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Family traditions bring joy to new year

Family traditions bring joy to new year

Money Today Johnson

What family traditions do you have? Did your grandparents pass down traditions to your parents that you now follow? Have you started some of your own traditions, hoping your grandchildren will one day enjoy them? How much does it cost to create a family tradition?

With some parts of our state being relatively flat, good sledding hills can be hard to find. With a little creativity and the desire to provide children with an exciting winter experience, the tradition of truck hood sledding was born.

Jeff discovered his love for sledding as a child. His father had taken him on sleds pulled behind their tractor around the farm yard and even out into a small part of the hay field. In those days, sleds had runners. They were not stable, and the smallest bump or corn stalk usually flipped them over.

Steering the sled with your feet in the front provided more control, but as soon as you put out your hand to keep from falling over you found yourself laying in the snow. Toboggans were introduced, and their width and length made them more stable. But bare ground or gravel soon ripped them up.

When Jeff’s children were young, he had a farm truck with a hood built ideally to become a sled. It was curved in the front and extended almost a foot. When flipped over, this important design feature provided a sled that would go up and over the snow rather than through it.

Since the truck was from the 1960s, the hood was built with heavy steel and reinforced almost everywhere. Jeff cut a hole in the front and then welded a steel bar on the inside of the hood so a cable could be wrapped around it.

After hooking a 20-foot steel cable to the truck hood and laying a piece of tarp to cover the inside, it was now ready for a test run. Jeff recruited some willing riders from his children and off they went into the field. The design was an instant success.

The truck hood pulled smoothly over corn stalks, gopher mounds and weeds along the waterways. No one fell off the large sled, but there was a problem with it being too close to the tractor. Snow from the tires flew up in the face of the riders, and if you turned too sharply the cable wrapped against the tire.

Back to the shop Jeff went. The cable was lengthened out to 40 feet and several more children were recruited to test the sled. The original testers had given very positive reviews and now all his kids wanted a turn. With four kids on the sled the additional weight smoothed out the ride.

With everything working well, it was time to increase the speed. Jeff’s kids were excited to go faster but soon found there was no good way to hang on to the sled. This led to pushing, and kids were not able to hang on. Back to the shop Jeff went.

Conveniently built into the truck hood were some round holes punched through the reinforced metal. Short pieces of rope fit right through the holes and provided something to hang on to. Not surprisingly, test volunteers were already standing at the shop door ready to go again.

This time the sled performed without problem and easily handled snowbanks and hills. The steel cable ensured that the sled would go wherever the tractor went. Jeff’s kids were screaming with excitement.

The next afternoon more volunteers showed up at the farm to test Jeff’s sled. This time they went down the road and in and out of the ditch. Every once in a while they would cross a place without snow and the dirt and gravel only scraped off the paint of the truck hood.

Going through ditches provided more excitement and required a greater ability to hang on. There were places in the ditch where the snow would abruptly drop two or three feet and then go back up. Because of the ropes providing good handholds, riders were able to hold on even when the sled went almost vertical. Everyone was having a great time.

The best location for truck hood sledding was the hay field with a small hill in it. The hood slid easily across the relatively smooth hay field and the tractor could run at the highest speed.

After a few times of circling the field Jeff drove to the top of the hill. As he came down he sped up and when he got close to the bottom he started to turn to the right. The truck hood swung around behind him in sort of a slingshot motion.

He drove to the top of the hill a second time and as he came back down he started the turn earlier. The hood sped up as he tightened the turn. All test riders were yelling and screaming with excitement.

Back up the hill Jeff went for a third time. He intentionally started the curve at the top and then tightened it until the sled was sliding almost sideways as it shot around behind the tractor. There was no more yelling on the sled as the riders had the ropes wrapped around their hands and holding on as best they could.

Jeff learned in that moment that in order to have the best sled riding experience there needs to be an element of danger as well as excitement. And Jeff had found it.

Over Christmas and through January, Jeff’s children and their friends all showed up at his house to go truck hood sled riding. Occasionally children slid off the sled as they would slingshot around. One of the unintentional safety features of the sled was that if you fell off you were already on the ground and, most of the time, simply slid to a stop.

For many years Jeff’s children used that sled. Eventually they all grew up and the sled sat unused, rusting away in the machine shed. As Jeff’s grandchildren grew up, the sled was brought back out. It was not in the best of shape. Over the years gravel had worn holes completely through the metal, and the seams and ridges were cracked. It did not look salvageable from his point of view.

Jeff underestimated how important the sled was to his family, and one of his children took it home to repair. Metal plates were welded to the bottom to reinforce and patch the holes. New hand-hold ropes were tied to the front and the old metal cable was traded out for a heavy nylon rope.

This Christmas Jeff was once again giving truck hood sled rides. Instead of his old tractor, he now used a four-wheel drive truck with a warm heater and space for his youngest grandchildren to ride in the cab. After being accused of trying to injure his grandchildren, Jeff had also learned to drive at a slower speed.

There are many family traditions we can cherish and remember. Jeff was never able to take his family to Hawaii for Christmas or go on a cruise through the Caribbean. But his children and now his grandchildren will remember with joy the time he spent taking them for rides.

As we begin this new year, we should remember to take time to do things which are most important. It does not cost a lot of money to start a new tradition.

Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at

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