Editor's Note: The following is a verbatim transcription of a chapter from Spalding's Winter Sports by James A. Cruikshank, published in 1917 and part of the Ray Ruge Collection at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Many thanks to volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing this booklet.
The Canadians, winter lovers that they are, have given the world one of its finest implements for winter sport in the light, dainty, and marvelously swift toboggan. Probably no device of equal weight ever invented by man has attained such speed with such a load of valuable human lives. And when the end of the run is reached the thing can be picked up, tucked under an arm and carried back to the starting point; in fact that is the way in which many of the toboggans are returned to the starting point of some of the greatest runs in the world. “Zit! Walk a mile!” said a traveled Chinaman in describing his first impression of the sport.
The strictly Canadian model toboggan is now made in the United States as well as in Canada. There have been practically no changes in the design which the Dominion first chose for the famous slides at Mount Royal, Montreal, Quebec, or Ottawa. Since the Indian fashioned the first toboggan with which to drag his winter’s catch of furs out to the nearest Hudson Bay post, the method of construction has changed but little. The uses of the frail chariot are distinctively different, however; now it serves to convey precious freight of charming, red-cheeked women down precipitous artificial slides on pleasure bent, where once it stood for carry-all and moving van for the taciturn nomads of the great white silences.
Basswood or ash strips, from four to ten in number, are used in making a toboggan. The length may be anywhere from 5 to 9 feet and the bottom may be either flat, or there may be runners of wood or steel, usually three in number. Steel shod toboggans are a comparative novelty and fitted only for slides where ice is used; they are barred on many slides, owing to their speed, and they are not adapted to general use on snow.
Toboggans can be successfully used on ordinary natural slides found on snow clad hillsides, either on crusted snow or even on loose snow if it is sufficiently packed. But the customary use of the toboggan is now found on artificial slides, or slides in which the natural slope of the land is combined with an artificial starting incline. Many country clubs have erected such slides, the most famous being that erected by the Ardsley Country Club, Ardsley, N.Y. Another very interesting illustration of how natural and artificial conditions may be combined to furnish a successful field for this fine sport, is found in the arrangement which prevails at the Lake Placid Club, Essex County, N.Y. This famous Adirondack club may be said to be a pioneer in winter sports, since it has been serving its members with such entertainment during every winter since 1902. The toboggan slide here starts from the roof of the golf house, an effective and novel way of getting immediate elevation for a good start, and the run is over a quarter of a mile in length with a drop of 114 feet. The slide at Quebec, which starts from the Citadel and runs down to the Dufferin Terrace, in front of the magnificent Chateau Frontenac, is the best illustration of a wholly artificial slide in this country or perhaps in the world. There are many private artificial toboggan slides in the United States, one of the most successful being that on the property of Mr. George D. Barron, Rye, N.Y., which was erected for the pleasure of his two daughters. The framework is of steel; a drop of nearly 70 feet is attained before the level of the field is reached and then the slide runs off in a board trough until it comes to a spreading meadow. The slide at the Ardsley Country Club, Ardsley, N.Y., has been extremely successful and has been liberally copied elsewhere. Here the plan of renting the privilege of using the slide for less than a dollar an hour per person has been the means of paying the entire cost of the experiment besides furnishing great sport for the members and their friends.
Wherever possible the Canadian plan of having at least two slides side by side, separated by a snow bank of about a foot in height, will be found to greatly add to the interest. Toboggans can then be started simultaneously and the zest of competition in speed added to the thrill of swift descent. On the Mount Royal slide in Montreal there are five slides along each other, and when five toboggans loaded to their capacity start at once the sport is fast and furious. It is important that no toboggan be started on any slide until the party ahead sic seen to be out in the open field or free from possible collision.
The bob-sled or “double runner” consists of fastening together two low sleds by means of a board. The cost of such an outfit ranges from five to five hundred dollars, and the five dollar rig will give almost as much sport as its expensive cousin. Steering is done by means of a wheel, like an automobile, controlling the front sled, or by means of ropes run through pulleys and held in the hand; this latter is the custom on Swiss slides. There are very few natural slides adapted to the bob-sled in this country, although there is great sport every winter in the competitions held between the coasting teams of several towns on Long Island, N.Y., and there is no reason why the sport should not become widely popular where towns are willing to devote certain roads or streets to the sport, as they do abroad. Handsome bob-sleds, cushioned in velvet and steered like a motor car, are drawn by horses and are capacious enough to carry twenty or more persons.
The greatest bob-sled sport in the world is found on the famous “Cresta Run” in St. Moritz, Switzerland, or the equally famous “Kloster Run” in the town of Davos, Switzerland. Both of these wonderful coasts are over two miles in length, are on ordinary post roads set aside for the sport at certain seasons, and attract thousands of visitors from all over the world. Usually there is plenty of snow during the winter season at these resorts; when there is, the courses are built up at certain curves with great embankments of snow on which water is sprayed and then the resulting ice makes the course for much of its length a sheet of glass. At all intersecting roads there are danger signals set as the coaster starts from the top, and even the mail sleighs respect the sport. Speed of over ninety miles an hour is made on certain parts of these runs. The “Cresta Run” is regarded as the most difficult and the most interesting; one place in it known as the “Battledore and Shuttlecock” is probably the most superb piece of coasting ever built. At the close of the run there is a wonderful leap through the air which carries sled and rider 50 to 60 feet. The start and finish are timed by threads broken by the sled which thereby starts and stops a timing clock. Single sleds, of the pattern known to Americans as skeleton or clipper sleds, are generally used, having steel runners, open sides and big cushions set well back toward the end of the seat. Bob-sleds are also used on some of these runs and are occasionally steered by women.
Pet dogs can be trained successfully to drag small toboggans or sleds just as the famous “huskie” dogs of Alaska do. The use of dogs for dragging snow vehicles is by no means limited to the wild wastes of Alaska, however. There are many dogs so used in the Adirondacks and in Canada. The famous dog team owned by Lord Minto, which was kept in Quebec several winters, was the means of initiating thousands of Americans into the sport of Dog Sledding. And the world famous races of dog teams dragging great loads, which Jack London has immortalized in his dramatic stories of the far north, are recalled by every lover of winter life in the silent places.
A small dog sled is useful not merely as a vehicle for dogs to drag; it is the easiest way for man to carry any considerable load. The simplest pattern is a flat toboggan, generally of three strips of very thin basswood, ash or cedar, and in the case of the Indian made type is put together entirely without nails or screws of any kind, rawhide thongs taking their place. A one-man toboggan should not be over 4 feet in length and about 12 to 14 inches wide at the front and 2 inches narrower at the tail. The Indians make such a toboggan, and of this size, which weighs less than 3 pounds.
A very simple and very efficient sled for either man or dog to drag is made from a couple of barrel staves on which a flat board is fastened in such fashion as to permanently preserve the full bend of the staves, then a back piece is fastened at right angles to the bottom board and braces run from the front of the bottom board to the top of the back board. A cross piece should be fastened at the front end of the staves and on this a whiffletree can be set; not until a man tries dragging a load with and without a whiffletree does he realize its value.
James A. Cruikshank was an expert on outdoors sports during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Scotland but spending most of his life in New York, he was the editor of The American Angler magazine, Field and Stream, and wrote numerous articles for a wide variety of other magazines and newspapers throughout his career, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He also published at least three books: Spalding’s Winter Sports (1913, 1917), Canoeing and Camping (1915), and Figure Skating for Women (1921, 1922). He also contributed a chapter on artificial lures to The Basses: Freshwater and Marine (1905). In addition to his writing, Cruikshank was involved in public speaking, doing talks on outdoor sports sometimes illustrated by motion pictures. An avid photographer, Cruikshank’s photos often featured in his illustrated lectures, his articles, and his books, as he encouraged readers to take their own cameras out-of-doors. He had a home in the Catskills as well as a home and offices in New York City, and in the 1930s he helped found the Hudson River Yachting Association. At one point, he managed the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, and another in Rye, NY. His wife Alice was also an avid camper and hiker, and they often traveled together. In 1909, Alice went “viral” in newspapers around the country by being the first person to blaze a trail between Mount Field and Mount Wiley in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (James brought up the rear). James and Alice eventually moved to Drexel, PA and were vacationing in Lake Placid in July of 1957 when James died unexpectedly at the age of 88.
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