Essays of a Camden native

Jar rubbers, essential for backyard skiing

By Paul Putnam | Jan 19, 2013

It seems like we never threw anything away when I was a kid. I suppose we really did, but trips to the dump were not common. We had a burn barrel down in the gully out back where I would periodically take burnable trash and burn it, and we had a garbage can where we dumped really smelly stuff that would eventually be taken to the dump, but its interesting how much stuff we saved, just because it was too good to throw away, and some day we might need that very thing, paper bags, cereal boxes, string, bottles. My folks inherited that frugality honestly enough from their parents and forebearers.


Down on the farm where my grandfather Putnam grew up there were sheds and attics whose only purpose seemed to be for storage of those things that were no longer used or needed, but were too good to throw away. I remember an attic room in the shed that was full of old dining room chairs and furniture, and trunks of clothes and personal belongings of my great-great-grandparents who had come there to spend their final years with their son and daughter-in-law.


Anyway, weathering the hard times of the great depression in the 1930s was no problem for my folks, because even though they grew up in fairly prosperous homes, they had learned the meaning of "a penny saved is a penny earned" and "waste not, want not" was the motto that it was diligently applied.


This rather long-winded introduction brings me to jar rubbers. Used jar rubbers were an important asset to every kid, because they were used to secure our skis to our rubber boots. It seems most every home had a supply of used jar rubbers, and I don’t know of anything else they were ever used for. New ones wouldn’t do because they didn’t have the right amount of stretch.


Most kids had a pair of skis that were little more than pointed boards with leather toe straps attached. The toe straps were adjustable, but didn’t hold to the foot very well, so to make them more secure a rather ingenious arrangement of used jar rubbers made a makeshift harness for skiing. One would pull the jar rubbers over the foot to the ankle, then insert the toe in the ski strap, and stretch the rubber down over the toe outside of the leather strap. This worked tolerably well for the backyard skiing we were going to do. Occasionally a jar rubber would break, but we kept a good supply of spares in our pocket.


We made use of any downhill grade in the area, and when the snow was cold and dry, it was a lot of fun. Usually we had a track we would slide down, then take off our skis, walk back up to do it again. Sometimes we would herringbone back up with our skis on, but often it was easier to take them off.


On some hills we could build up a ramp of snow for a little ski jump, but often just downhill was good enough. Wet, sticky snow wasn’t good for skiing, because none of us ever thought of waxing our skis. Wet snow would stick to the wood and trying to move was futile.


Skates were different in those days, too. My first skates were a set of double runners that strapped onto your foot also. Most kids began with those. There were two blades on each foot. Mine were spaced a couple of inches apart and where pretty stable for balance, so you could concentrate on learning to slide your foot along on the ice without falling. They also helped strengthen your ankles. Moving around on ice was pretty scary at first, but we soon learned to cope with the slipperiness. As soon as the first puddles and brooks froze over in the fall, we would grab our skates and go. Some folks would even flood an area on their lawn to make a place for skating. As the cold season progressed, we would migrate to ponds and streams as the ice became thick enough.


My mother often told of having wooden skates that clamped onto her shoes, much the same as the roller skates we had in the summer. I thought it was pretty special when I got my first set of shoe skates with the single runners built in. Some kids had beginner’s shoe skates that had double runners close together as an aid in balance.


Skating was a major sport in the 1930s and earlier, for young and old alike. It was rare to find someone who had never learned to skate as a kid, and many continued as adults. For men there were two styles of skates, hockey skates and figure skates. The two activities required different blade designs. Most girls used the figure skates and aspired to be Sonja Henie, a well-known figure skater of the day. Helen tells how disappointed she was, when her grandfather gave her a pair of figure skates for Christmas one year, and they were black instead of white, like Sonja Henie had.


Every boy had at least one hockey stick in his closet, and you would be surprised at how small a pond can make do for a game of hockey. Before World War II the Snowbowl had a regulation hockey rink set up every year. The Winter Carnival always featured hockey games as well as exhibitions and figure skating contests. Many will remember the prize-winning performances of Pauline True and Jimmy Wentworth.


Going to Florida was not so much an option in those days. Most people couldn’t afford it, and there was too much winter fun at home.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jan 23, 2013 08:31

"There was too much winter fun at home." Absolutely! So many great times of doing those "simple things" that didn't cost much money yet built memories; and was healthy. Glad to see so many young families are taking advantage of those same gifts we had. :) Thanks, Paul.

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