I’m going back in time to the 1950s. Our family was living in the old John Connor house on Commerce Street in downtown DeForest.
As a kid back then, this was the perfect spot to live in the winter. If I wanted to ice skate, I’d walk out the front door and turn right, walk about a block down the street and I was at the ice skating rink in DeForest Fireman’s Park. If I wanted to go sledding, I’d walk out the back door, turn right, cut through the neighbor’s back yard and start walking up Campbell’s Hill —the best sledding hill in DeForest.
Just past the church I’d turn right and pull my sled down Sunset Drive. The entire north slope of the hill was wide open for sledding... no buildings or trees to maneuver around and just the perfect slope for sledding. My sled wasn’t the prettiest thing to look at but it was one of the fastest sleds in town. My mother and her sisters used it when they were growing up. The paint was all worn off the wood body but the steel runners were still shiny and slick. It was long enough to accommodate two kids, although I preferred to use it for solo runs.
I liked to go sledding a day or two after a snow fall. By then the new snow was packed down and the trails had a glazed ice surface. From the top of the hill I would check Sunset Drive from both directions to make sure there was no traffic then take a four or five step running approach and lay the sled down for a fast trip down the hill. It would hit maximum speed about half-way down the run, sail across the road and glide to a stop in the field behind the church.
Sledding was an activity I could enjoy by myself or with one or two friends. My favorite friend to go sledding with was Bill Kruse. The long walk up the hill was easier with someone to talk with and you could have contests as to who coasted the farthest. Sledding time varied from only about a half hour to all afternoon. The weather, condition of the hill and how tired I got all determined how long I stayed on Campbell’s Hill.
When I got back home came in the door my mother would call to remind me to shake the snow out of my boots and put them on top of the radiator and then change into a dry pair of pants and socks. When I sat down in the kitchen I’d have a hot cup of cocoa to enjoy while I put my feet against the radiator to chase the chill away.
I didn’t get a pair of ice skates until I was a teenager. The ice rink was at Fireman’s Park in the outfield area of the ball diamond, just behind the old log cabin. This area of the park is now where the Fred and Helen Chase Pavilion and the playground equipment are located. Once the ice was ready for skating, a plywood shack would be put up for a warming house.
I thought ice skating would be easy because I was a pretty good roller skater. I was wrong. I’d do fine the first five or 10 minutes on the skates and then I’d gradually find myself skating on the sides of the skates. My dad said he had the same problem when he was a kid. “I guess the Emersons were just born with weak ankles,” he would say. I tried to improve but I never got as good on ice skates as I wanted to be.
In the spring of the year when the ice and snow melted, there would be a big puddle left where the ice rink was over the winter. I remember sometimes I would walk out there with my four buckle overshoes on. The idea was to get as deep as you could but not let the water go over the top of the overshoes. Of course I usually went too deep and would walk home with cold, wet feet to face a lecture from my mother.
Sorry, I gave you some wrong information on cross country skiing in last week’s column. If I had checked DeForest Winter Recreation information on their website, I would have seen that the village no longer grooms cross country ski trails. However there plenty of parks and places nearby for you cross country skiers. You can ski at Token Creek Park, Cherokee Marsh Park (North Unit), Elver Park disc golf course, Black Hawk Ski Area in Middleton, Gov. Nelson Park and Door Creek Park, both in Madison.
Dick Emerson is the former publisher of the DeForest Times-Tribune.