Skip to comments.'Coasting streets' provided more thrills than regular sled-riding
Posted on 01/31/2004 9:41:47 AM PST by the_devils_advocate_666
While we're slip-sliding around these frozen streets and the groundhog remains in his cozy den for at least another day or two, we harken back to the old days of sled-riding, or coasting, on the same, though not so crowded, roadways.
Morgantown's hilly terrain has always been a blessing for winter recreational activity, in particular the free sledding on snow-covered slopes. The practice dates back as far as records are kept and since the city has had improved streets.
For many decades the city designated "coasting streets." Lists of those basically closed to vehicular traffic during snowy times were published in the local newspapers, and city workers placed sawhorses bearing the lettering "coasting street" at intersections to alert motorists.
Young sled-riders, of course, had their own ideas about what streets should be theirs for nightly trips downhill, and often took over after several cars had packed down the snow just so.
Rural roads also were "roped off" by kids who found it easier, and clearer sledding, so to speak, on streets, instead of hillsides, where the snow often was too deep for sledding, and had unknown hazards, such as large boulders and ditches.
That doesn't mean urban streets didn't have danger spots, because too often you would read where a kid had been injured by running into a parked car, or a culvert.
The idea for this writing came from Rodney Pyles, Monongalia County's assessor, who recalls some of the good times he had as a youngster. Many of his observations coincide with those most of us remember from those days when streets weren't overcrowded with cars and trucks, and the SUV and the ATV weren't popular among the general populace, only the military.
For instance, he notes that the fun sometimes was spoiled by the city, which had dump trucks with two men in the back shoveling cinders onto the roadways. Kids retaliated by throwing snowballs "at the poor guys," he said. In our neighborhood, at least one guy would put ashes from his coal stove on the streets, which also put a crimp in sledding.
Pyles remembers the designation of "coasting streets" as late as 1973 when he moved to Harvard and Fenwick streets, and Fenwick was marked as a "coasting street."
But most of his recollections were in the earlier post-war days in the Lorentz Avenue area of Wiles Hill where he grew up. Mostly, the back section of Lorentz near Highland Avenue was used for sled rides since it wasn't so heavily traveled, and was "neatly packed" by a few cars that used it.
Riders started at the top of Morgan, went down Sharon and down Lorentz for a "neat ride," Pyles said. On one occasion, he recalls that his friend Bob's mother volunteered to watch for traffic on Highland one day, so they were able to achieve their "longest ride." She had to hold up an Osgood bus until the sled-riders made their way down the entire route. "I am still grateful to Bob's mother to this day," Pyles said.
In our First Ward neighborhood, sledders either sat up to accommodate more than one person, or "belly flopped" so it was easier to guide the sled. That doesn't mean more than one person couldn't "belly-flop," because often there were two or even too many, making the sled more difficult to navigate. Those who sat upright had a system, with the front person, or driver, having his feet on the guiding bar, and having his arms around the legs of the person behind him. Each other did the same, so no one's feet would get caught in the runners or bent beneath him or her. Actually, it was a sport for both sexes.
Standard Avenue was the main drag for coasting in our neighborhood. The city would place saw-horses at the Hess Street intersection to warn motorists of the "coasting street," making it a two-level run for those bold enough to try it. The most brave sled-riders started on Hite Street and, if they were able to make the 90-degree turn onto Standard, zipped to the bottom and often made it up to the next level, where Twigg Street intersects. Often, only those with Yankee Clippers, considered the superior sled, could make it up the slope without a Hite Street start.
People in Woodburn recall that James Street was the most daring "coasting street" of all, and only the boldest, or wildest, would make that run, which often continued down Richwood Avenue. It was such a long ride that traveling back to the top was an adventure, and once was enough for most. The thing about James, it has several intersections, and sleds would literally fly into the air as they crossed Ridgeway Avenue. Some thought that was fun, but most of us preferred the less treacherous snow rides.
Coasting started in Morgantown before the 20th century, and there was a time that bobsleds were most popular among citizens, and WVU students. In fact, fraternities once had competitions on bobsleds that accommodated 15 or 16 adults. University Avenue from the downtown campus apparently was the primary run, because that's where most recorded accidents took place.
One mishap in 1914 caused the death of one person and injured nine others when it crashed in front of the E. L. Mathers residence at 418 Front St. (University Avenue). On Feb. 20, 1928, a boy was killed and two were injured in a coasting accident at the corner of University and Beverly.
Now, back in the horse-and-buggy days, there are stories about daily, except Sunday, sleigh races on Spruce Street, when it was snow-covered, obviously. The horse-and-sleigh teams would start near Cap Hatfield's home near the top of Spruce shortly after 2 p.m. It ended when the teams reached Pleasant Street, with the city's two police officers guarding the intersections.
One of the racers, Joe Buchanan, claimed his quarter-horse "would sit right down in your lap at three-quarters, but my how I licked 'em over the short distance." When asked if they ever worked, the daily racers replied they worked when there wasn't any snow.
In modern times sled-riders have chosen places such as Medical Center Hill, and slopes around old school grounds for much safer, and less daring, snow fun. We'll never again have "coasting streets," only the memories.
JOHN SAMSELL is a retired copy editor/special sections editor for The Dominion Post . His column appears Saturday. His e-mail address is: email@example.com
When living the life of a kid had an ever present threat of injury... and parents that didn't sue.