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Just a swingin’

September 14, 2018
By Mike Ashby

Most parents of the 50s and early 60s were not about to spend money buying outside toys for their kids. We were expected to fend for ourselves in that department. No big store-bought swings or motor driven carts of any kind. Most of us did have some sort of bike. The more resourceful among us would cobble a bike together out of pieces we found at the dump.

A couple kids always seemed to have new Schwinn bikes to peddle around on, but they were the exception.

I rode around on a rusty old bike that only had one pedal. Going downhill was fine, but man, trying to pedal up hill was a booger.

The house next to my parents was a rental. There seem to be a steady stream of new folks in that place.

One summer a family with four or five boys moved into that home. They were some of the most resourceful bunch of guys I had ever seen.

Much to my pleasure, they turned their garage into a "boys only" club house.

Spray painting warnings that girls were not welcome in the club house and decorating the place with questionable pictures only added to the allure. It was in this charming environment I got to try my first smoke. Granted, the "smoke" was just a piece of quack grass, but a feller had to start somewhere.

It wasn’t a week before this group of youngsters had concocted a rudimentary go-cart out of some scrap lumber, four different sized wheels and an old gas fired washing machine motor. This was going to be the best summer ever. Not only had they made a boys only club house, now they had invented a go-cart.

The cart's top speed was somewhere around a slow walk, but you did not have to pedal the thing.

The boys had found the motor in a box somewhere, which is probably where it should have stayed. A huge cloud of blue smoke followed after whomever was steering the thing, plus it had no muffler. Those attributes only made it that much cooler to us.

My dad said it looked like we were trying to be the local mosquito’s abatement team.

In early June of that year, the teenager of this group climbed up a tall red fir just under the crest of the steep bank behind our homes. He had with him a heavy length of rope. As he made his way to the top of that tree, he hacked off all the limbs. I was sort of curious as to how he was going to get down again, since now the tree was just a tall trunk and no limbs.

I was just about to see how resourceful these kids were.

The boy attached the rope to the top of the tree, and then slid back down on the rope. Now I was really impressed with this family.

We had the only official "devil swing" in the hood. The rest of us spent the better part of a week clearing underbrush and a few trees that were in the way of our swing. Holding the end of the rope, running as hard as you could, the swing would take you in a circuit of that tree. The biggest threat was if you foolishly let go of the rope before you made the circuit. It was a good 40- or 50-foot drop to the brush below, so you were bound to get some splinters in your anatomy if you let go too soon.

That threat was to come back and trouble me a few years later.

The devil swing continued to be a major attraction in the 'hood for years. The rope was periodically changed and more trees were cut out of the way of the person swinging around. By now the drop had really increased because the radius of swing had grown.

The swing was not viewed with great favor by my parents. It was suggested that I could get ill-treated by the rocks and brush if I fell off the thing. Naturally I stayed off the swing when they were home, but the temptation to show off was just too much for a feller.

My great love of the day was a young lady named Sandy. She and I would spend hours riding around the 'hood on our bikes. Granted, I had trouble keeping up with her because of my one pedal bike, but we had fun.

Going by the devil swing one day, I asked her if she had ever been on it. Since my parents were gone for the day, I figured a couple swings on the rope were in order.

Sandy was given an elementary lesson in aeronautics and encouraged to “run really fast” and then launch. What I had sort of forgotten was to tell her not to let go of the rope until she got back to the road.

She was really doing quite well in her first circuit of the tree, but neglected to let go of the rope when she reached the road again. Nope, she was now going back the other way but lacking momentum to clear the tree.

In retrospect, I should not have yelled at her to let go of the rope, but she should not have listened to me.

With a horrid squeal, she fell down into the underbrush and rocks. Since I could see her wiggling and squirming down there, I knew she was alive. When she finally crawled back up to me, I could see she had a nasty cut on one leg.

It was evident that first aid had to be rendered.

Making our way over to my house, I quickly got her bandaged up and we headed to her house. To her everlasting credit, Sandy told her parents she had wrecked on her bike, so my life was spared once more.

This young lady went on to take part in the Miss Idaho contest in 1967, winning the coveted “Miss Congeniality” award. I heard that she had shared her introduction to aeronautics, and a touch of gravity as well, on her boyfriend’s back yard devil swing.

That made me think the old clubhouse needed to change its rules.

Those Were the Days indeed, when an event that happened in your youth will give you the good fortunate of a lifelong friend.

© Mike Ashby and Kootenai Valley Times
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83806
Email Mike Ashby at