A look at
Minonk's past

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Spencer's Hill

By Barth Weistart

It wasn't Weistart's hill, it wasn't Jochum's hill, it wasn't Tolar's hill, it wasn't Kalkwarf's hill, it was "SPENCER'S HILL". We all lived near the Hill but the Spencers proximity and dominate family size established their name claim to the Hill for all time. The Hill was located on Eighth Street between Locust and Maple. For a time, the Hill was our Sun Valley. We spent hours practicing and honing our skills.

As winter approached , we tuned into the weather reports on our Philco radios. Then the big day would come–SNOW. The Hill would be checked at various times. Conditions had to be right. The first snow would generally melt too fast. After the second or third snowfall, we only had to wait for a pressure packing to bring it to a point of perfection, so we encouraged all the cars we saw to drive over the road.

A person's first run usually occurred between ages four and five. Mother would dress you. Coats were made of cotton and not lined as they are today. Layering was the mode of dress. Long underwear, two pairs of pants ,two or three undershirts, a regular long sleeved shirt, a scarf which rapped around your mouth and across your chest, a coat, ear muffs with a stocking or visor hat made up boys attire. You would walk to the hill with your arms hanging straight at your side. The volume of clothes didn't allow for much freedom to bend your arms. Legs were likewise stiff and caused a waddle. With a visor hat, your first journey to the hill mimicked that of a penguin. As you got ready to leave the house, your mother would have a faint smile anticipating a period of solitude and calm. All you had to do to bring her back to reality was say, "I have to go potty". Your first trip down the Hill was on the front of a larger sled. It took an older brother or experienced sledder to give you a push and then jump on behind. He would straddle you with his legs and place his feet on the cross bar to guide the sled. The run was usually short, but long enough to tell your mother about. Your first solo consisted of laying on your belly on the sled and coasting down the Hill as far as you could. Steering had to be learned. Until that was done, you would often end up head first in a snow pile along side the Hill. Young kids never got hurt because of the layering. The hardest part of crashing was getting up. As you got older, you learned less layers meant more flexibility. A running start and an extended belly flop onto the sled gave the greatest distance. To achieve supremacy, hours of practice were required. A session with no one else on the hill did wonders. You were becoming ready to sled like the older kids.

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The order of sledding was another concern for the beginner. One older sledder, I remember, thought he should be able to make a run without waiting like everyone else to take his turn. This became a dispute with the rest. Gordon Spencer took the responsibility for setting the rules of order (sledding order). After all, it was Spencer's Hill. Girls, especially if they were older, had "grandfathered" cut-in rights which I didn't understand until later years.

Professional sledding on the Spencer Hill was an art. A long run, a short sled, a good slick car wheel track, and you were off. The sled could be guided by the cross handle which adjusted the runners slightly.

If more dramatic changes were need, the driver could drag one or both toes of his shoes. Maple Street was the target ,but was seldom reached. Crossing Maple got you a big atta boy. Crossing Maple could cause great distress if a car was coming. Could you make it or not? That was the question. Some cars used good judgment and stopped or swerved to avoid a collision. Luckily, we never hit and destroyed a car. Near misses were occasionally reported to our parents. Repeated offences were grounds for grounding.

Titles were given for those who went the furthest. You could become King Of The Mountain (the TV show King of the Hill probably was copied from Spencer's Hill), World Champion, or International Champion.

The two best sledders, I remember, were Gordon Spencer and my brother Jerry Weistart. They went past Maple by some 30 to 40 yards. Of course, we live in a world where even their records may have been broken by siblings in a later time.

I drove down the Hill recently. It doesn't seem as steep as it once was. The sides along the road are now being mowed. There was a sharp incline which was impossible to mow before. The road must have been filled and leveled because you were never able to stand at the bottom and see over the top. You can now. Next time your driving on Eighth Street think of all the winter sports that use to take place on Spencer's Hill.