So while the winter months drag on, I was thinking back to all the fun I had this summer with my son at playgrounds. Whether at a park or school, recess or family reunions, playgrounds were a big part of my childhood.
One thing I immediately noticed was that all of the playgrounds I could find were drastically smaller and made of plastic. Times have certainly changed. Playgrounds may now be safer but in my opinion they are not nearly as fun.
weren't the small plastic ones reserved for play lands in fast food joints, when did they make it to the parks?
New Plastic playground
Oldschool Metal one
Look at the second one doesn't that just shout adventure and don't you want to just go exploring? The first one you could do everything in about 2 minutes and be bored stiff there is nothing to stimulate the imagination. Safer? Well maybe but in my day if somebody didn't get a concussion, bloody lip or nose you were not playing hard enough.Surfaces
The next thing I noticed after size was that nearly all playgrounds are covered with this lame shredded wood pulp. Nearly all of the playgrounds of my youth were covered in sand.
Sand was great for digging holes, building forts and castles for action figures, racetracks for HotWheels, and flinging sand into the eyes of my enemies during the little play yard scraps of my youth. Baked hard on top and cool and smooth underneath. How many of our toys may still be buried somewhere in a sandy grave? Well now they are probably bulldozed and paved over with a layer of wood pulp thrown on top. No pirates digging for imagined buried treasure now-a-days.
There was something satisfying about the resounding thud you made when you catapulted off of some playground equipment, flew through the air, and slammed into the sand hard enough to knock the wind out of you. Picking yourself up and brushing off the sand from the front of you and spitting out the sand from the mouthful you inhaled.
Imagine my surprise as my son and I show up to the playground with my metal trucks saved from my childhood to find no sand to dig in.
Back then you took some of the playground home with you each day. Sand in your shoes, grains of sand in your underwear, and a fine layer on your teeth from that mouthful you inhaled.
Who remembers Sand Wasps? They resembled the Bald Faced Hornets from picnics except they dug these tiny holes in the sand they lived in. I remember watching them flip sand behind them as they disappeared into their little holes. They plagued many a playground of my youth. Actually they never bothered anyone, and I cannot recall anyone being stung, but we sure bothered them.
My brother and I used to strip off our socks and fill them with sand to make a weapon with the properties of a lead sap but the length and striking style of a morning star (remember socks were huge back then). Swinging our whistling instruments of death we would wait patiently above a "bee hole" and swat them as they emerged, stunning them. We would then use Popsicle sticks to remove their stingers in a grotesque surgery/ science experiment. I can remember my mom shaking her head as she did laundry wondering how on earth we got our socks so filthy.
Gravel covered nearly all of the play yards of schools, I guess they reasoned you wouldn't get quite as dirty during recess. Didn't they realize that kids would throw it? A fist full of gravel hurled as a pelting rain as children scatter, evil laugh. I remember many a kid coming up from some spectacular fall with gravel stuck to his face.
Occasionally you would see rubber at school playgrounds sometimes even bolted down to the pavement. It seems like most fast food restaurant play yards had rubber or foam squares.
The shredded wood pulp of today stinks. Somehow it is safer to fall on a mass of 3 inch splinters and gouge an eye out. Digging in it sucks too. As my son discovered trying to fill a dump truck with a excavator you uncover the top layer of dry sticks to find the wet moldy layer underneath that has been rotting since the last rainfall.
I actually encountered one playground that used chunks of tree bark as safety ground covering. I can imagine the playground equipment of my youth grinding to a halt because of a chunk of Tree Bark stuck in the bottom. Underneath the bark was a black plastic tarp, fun times there. Save tree bark for landscaping and not for playgrounds.
Asphalt was a prerequisite of these classic games:
Schools now have this:
As I tried to figure out what sport or game could be played with a "Randomizer" it donned on me. Remember the game you would help some nerd play with his ball, called "go fetch" where you booted the ball into oblivion and watched the nerd go chase it? Well now they invented a way for the geeks to play it by themselves. They throw the ball in the top and it randomly comes out a hole so they can go chase it in an unexpected direction. Good times!Playground Equipment
Merry-go-round (Carousels play music and you sit on animals)
Remember holding on for dear life as some big kid spun the bars? The world was spinning into oblivion as your lunch slowly crept up your throat waiting for the right moment to erupt. Trying to make it to the middle where you could recalibrate your balance and equilibrium. Brave ones tried to stand but were quickly swept off their feet, heads smacking into each other and the support bars. Smaller kids quickly swept out to the outside by the force of inertia cling to bars until cramped fingers could hold on no more and then being flung into the stratosphere. The very unlucky kid being crushed underneath it, oh the carnage!
Must not throw-up. All the kids will think I am a wussy if I puke.
Swings were great fun, the creaking of the joints and clanking of the chains are still the sounds I can hear when I close my eyes and remember recess.
Did you ever attempt to dodge the gauntlet of swings by running through them laterally? As kids swung by in pendulum arcs you would whisper to yourself, "only a penitent man shall pass" as you race forward missing the swinging kid as you wait for the next moment to break into a sprint to go for two kids at once. Nobody dodged booby traps like you do. Your goofy awkwardly clumsy buddy tried to follow but got nailed by a Reebok to the face and lay screaming in a pile of tangled body parts with the unfortunate inhabitant of the swing. Better make it quick, Mola Ram er the duty teacher is coming and you have two last passes to go. Indiana Jones would be proud!
Well sometimes you would actually use them as they were intended. As you pumped your legs trying to attain the highest height possible you would come to the breaking point and actually become weightless for all of a nanosecond. Gravity would grab hold and you would start to plummet back to earth and be suddenly jolted as the slack in the chain ripped tight again. Sometimes your buddies would push you for an "Underdog" where the kid pushing you holds onto the swing and runs forward actually running under you and out the front before letting go sending you soaring towards the clouds like that famous cartoon mutt for which the maneuver was named.
And finally the Launch!
At the very apex of your swing you would loosen your butt from the seat and let go of the chains hurtling into the great beyond. If you lived you would pick yourself up and head to some other game. The launch was the finisher for playing on the swings.
My elementary school had huge tractor tires filled with sand approximately twenty feet from the swing-sets. The goal obviously for the launch was to time it just right not too much height for just the right forward motion to launch towards and hopefully land inside the tires. Most of the time you just rebounded off the side with a sickening smack.
One fabled time I was already airborne when the nearly sixty year old Duty Teacher or Recess Guardian or what ever she was called came rushing over to help an injured jumper. There was no way to avoid the mid-air collision as I slammed into her actually landing briefly on her shoulders like some twisted circus acrobatic stunt before sending us into a pile of mangled bodies. I actually cracked her hip and had to send flowers and an apology letter to her at the hospital and she had to use a cane for a while. I got into trouble like never before from my dad (my butt still hurts if I think about it) and it quickly became legend on the playground. Wow did you see the time when NLogan took out Mrs. So-and-So?
Never played much on the see-saw except to run across the top. I realize why they got rid of it though as I recall the grisly injuries inflicted by exposed bolts and pinching possibilities, and the unwary kid backing into and under a girl on the down swing catching him cleanly on top of the head and knocking him cold. Hmmm... that may have been the first unconscious person I had ever seen, either that or the time some kid playing soccer ran full-boot tilt into the soccer post of the goal while looking back for the pass. Talk about a goose-egg.
Rocking Horse or Wobbler or whatever
Metal animal of fun bouncing and rocking playfully. Remember to go with the rock or your nose will kiss the back of it's head or neck every time. The spring was also another pincher for little fingers.
Man I was lord of the jungle gym, and we took king of the mountain to dangerously new levels of shoving off the top goodness. They even came in varieties like this cool submarine.
Or something I like to call the Thunderdome.
If there was a fight after school and your dome was big enough it was the designated place for your own cage match. "Two men enter; one man leaves". Check out these two ruffians planning on taking out the kid with the bubbles that has defiled the Thunderdome.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome!
Monkey bars tag was the rage at my school where several sets were wielded together with the uneven bars. I could skip one, two, and even three bars with blinding speed. You never tried to skip four or you would hit your head when your arms were stretched parallel to the ground. We would even run across the tops (not for the faint hearted)but woe unto the child who slipped and forgot to dive to the side. Not only did he rack his goods on the bar but then plummets six feet to the ground usually head first.
Some girls I knew used to do this thing called a cherry drop where they would hang by there knees upside down and swing backward and flip to the ground with no hands. Definite neck injury possibilities for the unpracticed.
Metal Tubeslides actually sucked for sliding down as you hit each riveted or wielded joint with your back but were great for climbing up.
Metal slides after sitting in the sun's hot rays all day and absorbing enough solar radiation to make their surfaces around 2000 degrees Fahrenheit could easily boil the skin right off a kid. Here is a fat one so you and your buddy can get searing burns at the same time!
Roller-slides another one that wasn't all that much fun to go down unless you were pretending to be beef at the butchers, but fun to try and run up. Injuries galore as you face plant into the rollers and try desperately to grab on pinching your fingers into the rollers.
One playground I frequented had a THREE story rocket ship with slide and command deck with helm. I don't think any new playgrounds have structures that are three stories high. I remember we would climb up the outside and sit on the cone, hmmm... maybe that is why they are not around anymore.
Here is a rocket ship reentry capsule slide.
Some playgrounds had surplus warplanes with wielded shut parts and fuselages you could climb through. One had a slide going out of the cockpit. Talk about imagination starter. Just been shot down by an enemy fighter, eject Goose eject! This is the only picture I could find of one. Concrete
Playgrounds had these great concrete play-structures that usually had a network of tunnels under them. I loved exploring them. When mom yelled time to go you would hide in them and plan to bivouac there until doomsday until being yanked out by an angry parent on all fours who crawled in after you.
Concrete slides where fun to run up but unless you had cardboard murder to go down.
Left over construction parts were all the rage and I clearly remember giant concrete pipes as part of any playground worth its salt.
We were even introduced to abstract art with concrete sculpture. Granted this is a pic of a new plastic one but they made all sorts out of concrete even weird space animals (see the next picture). I remember walls riddled with holes and monkey bars between them like a giant swiss cheese maze.
The blocks in the foreground of this picture could be wood or concrete depending on the playground. They made for hours of Q*bert tag fun. Wood
Wooden playgrounds were the best! Whether you were pretending to be in a fort as a medieval knight or a prisoner of war in a prison camp hut. The possibilities were endless.
Made from telephone poles, logs, and railroad ties they were the stuff childhoods are made from.
One downside though, the three inch splinter.
Bask in the glory of all of their woody goodness, it was like a tree hut or club house gone haywire, the stuff of dreams.
This is what I called the boogie-board. It may be called a balance table or some other lame name. I do not know the actual function of the board but these two gents are demonstrating the way we played out our American Gladiator fantasies.
Wooden launch ramp. Great for jumping off of or hiding under for cool shade to dig in. Tires
Most playgrounds had old tires to play on.
Check out this tire ramp to climb up.
The tire swing where you could be spun in circles so fast and tight that if you puked it would actually hit you in the face as you spun around the next time.
Buried Tire Bridges a must have for any cool playground.Ropes, Nets, Cables, and Wire
Climbing up the cargo net.
Various spiderweb type designs to test any fledgling Spider-man.
One of my favorite park playgrounds of all time is Liberty Park. It was even in a film "Revenge of the Ninja" where Sho Kosugi and an off duty cop beat the tar out of a bunch of goons on the playground right where I once played. The park even had a huge ball room to play in. The park was awesome, the only pictures I could find were these lousy screen shots from the movie.
The playground had THREE story cargo nets! You could tumble all the way down and then climb back up. Just don't catch an ankle in the rope.
There were huge suspension bridges!
It even had this awesome zipline cable that started on a ramp then dropped off and joined another ramp on the other side for a total distance of about 100 feet. There were actually long lines formed just to ride the thing and it was free!
The closest thing on a new playground is a flying fox on a fixed track that slides for all of 8 feet and has a sudden grip loosening jolt when you slam into the end.
Well I have gone on long enough, or just run out of pictures shamelessly stolen from the interweb.
The playgrounds of my day may be dangerously rusty kid torture devices but I had a lot of fun playing on them. Anyways what kid didn't proudly display his playtime injuries or scraped knees knowing he was going to have some cool scabs to pick later. Newer, Safer, Maybe so. But, if you ask me the playground designs of today are going down the tube.