Frequent Flyers

Sled collection a reminder of winters on the farm

| February 2005

  • GailKruse.jpg
    Left: Antique sled collector Gail Kruse recalls ample opportunity for sledding as a boy. “When I was a child, the winters were a lot tougher than they are now,” he remembers. “The snow drifts were very high; we’d tunnel through to the barn. And there were times when they wouldn’t open up the back roads for days. We had an old WC Allis with steel wheels in back. There were times when the front end of the tractor, with the motor, would ride on the crust of the snow.”
  • GailKruse-1.jpg
    Above: Detail from the 100th anniversary edition Flexible Flyer, released in 1989.
  • GailKruse-2.jpg
    Below: Detail of the single-ski Bob Ski, made by Steel Master.
  • TheBobSki-1.jpg
    Below: The Rocket Plane sled.
  • TheBobSki.jpg
    Above: The Bob Ski. “It has a wooden ski underneath the sled,” Gail says. “And in the back, a little rotor helped steer. It’s beautiful. You wouldn’t believe the condition it’s in: it’s like new.”
  • TheCeilingofGailsGarage.jpg
    Left: The ceiling of Gail Kruse’s garage (shown here) is covered with sleds, as is the interior of another shed on his property. Early on, Gail did a bit of restoration work on his sleds. “I used to paint some of the runners,” he says. “But now I don’t touch them. I store them inside, so they’re protected, and they’re more valuable unrestored.”
  • TheBobLinkBobsled.jpg
    Above: The Bob Link bobsled, used primarily as a racing sled, featured wooden skis.
  • TheSplit_RailSled.jpg
    Left: The split-rail sled made by Sherwood Bros. Manufacturing had a unique steering linkage. Instead of a steel runner leading all the way to the back of the sled, the Sherwood has one solid runner that curves and stops; another runner, at the back, is for navigating.
  • TheBobLinkBobsled-1.jpg
    Below: Original paint on the Flite Way sled, made in Horicon, Wis., in the late 1950s. This sled has handles for steering, and a rod bent on each side to turn the metal skis.
  • TheAirlineJr.jpg
    Above: A familiar name: The Airline Jr. was made by Allen & Co., Philadelphia, Pa., manufacturers of Planet Jr. garden tools and tractors.

  • GailKruse.jpg
  • GailKruse-1.jpg
  • GailKruse-2.jpg
  • TheBobSki-1.jpg
  • TheBobSki.jpg
  • TheCeilingofGailsGarage.jpg
  • TheBobLinkBobsled.jpg
  • TheSplit_RailSled.jpg
  • TheBobLinkBobsled-1.jpg
  • TheAirlineJr.jpg

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.



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