DAVID KIRBY'S PINE CRIK TALES - Flying on a Flexible Flyer


A Pine Crik Hollow Home

Dave and Betty Kirby (former Betty Estep of Upper Pine Creek) live in Charleston, but frequent the homestead on the Right Fork of Pine Creek which was formerly owned by Frank Weaver, grandfather of Bob Weaver. Dave was born at the mouth of the Creek in a house owned by Jessie Ward (on the property now owned by Shirley Fitzwater), and moved in 1937 when four months old to the newly purchased farm. Current neighbors, besides Shirley, are Dale Martin and Donald Pye, who closely watch the homestead, and periodically rescue him and his stuck (a trait inherited from his father) John Deere tractor from the mire of the creek. More often, he can be found sitting on the front porch.

~~ Flying on a Flexible Flyer by Dave Kirby ~~

To relate this tale I must first describe the terrain, the weather, the equipment and the time, both day and year.

I shall describe them in reverse order: The year was 1943, my third year in school. Mom had been assigned the local school on Pine Creek, some 2 miles from our house. It was an easy walk - some 45 minutes time required in good weather.

The weather and conditions of good weather were not prevailing on this day. It had snowed about 4 inches the previous day; during the night a light rain had fallen melting upwards of one half of the snow depth. Sometime after midnight a severe drop in temperature occurred, freezing the accumulation to a sandwich of ice on top of snow.

The morning broke beautifully with sunlight glistening on icicles hanging from all of the many fractal surfaces of tree branches. Dad returned from milking old Daisy in the barn and announced that it was absolutely treacherous to walk. One must stomp stomp soundly with boot heel to break through the icy crust in order to gain enough traction for a further step. Mom told me to get ready for school early, that we would be leaving soon.

The equipment. The previous winter I was surprised at Christmas with a new “Flexible Flyer” steel runner sled. It was the only “steerable” sled on the market. Previously I had only had toboggans. These were heavy wooden contraptions whose only means for changing direction was to hunch the sled sideways, leaving the body cantilevered off to one side, and subject to physical harm. The steel runner was a lightweight thing of beauty, and fully capable of change of direction if there were traction available.

The terrain. The terrain is somewhat difficult to describe. Coming out of the front gate at the lower right corner of our paling fence the ground slopes an estimated negative rise over run of 1/20 for about 40 yards to the road, whereupon it levels out another 30 yards to the creek. The creek is some 10 feet wide and three feet deep, meandering in a series of large S’s from left to right in front of the house. Outside bank curve of the S is higher by a few inches than the inside bank. Therefore, whether or not the bank on the house side is higher than the far side depends on which way the creek is squiggling.

On the other side of the creek is the main bottom running another 60 yards to a bank angling sharply up to the barn which was located on a knoll about 20 feet higher than the bottom. From the front gate was a swell, some four feet higher than the topographical relief on each side. The swell extended to what is now our farm pond. An electric pole now stands at the apex, but there was no obstruction in this area at the time, because we did not yet have electricity. On the right of the swell is a depression that quickly turns uphill to where we had a row of bee hives, some 60 yards above the house.

Average slope of the uphill protrusion to the bee hives was at least 45 degrees. That hillside is now covered with Washington Fir trees planted by Dad in 1948. Dozer work constructing the farm pond removed most of the swell, and planting of some 5,000 black walnut trees in 1971 in all of what had been meadowland are significant changes in the landscape.

The time. Mom had said get ready early, so I did, and decided to drag my steel runner to school. There were in fact a couple banks where I could coast down for a few feet. Accompanied by my dog Robin, I stomped out the gate, got the idea of elevating myself on the hillside toward the bee hives, demonstrating my skill on sledding when my mom came out. I went through the depression, and by walking backwards could stomp my heels into the ice to climb backwards up the hill. This I did for a few minutes, and a few yards, but Mom was late coming out. I backed up several more times and several more feet – each time gaining more nerve as well as elevation, and I waited. Robin could not navigate the hill and went back down to the yard. Eventually, my mom came out on the porch.

I yelled from above the bee hives “Hey mom, watch me”. The incident.

I pointed my sled in a selected azimuth, and jumped on – belly first. From then on gravity took over and no skill was involved, nor would any have been effective. A flexible flyer can be steered somewhat in snow, but is incapable of direction change no matter how exaggerated the steering, on glare ice. It was, therefore, very fortuitous that my initial selection of direction had the consequence of my avoiding the corner of our fence some three or four feet, and likewise my dog.

Because of my velocity, angle of the launch, and other laws of physics, I gained significantly higher altitude than the height of the swell. I flew on my flyer through the air, and was well near the road when touchdown was achieved. Velocity had not deteriorated, friction was inconsequential, and speed was maintained all the way to the creek. At the point of approach to the creek the squiggle was toward the house, resulting in the far bank being a few inches higher than the side that I was rendering from.

Launch angle was zero and my horizontal flight resulted in the sled (and me) contacting the far bank a few inches below its brow. At this point the sled stopped, but I continued on. I slid solo on the icy surface for several yards, my arms still outstretched as if I were subject to a hold-up. What breath I had not exhaled during my earlier touchdown was completely deleted upon my contact with the bank. Thank goodness, due to heavy clothing, I survived not much worse off for the endeavor. My greatest pain and discomfort was getting my breath back from having the wind knocked out of me. I did have slight bruises on the palms of my hands from becoming disenfranchised from the sled arms.

I righted myself, struggled, but finally got my breath. I looked back toward the house. Mom was making her way off the porch testing the solidity of her footing. Robin was making his way down the slope toward road and me, all spraddle legged - sometimes sitting on his haunches like a dog frequently does, but still in the mode of relocating. He finally made it to the creek but gave up on crossing.

I made my way to the creek, retrieved my sled, made my crossing, dreading with some trepidation the scolding I was sure to receive when I encountered Mom. When I met Mom and dog at the road, she was so relieved I was not hurt that she said not a word. Robin was wagging his tale. Life is good. Nothing like kicking off the start of a new day with a good dose of adrenaline.