Antique Sleds Refurbished with Care

Antique sleds provide satisfying sideline for hay tool collector.


| January 2014



Hunt Helm Ferris Ad

Cover from a Hunt, Helm, Ferris & Co. catalog, circa 1890.

Illustration Courtesy Teri McManus

Collectors are quick to admit that the hunt is the best part of their hobby. The only thing better? Going off on a tangent. Steve Weeber, Iowa City, knows all about tangents. An avid collector of antique hay tools, he’s built an impressive collection of hay carriers and related equipment. But today he’s chasing antique sleds.

“I got interested in sleds about 12 years ago,” Steve says. “I got connected with a group of ‘wagon and sled people’ through my interest in Hunt, Helm, Ferris & Co., a prominent Harvard, Ill., manufacturer of barn equipment, hay carriers and other farm needs.” While looking through an early company catalog, Steve saw a selection of steel coaster sleds. “I was really after the hay tools,” Steve says, “but I thought it’d be neat to get one of those sleds with a star in the casting” — the same star that adorns the company’s hay carriers, some of which are in Steve’s collection.

Long-established industry

Tracing its roots to 1883, Hunt, Helm, Ferris was a relative newcomer in the sled industry. Paris Mfg. Co., South Paris, Maine, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of sleds and toboggans until its closure in 1989, was established in 1861. Company founder Henry Morton started out by building 50 sleds; his wife hand-painted each one in the kitchen of the family’s home. Paris eventually expanded production to keep the factory running year ‘round. Output included go-carts, wagons, wheelbarrows, stepladders, ironing boards, children’s desks, furniture and more.

Paris sleds were known for their elaborate and beautiful embellishments. At one time the company employed 10 artists working almost in an assembly line. “Sleds were put on a sort of turntable that rotated every 30 minutes,” Steve says. “One person painted borders, another painted birds, somebody else did flowers.” Runners also received special attention. The Paris “Snow Fairy” sled featured tiny working bells on its runners.

Other early sled manufacturers included Garton Toy Co., Sheboygan, Wis.; Kalamazoo (Mich.) Sled Co.; Auto Wheel Coaster Co., Tonawanda, N.Y.; and Hibbard Spencer & Bartlett, Chicago.

Keeping workers busy

Not only did sleds help fill out factory production schedules, they were a natural complement to hardware store inventories. “All of the old general hardware stores had a line of stuff for kids,” Steve says.