island Dam had been completed and the river level rose and fell as required for hydro-electric power production. It meant solid and safe ice was no longer available for the river racing.

That story about spectators braving cold winds on a frozen lake brought back some memories of other winter activities several decades ago. January and February were the months for community winter carnivals. These were big annual events for everyone. Girl Scout and Brownie troops got news coverage right beside the reports of Edward Little High School and Rumford rivalries.

Much like the ice racing crowds, it seems the skiing fans liked to get close to the action. A photo of a steep hill at a Rumford event showed people shoulder to shoulder from top to bottom. There was little more than 15 or 20 feet between the spectators on each side of the downhill and ski jumping course. Hay was spread at the bottom run-out area to slow the skiers.

Hockey feats of St. Dominic High School teams and the Bates Textilers also made the sports pages in January of 1947. St. Dom’s beat a Dixfield High School team by a score of 12-0. Ray Bedard scored five times and Roland Gervais had three goals in that game.

Several games were being played in the Twin Cities at the outdoor rinks of St. Dom’s in Lewiston and the New Auburn American Legion. The games were to be played “weather permitting .”

Bates College also made the news with its annual winter softball game with the players on snowshoes. It seems a January thaw might have arrived in L-A that weekend, because the news story said the Bates students completed their traditional event “despite snow, rain and thunder.”

Hockey and football fans now enjoy their sports in huge arenas. Not many days ago, a blizzard cancellation of a pro football game sparked national debate about a “wimp” factor, but that situation was about safety. To be sure, there are few activities these days where hundreds of people are willing to stand in the cold, as they used to.

Nevertheless, Maine has plenty of hardy sportsmen who love our season of snow and ice. Snowmobiling, ice fishing, downhill and cross-country skiing bring out ever-increasing numbers of young and old participants.

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

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