If you grew up in Sodus Point in the 1940s and 50s, when the winter came it meant getting the toboggan out of storage. That also meant going up to the hill overlooking the first fairway on the golf course for that first death defying ride as told by Bob Pearson in his book Stinky’s Tales Growing Up in a Small Village in the 1940s and 1950s (2004).
Snow and Golf – A ride to remember for Charley Moss
The toboggan is a marvelous piece of winter apparatus. The six or eight foot long, two foot wide piece of highly varnished, thin maple wood could take several people down a snow-covered hill in a hurry. It had no runners and the board was curved up at the front to facilitate a plowing effect through deeper snow. Unlike a sled or skis, the toboggan can not be aimed very accurately. By coordinating the leans of the many passengers behind the driver, slight course adjustments could be made. The emphasis should be on the word slight.
In Sodus winter lore, there were numerous stories about wild rides on the wooden devices. One of the classic stories still retold at reunions recounts the episode of a lad who flew down a steep hill in the new snow and went through a barbed wire fence unseen in the blowing snow. He was really never the same due to psychological stress. The poor plastic surgery back in the late forties in the previous century also made the memories linger.
A toboggan rides nicely on top of most snows since it has so many square feet of bottom surface. It seems that the flying saucers that came later in my life were single seat, round toboggans. They, too, were rather reckless in nature since they could not be driven accurately. All this discussion about lack of steering ability becomes crucial to a mid-winter ride many in our group of friends will always remember.
One of the best places to ride down hill in winter was at the local golf course located high on successive hills above beautiful Sodus Bay. The golf course was usually unused for the months on November through March by the local golfers. This fact of life for area golfers made the course great for the toboggans of the area. Sleds would not work on the golf course since the snow needs to be plowed or packed for a sled. Skiers did not frequent the golf course since there was a rope tow for skiers a few miles away on the biggest hill in the county.
So there we were one night, with two toboggans and twenty young people. The fresh snow was deep and the clear wintry night was highlighted by stars. Twinkling lights of far off year-round cottages and shacks of ice fishermen out on the bay added to the aura of the crisp, clear night.
Democracy ruled on the hill as all in attendance at the toboggan party got their chance to “drive” the devices. This was a tradition and part of the tradition was a test of the driver’s courage since being up front was a more hazardous. Riding was fun, but seated up front was twice the thrill since you got the snowy blast in the face. You also got any trees, bushes, and random things like fences.
The driver usually could finish the ride even as others flew off on the way down. The reason anyone flew off was that there was not much to hang onto, and if you were grabbing the person in front of you this could cause a convulsion of drop-offs on the way down. The only thing available to grasp was a rope down each side of the toboggan if you chose that grip. The guy or gal up front had the rope handles to grasp so they were the most stable even in their danger spot.
Our buddy Charley’s turn to drive came up, and he was primed for the long ride down through the small trees on the hilly course. We had been there for nearly two hours and everyone was getting to the “hot chocolate” point for the evening. That was when everyone headed inside to warm up and debrief the various rides. Charley Moss (Mossgraber) was our tallest class member and was one of our unique friends. He loved basketball, and could shoot the lights out when his confidence overcame the pressure placed upon him by a sometimes overbearing father. Charley’s father was not there this night to dissuade his offspring, and our basketball star’s turn to drive was to be the event of the evening. His basketball prowess would not be of any assistance at the juncture!
The larger of the two toboggans was loaded up, and a push by others not doing the run got the last ride of the night underway. As a note of interest coming from years of snowy experiences, most accidents seem to occur on the “last ride” down or the “last ski run down.” This ride was to prove the point. Charley was not a verbal person and , in fact, he stuttered some. On this run down, his lack of quick and accurate verbal cues about leaning, coupled with the normally poor steering, made for a hellacious ride.
I was about four people back from Charley near the end of the toboggan, so I saw little
Of our fateful course. Due to blowing snow stirred up by the toboggan and because of the people in front of me, only the rush of the speed on the snow and the wind were evident. Charley must have seen the trees coming up on the section of the course but due to the speed of the run and the occasional slowness of his speech pattern, we connected with one of the young trees poking up through the snowy surface.
Nothing stops seven people on a toboggan faster than an immovable object. If the tree were a couple of years younger perhaps we could have run it over. However this particular tree had made it through to its stout, young life and was not going to give in to a bunch of Sodus kids on a toboggan.
Charley Moss took the initial shot right where his legs were spread at the front of the toboggan as the toboggan split apart on the tree. He hit the tree and then all the riders piled on top of him in rapid succession. He, like all of us, was heavily covered with a parka and ski cap so damage was minimal. The rest of us were banged up here or there, but the hot chocolate and a couple of days rest took care of the damage.
We sat in the snow laughing with Charley after the collision, despite his temporary agony. No matter what happens in any sporting venue, the humors of seeing a performer get his in the groin with a ball, another person or, in this case, a tree seems to bring on the laughter. The girls who were present did not quite understand the humor at Charley’s expense. Guys seem to understand the humor evoked at the expense of some male’s groin injury. Charley understood.
Life seems to be filled with memories of simple and sometimes painful situations. Long after the pain subsides the laughter can continue. A few years before Charley passed away, several of us laughed about “the” toboggan ride. He reaffirmed that he truly understood our laughter that night. God bless you, Charley Moss !