Thursday, January 31


We bashed it, we crashed it,

we loaded it with our snotty little brothers.
We pulled it, we pushed it,

we went shopping for our mothers.

We crepe-papered it for parades,
and towed it with our wares to sell:
“Fresh Lemonaide”
for thirsty clientèle.

We turned it over upside-down
for protection from the deadly rain
of war-path arrows
upon the wagon train.

We kicked it, we rolled it,
we tied it behind our bikes for a ride.
We scratched it, we thrashed it,
we couldn’t kill it if we tried!

It was kid-perfect for draggin’
whatsoever you coulda wanna . . .
we couldn’t know our little red wagon,
would symbolize Americana”.

*Oh, the endless possibilities presented with one little red wagon and a couple of kids! This single item was a legitimate and incredibly versatile vehicle for all kid pursuits, solo or en masse. The cargo-bearing capacity was unbelievable (my 200+ lb. dad rode in it once)! Summer garden harvests loaded it high with corn and squash, and we must have bagged hundreds of sticky sweet apricots to sell for a dollar a bag on the corner. Many a war game casualty was ceremoniously carted off the battle field, and even a chicken or two experienced a brief, forced joy ride.

Speed was an element not over-looked in the red wagon owner’s manual. Given the obliging gravity of the slightest downward slope – dangerous speeds were routinely and gloriously attained to our shrieking delight.

A solo ride by no means stunted good times; the kneeling driver simply pushed off with one leg and steered with the handle pulled back into a nearly gut-impaling position. Bone-jarring rocks, uneven sidewalks, cement curbs, deep puddles, homemade dirt and scrap wood ramps, mud, rutted and patchy asphalt or multiple dogs chasing our wheels were of little consequence to our fast-paced Radio Flyer sorties. Sand, on the other hand, killed us in our tracks with an insulting abruptness.

The inexperienced often found themselves dumped out in a spectacular side flip-over, which by the way was well worth the visual for spectators. Navigating turns was tricky, and not one of the wagon’s strong points. We understood this, and we forgave this one failing by adapting our routes to straight-a-ways as much as possible.

One year our little red wagon was cleaned up and kept indoors for an entirely serious purpose; my little brother had scarlet fever. The doctor ordered complete bed rest, but for a little guy about 4 years old that was an impossible order. Danny and I pulled Davey around the house as comfy as you please reclining on pillows in our wagon like a royal chariot. We didn’t understand his illness, nor the heart-murmur that had been discovered – but we imagined it was deadly – so we dedicated ourselves to saving his life.

This really was the universal American toy for generations. I can’t remember any house with children that didn’t have one. The wagon’s all steel body and rubber-rimmed wheel manufacture was down-right super-natural. There were miserably dented and warped ones, rusted and sorry paint-peeling ones – but I never saw a disabled one.

Pity the hopelessly unaware children today who are reared amid a steady milieu of hollow, cheesy colored sissy-safety-belted and wholly disappointing plastic. It’s just not the same. Not even close.

~ The Radio Flyer Red Wagon was developed by Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin. His first models in 1917 were crafted from wood. In 1923, inspired by the budding auto industry, he utilized a metal stamping technology to mass produce wagons for his new enterprise, The Liberty Coaster Company, in honor of the Statue of Liberty. By 1930 the company became Radio Steel and Manufacturing, dubbing its popular model #18 “The Radio Flyer”. Antonio chose the word ‘Radio’ for the new wireless invention, and ‘Flyer’ for the wonder of flight.

~ From 'Station Wagon Wars' ~ Growing up in the 60's by cTanner


Yaj said...

Mine lasted the entirety of the 10 years I delivered the morning paper (Washington Post). The Sunday paper was over 500 pages plus the insert and my wagon would hold a stack 5 feet high, and pretty heavy. It was good for riding down the largest hill, too, and fit both my dog and myself...! He, by the way, loved the ride, every day, rain or dry (I'd say rain or shine, but at 4:30am the only shining things were my glassy, sleep-deprived eyes)! Those wagons were built to last.

Cynthia said...

Everyone experienced at least one spectacular side flip over. That truly was part of the whole experience. Even as a spectator, you could sense the speed and the approaching turn and easily predict an upcoming flip-over. Good times.