Cape Racers and Bobsleds

Back in the 1930s and early ’40s, kids in Stonington were still using the main roads for sliding.  Depending on where you lived, you used the nearest hill:  Thurlow’s Hill, which is Route 15 or Main Street just below the junction of Indian Point Road, a.k.a. Clam City Road, for the east end of town; and Meeting House Hill, or Highland Avenue, for the west end.  School Street (Russ’s Hill by the Opera House) wasn’t used as it was too steep, and when (if) you got to the bottom, you were apt to go right off the road into the harbor.  Besides, it was always pretty well sanded or salted.  

I lived at the top of Russ’s Hill so I always went sliding on Highland Avenue, starting near the old Congo Church and going all the way to Green Head if the snow was hard-packed and icy.  When you got to the intersection with West Main Street (Flossie Wallace’s corner), there was a bit of a rise right there by Charles Robbins’ house with the big spruce tree in the yard.  If you were going fast enough to make that rise, then you kept on going to Green Head and sometimes made it to the bottom of Jack Murphy’s hill. 

Some kids had store-bought Flexible Flyers, and some had homemade bobsleds that had two small sleds, one front and one rear, with a long plank in between.  It would hold four or five kids, depending on the length of the plank.  You steered with the front sled; usually with grab handles on the sled.  My favorite sled was a “Cape Racer,” and lots of kids had one.  Lyndon “Ham” Gross lived on the hill, and he had a real fast one named “Queenie.”  I always understood that this type sled was originally developed over in Cape Rosier, thus the name Cape Racer.  They were indeed fast.  They were made with two angled wooden side rails having polished steel runners.  The rails were joined by a series of dowels set into the rails, and these are what you laid down on to slide. You crossed your arms in front of you and pulled up on the right rail to go right and left rail to go left.  You also used a little body motion to help turn.

It always seemed to me that the town went easy on sanding these hills so we could have fun sliding.  Even so, we quite often had to ditch because of an oncoming car.  Kids walking back up the hill would holler “Road” if a car was coming up so we could ditch.  Cars all wore chains back then, and quite often there was a broken link and you could hear them coming.

The days of the Cape Racer and the homemade bobsled are long gone, but it would make an interesting piece of memorabilia if one or both could be found and donated to the Historical Society.

Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society ✦ P O Box 652 ✦ Deer Isle,  ME  04627 ✦ 207-348-6400