Discovery of toboggan prompts review of unique Hastings memories
HASTINGS - These days, the options for sledding in Hastings are relatively few. There's the government center, the middle school and Lions Park, to name a few.
About 130 years ago, long before there were liability concerns and long before automobiles existed, the local sledding scene was much more impressive. A few enormous and well-orchestrated toboggan runs were located in Hastings, using the Second, Third and Fourth street hills, among others, to fly into downtown.
A reminder of that interesting past was uncovered recently by Hastings resident Fred Weiland. He's working on purchasing a historic home in Hastings, located at 413 Second St. W., and while taking a walkthrough he stumbled across an eight-foot-long toboggan. There are a set of skis in front, and a set of skis in the back. Weiland is planning to preserve the toboggan, which still holds some of the original paint.
"I thought it was a pretty cool piece," he said. "I'm sure it was made locally here. You could have fit two, three, four kids on it real easy."
Weiland may well be right. According to Hastings historian Dick Darsow, toboggans were made in Hastings, including some by the C.A. Lund Company on East Second Street. They were in business from about 1927 until they burned in 1945.
The toboggan reminded Weiland of the ones he'd ride on as a child growing up in Hastings.
"It brought me back to my days when I had a sled with iron runners on it," he said. "It was only about three feet long, but we'd go out and bomb down the hills."
A big draw
Darsow wrote a story for this newspaper about 11 years ago that covered the history of tobogganing in Hastings.
He said that the sledding "craze hit town" in 1885.
In 1886, the first slide was built on the private property of Charles Holden on a steep bluff behind his house above Lake Rebecca. The slide was 500 feet long, and he rented toboggans to sliders for 15 cents for half a day.
In 1886, the Polaris Club was organized, and they built a slide on the Second Street hill that covered about 1,200 feet. It was paid for by membership dues and was a side-by-side double-run for competition. It was even lit by kerosene lamps.
In December 1887, the slide was built on the Third Street hill.
"That was considered an improvement over the Second Street hill because it was somewhat protected from the cold winds blowing down the Mississippi River that struck Second Street with force," Darsow wrote. "Michael Christopherson, being the lowest bidder, was awarded the contract to build the slide for $60."
A private slide was later built on West Fifth Street, and other years the city's slide was moved to Fourth Street.
"By December 1934, the city council had moved the slide to the Fourth Street hill and closed the streets between Maple and Eddy for the winter," Darsow wrote. "It was on this hill in about 1909 that the late Alma Hanson Harff, wife of the late school board member Art Harff, broke her hip while bobsledding when she crashed into the horse-watering trough at the intersection of Fourth and Spring."
In 1936, Matt Karpen opened a slide in his back yard that ran down to Lake Rebecca, Darsow said. That run continued to operate, and when the Spiral Bridge was dismantled in 1951, the city donated some planking from the bridge deck to help him maintain his slide.
"The later runs had a snow-banked curve near the bottom to direct toboggans up the lake rather than across it, thus lengthening the run," Darsow wrote. "His runs were also iced so that speeds of up to 65 mph were achieved. The run through the woods was said to be a fearsome challenge, as the trees went by like pickets in a fence.
"Tom Majeski once wrote in the St. Paul Dispatch that he had never parachuted from a plane, but after one run on Matt's slide, he knew the feeling."
Karpen retired in 1958 and after a few years, Darsow said, "the sport dramatically declined."
On Dec. 5, 1941, the Hastings Gazette published a story revealing the two photos you see here. They had a long story included that week, too.
They said that the toboggan clubs from St. Paul would often come to Hastings to see the run here.
"The clubs of the capital city came to Hastings by train with brass bands, and they formed parades up and down the streets of Hastings. ... All in all, they had a rousing time of it."
The two photos were provided by August Arlen of Hastings.
In the story, the Gazette reported that Webb Filer had a house near the west end of the slide, and from it he sold candy and peanuts.
They also reported that the kerosene lamps were designed to be as safe as possible, but that "one man lost an ear when he was spilled down the slide in an accident and struck a post sideways."
The toboggans were held at the top of the slide by gates, "which were kicked loose at the signal when all were set for the thrilling ride," the Gazette wrote.