The skating pond

Monday, May 14, 2018

It must have been in the fall of 1941, just before the start of World War II. I was in Mrs. Chase’s 8th-grade government class. The subject concerned ways in which individual citizens could affect the workings of government and make themselves heard. One of the ways discussed was the petition. Mrs. Chase was always on the lookout for practical ways to demonstrate a point, and when someone mentioned that we needed a place to skate in Plainview and that we ought to petition the city council to construct a skating pond, she immediately took up the point. She helped us draft the petition and then arranged for members of the class to take copies of our proposal to each class in the grade and high school, explain our proposal and ask for their help.

By the end of the second day, we had an impressive stack of petitions, signed by almost every student and teacher. I remember that I was designated to deliver the petitions to Elmer Pond, probably because he lived in our neighborhood. Elmer was a hometown boy who had attended the University of Nebraska, then went off to Mexico and other places to drill for oil, and after a few years of prospecting in a number of out of the way places of the world, came home to run for office. At this time he was the Pierce County Commissioner for the district that included the City of Plainview.

Never has a group of concerned citizens gotten faster action from a submitted proposal. Elmer thanked us for our interest and said he would see what he could do. The next afternoon I was downtown when Rusty Sterner, who operated the city road maintainer, stopped me. “I hear you kids want a skating pond. I’m ready to start the dirt work tomorrow morning.” I was overjoyed. Wow! That petition was really a powerful tool for getting things done! It was only later that we learned that the city fathers had planned all along to construct the skating pond.

Our petitions had just happened to come along after the fact. But they were kind enough to let us think that we had influenced their decision.

True to his word, within a few days Rusty and the other city workers threw up a shallow earthen breastwork perhaps ten yards outside the perimeter of the football field, which at that time was located just north of the present grade school building in Bandshell Park. Then, though it seemed like a very long time to us, it was probably only a few weeks until the weather turned cold and they were able to flood the pond. For this part of the process, the men hooked up large fire hoses to hydrants at either end of the pond, and let the water run all during the night.

Here we were extremely fortunate because during this time there was no snow, and very little wind so that the water going into the pond froze into a very smooth surface. We also received a bonus. Through some mix up in communication the water was not turned off when the water in the pond had sufficient depth, and for almost 48 hours over one weekend, water filled the pond, and then continued to flow over a low spot in the levee and flooded most of the remaining surface of the entire park. The result was a huge frozen lake.

The weather for the next weeks remained ideal for skating, cold, but with very little snow. Skating became a very popular pastime, after school, and in the evenings. Granted, most of the skaters were young people, but there was a representation of adults, and little kids, as well, all eager to test their skills on the ice.

Skates became a popular item, and the stores quickly sold out. In 1941 there were very few skates with the boots attached. Most were the clamp on variety, which used a key or clamp to fasten the skates to the soles of the shoe (and very hard on shoe soles). Attics and basements were raided in hopes that antique skates, long discarded, might be salvaged for one more season’s use.

The winter Olympics on television, which has made figure skating so very popular, was still decades away, but Norwegian skater. Sonja Henie, the darling of the 1936 Olympics had made a few movies, so we were familiar with the rudiments of figure skating and tried to do the simple figure 8’s with style and grace. One girl had a beautiful pair of white top figure skates, of which she was justly proud. The problem was that they were size 10 and simply did not offer the support that her size 7 feet and ankles needed, so her skating consisted mostly of moving around the pond slowly, on the inside of her ankles.

My Dad had picked up a pair of shoe skates for me at a farm sale by people who had come from Canada. They fit me pretty well, but they were racing skates, with blades that stuck out some 3 or 4 inches in front. They didn’t make me an especially fast racer, but they did expose me to a great deal of ridicule, as no one in Plainview had ever seen such skates before.

Ice hockey that winter was popular. In all of Plainview there was but one hockey stick, but everyone seemed to be able to come up with a tree branch with the general shape that worked quite as well. Of course there were no hockey pucks to be had, but after a bit of experimenting with stones of varying shapes we settled on a tuna fish can that worked perfectly fine and was not as lethal as those stones proved to be. After the holiday Bill Foft was the envy of the entire neighborhood when he arrived at the pond with his Christmas present---a pair of real hockey boot/skates, complete with the rigid toe.

Pump, pump pull away was a popular game in which large numbers of skaters participated. This was a type of tag in which everyone lined up on one side of the pond, then tried to escape to the other side past one person, in the middle, who was “It”. Those caught would, in turn, try to capture others, this going on until all were captured when the game would begin anew.

Crack the Whip was fun. A line of people would join hands, the bigger boys in the lead, then skate around the pond until a considerable momentum was reached. Then the leader would pull the line into a tight turn which, by centrifugal force, would cause the last in line to go flying across the ice at great speed — very often out of control.

Some of the older boys started to show off a bit by jumping over barrels placed on the ice. Some of the leaps were quite spectacular, clearing some 5 barrels (and/or boxes). It should be added that some of the crashes were every bit as spectacular.

In the evenings there was often a large bonfire. People brought kindling and logs and tires to burn. Several times a group of us brought wieners and marshmallows to roast and we had a regular party. There were no portable radios, of course, but one evening a boy parked his car close to the fire and turned up his radio to the dance tunes of the day. So that time, at least, we had a big band accompanying our singing and skating.

With the additional flooding, there was plenty of room for everyone. Those engaged in the active games might occupy the main portion of the pond, but there was still ample space for couples to skate, by the light of the moon, arm in arm, all over the park, around the trees, around the fountain, almost to the steps of our house, across the street to the west.

The skating pond was truly a successful project for Plainview. It brought a bit of pleasure to our town in that dark, sad, first winter of WWII.

From Growing Up in Plain View, by Sehnert

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