Frequent Flyers

Sled collection a reminder of winters on the farm

| February 2005

If all collections are rooted in fond memory, it's a wonder there aren't more sled collections, for what brings a smile to an aging baby boomer's face more quickly than recollections of youthful sledding adventures?

Gail Kruse Jr., New London, Wis., first recaptured boyhood memories at an auction three years ago. He bought two sleds for a total of $15, and he was hooked. "I just got the bug," he says. "I have 75 now, and I'm not finished yet." Gail has all the symptoms of a serious case. "I have sleds hanging in my garage, on the walls and ceiling," he says. "I've traveled as far as 300 miles, one way, for a sled. I keep a paper in my wallet listing the ones I have. One time I went to a flea market (at Baraboo, Wis.) and bought 10 sleds there."

There aren't a lot of resources for the collectors of antique toy sleds. Nor are there large numbers of fellow collectors to consult. Nonetheless, Gail quickly discovered the category is marked by variety. "I never realized there were so many different types of sleds," he says. "Some are made with metal parts, some have iron steering… Some have metal steering with bicycle grips on the ends. They used pine and some oak; a lot of hardwood."

Gail focuses on pieces from the 1940s through the 1960s. Sleds in his collection include traditional wood sleds with metal runners, but also bobsleds, saucers, and models designed to hold toddlers in an upright seat. He has a Snow Wing, a sled made of red sheet metal and shaped like a wing. He's even seen (but not been able to add to his collection yet) a sled with 2-inch springs - shock absorbers! - on the side rails.

"What I look for is different designs," he says. "I have some with no names, but they may have great graphics." One in that category occupies a space of honor in the living room of his home. "It has cast iron runners and just a board on it with a beautiful angel painted on it. It goes way back."

Among his favorites: a 5-foot bobsled made of metal and soft pine. "It looks just like new," he says. It also has nice original paint, another feature Gail looks for. Despite the fact that most sleds were "rode hard and put away wet," a surprising number survive in very good condition. "You can't believe the shape some of these are in, for their age," he notes.