Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
December 11th, 2000

The Great Toboggan Jump

By Al Campbell, Rapid City, SD

All that snow on the ground in the western Black Hills reminds me of a heavy snowfall I enjoyed with a couple of friends many years ago in Montana. Knee deep snow might pose some special problems to hunters and wildlife, but it's just the thing 10-year-old boys wait for every winter. What could be better fun? This is especially true if you have a steep hill immediately behind your house.

It was December 1965 and a fresh, new snow covered the ground to a depth of two feet. I grabbed my sled and discovered I couldn't pull it through the deep, wet snow. My buddies, Darnit Stammer and Hic Belcher (hey, I didn't name them) were having the same problem. If only we had a toboggan.

I suppose I better explain how my friends got their names or you'll e-mail me for weeks asking for individual explanations. Darnit was the first son of Mr. and Mrs. Stu Stammer. When the doctor asked Mrs. Stammer what she wanted to name her son, she was busy trying to work the TV remote gizmo so she could catch the latest installment of her favorite soap opera. On hitting the wrong button for the third time, she said "darnit" and the doctor recorded that name on the birth certificate. A similar set of circumstances resulted in Darnit's younger brother receiving the name Dangit.

Horatio Cromwell Belcher was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Belcher. Since Horatio didn't really care for his name, he used his initials whenever he wrote his name. No kid wants to refer to his friend as H.C., so we just started calling him Hic, and the name somehow stuck. After a while, even his parents called him Hic.

Since no one in our neighborhood had a toboggan, we were about to give up on snow fun and watch cartoons when Hic remembered the hood of a '48 Ford pickup his dad had leaned against the side of their garage while he overhauled the engine. Hic's parents were in town buying groceries, but he was sure his dad wouldn't mind if we used the hood as long as we returned it at the end of the day.

That old hood was heavy, but it slid much better on the snow than our sled's runners did, and with three pulling it couldn't be too bad; could it? We crossed the bridge over the irrigation canal and drug that old hood 500 yards to the top of the hill. Two feet of heavy, wet snow is hard to walk through anytime, but it was even harder with that heavy hood in tow. By the time we reached the top of the hill, we were pretty sure our downhill adventures would be limited to one run.

The seating arrangement went as follows: Hic would sit up front since he was the smallest and wouldn't drive the front of our custom toboggan into the snow. Darnit had the biggest feet, so he was the designated brakeman who would lay on the back of the hood and drag his feet to slow us down if we started going too fast. I was the heaviest, so I was placed in the middle to provide ballast for a faster run.

The first run went pretty good. We slid down the hill fairly fast, leveled out at the bottom and banked to a stop on the edge of the irrigation canal. "Hey, that was fun. Let's do it again" Hic suggested. Darnit and I nodded agreement.

About 1/3 the way up the hill we stopped to catch our breath and decided that would be a good place to build a jump like the ones we had seen skiers jumping off in the Olympics. Heavy, wet snow packs real well so it didn't take long to build a world-class jump almost as tall as Hic. This was going to be fun.

That first run had packed the snow so well it was too slick to hold the hood in place while we climbed on, so Darnit dug his toes in the snow and held on while Hic and I climbed on for our record breaking run to stardom. We were contemplating the world record toboggan jump on a Ford hood when Darnit raised his feet and we started down the hill.

It's amazing how much faster a Ford hood goes downhill on packed snow. Snow was whipping over the front of our custom toboggan, Hic was screaming, his scarf was slapping me in the face and we both were yelling at Darnit to "break Darnit; break!" It didn't help. We were on a record pace and we weren't exactly sure we were ready for the stardom it would bring.

When we hit the jump, we discovered how much lift a '48 Ford hood could provide at that speed. I'm sure they were screams of joy, but at the time we were just hoping to survive to scream another day. Gee, the ground looks so far away when you reach those heights.

When we hit the ground, Darnit's feet hit the packed snow and drug him off the hood. That left Hic and me gaining speed on a collision coarse with the canal bank below. Hasty words were expressed imploring our Creator to somehow save us from the peril looming ahead. Would He save us or were we doomed to explore the after-life after only two runs down "Terror Hill?"

Upon reaching the edge of the canal, we didn't bank to the left as expected. Instead, we discovered the extra lift created by losing Darnit on the jump. We completely cleared the canal, banked off the roof of Hic's garage and landed in the driveway next to Hic's dad's car. Fortunately there were about a dozen sacks of groceries lined up in just the right place to ease the impact of our descent.

On hearing the crash, Hic's dad ran out of the house to discover a dozen sacks of abused groceries, a crumpled '48 Ford hood and the neighbor's kid helping his son up from their world record toboggan run. We were laughing and cheering our good fortune at having survived the great adventure, but Hic's dad wasn't eager to share our enthusiasm. In fact, he had a much different view of things.

Hic learned a lot about removing dents from a '48 Ford hood that winter. Darnit and I learned a lot about dent repairs and helping friends in trouble. We never had another chance to break the record we set that day, but we will always remember the great toboggan jump on Ford Hood Hill. ~ ~ Al Campbell

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