What Do You Do When the Snow Runs Out?

As the seasons changed, 1,000 feet of elevation was enough to create a dilemma for a sled operator.

| January 2019

  • For early homesteaders living in mountainous regions, a bobsled journey could be stalled out by a change in altitude. Drop too low into the valley, and the snow might disappear.
    Photo by Tom Clyde
  • My grandfather taking the California cousins out for a snowy ride in about 1960. The cousins are all wrapped up; Grandpa is in his shirt sleeves.
    Photo courtesy of Tom Clyde
  • Rescued from the bone yard.
    Photo by tom Clyde
  • The running gear, most likely made of oak, was still pretty solid.
    Photo by Tom Clyde
  • The new deck, completed.
    Photo by Tom Clyde

Last fall, I was cleaning out the ranch bone yard. One of the pieces that caught my eye was an old bobsled. The decking was completely rotten and caved in, but the running gear looked surprisingly solid. I remember riding on it when I was a child, and have pictures of my grandfather taking the California cousins out for a snowy ride.

We used it to feed cattle into the 1960s, when we finally retired the draft horses. The bobsled had been sitting there, rotting away, for better than 50 years. 

I towed it down to the house and went to work on it. The decking was pretty basic carpentry. This was probably one of several farm-built replacements it had seen over many years. I bought rough-cut lumber from a local mill and put it back together. A couple of pieces on the running gear needed to be replaced. That carpentry was a little more involved, and I learned a lot about how the bobsled worked by taking it apart and putting it back together. There’s not much more than gravity holding it all together. It will never be work-ready again, but I don’t have a team to pull it with anyway.

Barn Offers Shelter for Restored Relic

When it was all done, the next question after why? was where? The bobsled was too big to leave in the front yard. I’d moved it from the barnyard because it was in the way. I finally decided to stash it in an old barn that we used to store hay in.

I towed it to the barn with a Farmall M that has been on the property since 1943 and remains part of the working fleet. Over the roar of the M, I’m pretty sure I heard the old barn and the bobsled greeting each other, old friends that had been apart for years.

I don’t know how old the bobsled is. It was here when we bought the place, and was old and worn out then. Identical running gear is available new today from wagon makers and shows up in 150-year-old photos. It’s a safe bet that the bobsled has made several thousand trips through the barn, picking up loads of hay twice a day to feed cows.  


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