LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — When I was growing up there in the head of Blair Branch, no loose plank, stray board or old mop handle was safe this time of year because every boy on the holler needed to be building a new and better snow sled than the one he had last year.
Many a time, when Dee Smith had his sawmill going there beside Rockhouse Creek at the mouth of Spring Branch, I’d stop and go through the scrap pile, coming home from the Jeremiah Post Office. Sometimes I’d find a 1 by 2 piece of white oak, beech or hickory that would make perfect sled runners. So it was not unusual to see me walking house to house with my sack of Grit newspapers on one shoulder and a sled runner board on the other.
I’d accumulate as many as two or three dozen good boards through the warm weather months when Dee was running the mill full blast. I would stash them in our barn loft to dry out and harden up. I kept the two best ones for myself and swapped the others to Truman Caudill, Truman Blair and France Adams for bbs, marbles, .22 shells and anything else they had to trade. Truman Caudill once gave me a pair of banty chickens for two sled runners and Truman Blair once traded me a very nice slingshot with genuine red rubbers for a sled I’d started on but couldn’t find enough soft wood lumber to finish.
In those days the mines used Hercules and Austin Powder Company dynamite that came in wooden boxes. The tops and bottoms of these powder boxes were hammered on with very small, brass nails The wood in the tops and bottoms was so thin it was useless, but the sides and the nails had unlimited utility in constructing a good light snow sled, if you knew how to properly reinforce it. But my mom thought that dismantling a powder box for sled construction was a terrible waste because they made excellent hens’ nests and they had almost unlimited utility for storage purposes.