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'Laughing all the way.' Says who?

By John Gould / December 12, 1980



The old-fashioned winter strawride would be revived only by people who have no idea what an old-fashioned winter strawride was. One of the pleasanter satisfactions of my advancing maturity is the joy that sits upon me when I realize I no longer have to go on old-fashioned winter strawrides. It is disturbing enough to sit by the TV along of a Christmastide past and watch the jolly actors making believe they are on an old-fashioned winter strawride, wringing (to twist forcibly) "Jingle Bells"m so it sells cameras, automobiles, Caribbean cruises, and machines that shave. "Jingle Bells"m is not Christmas music, and it never was, and the pictured strawride is also spurious.

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One of the TV strawrides this season brought us a high-stepping mare and a jolly sleighload of carol singers. Off this went in the chill winter night, snow aplenty, and the mare and the singers gave off no "Arctic smoke." You saw no steamy breath, as went with the real thing. Great, and then you realized the snow was also spurious -- spuriousm being an old-timer's word for plastic.

The true, valid, and gratefully forgotten strawride involved a two-sled. We're getting back a ways. In the earlier lumbering, butt ends of logs were chained onto a one-sled, or bobsled, and oxen or horses teamed them to the mill or brow with 'tother ends dragging on the snow. Next came the two-sled, made from two bobsleds chained together into "traverse runners." Now the entire log, butt and top, could be rolled up on the bunks, and the load was easier on the animals, so they could haul more to load. Next came the iced logging roads, which gave us "skid road," a term that modern journalists have ignorantly changed to skid row.m Skid row means nothing, but a skid road could give you a wild downhill ride -- a ride Maine loggers came to call a "sluicing." Well, the point is that the two-sled was common in these parts, and equally common were the heavy teams of horses required.

But a logging two-sled had no body. The driver rode on the front bunk if he had no load, and he rode up on the topmost log if he did. So the body of a hayrack would be taken off its summertime wheels, and it would be lowered onto a two-sled. Today, hay is baled in the fields and the once-important loose-hay rack is with the dodo and the two-sled. But in the days of strawrides, every farm had a hayrack, a long, flat rig with slatted or runged sides, and a little shelf all the way around. A load of hay was "built" as it ran up, and it was laid out over the shelf so it finally was much wider than the rack it rode on.

Milton Dill was our favorite strawride teamster, but there were others who would drive us.A high-school class ride sometimes called for the three rigs, and each boy contributed 50 cents. This was for a couple, and the girl of one's choice was expected to bring the lunch. But the 50 cents paid for more than the team and driver -- it included the weenies and cocoa, and sometimes a more substantial oyster stew, at the far end of the ride. Sometimes we went to one of the rural schools and had our picnic in a warm place, sometimes we had an outdoor fire in a snowbank. The ride was really not all that fine an outing.

Hay enough was thrown in to cushion the rack, but a ride on runners was always smooth anyway. Everybody was bundled to to hilt, and blankets were de rigueur.m Naturally we tried for moonlit nights, but many a ride was in blinding snowstorms. We sang, mostly songs. We steamed at the mouth, and so did the horses. And I want to explain one thing now and forever about those jingling bells that have so worked their joyous way into the hearts of all true Americans who know nothing about jingling bells; namely --jinglers, and they gonged. Except that on a cold night, stars sharp and snow creaky, they didn't gong at all. In the frosty air, they clacked. There must be a reason.