The “sweet little girls” sitting on the playground device we simply called the “glider” doesn’t exactly tell the story of this dangerous piece of playground equipment.


When I started attending Forman Grade School in the fall of 1955 I was introduced to the “Glider” which was basically a giant version of the two-person glider swing that is included in most modern prepackaged swing sets.  The glider was one of the most choice spots for playground activity and was almost exclusively a “Boy” item. In fact the girls in the accompanying picture probably heard hard running boys sliding to a stop in the gravel mutter out loud, “There’s girls on it!”

During most recesses the glider was usually “possessed” by the oldest group of boys who wanted to play on it and the ones actually riding the glider were either the fastest or strongest or else they would have been waiting at the side for someone to get off.

  When the older kids were out for recess, all of the younger kids could only watch, but whether it was the oldest or youngest didn’t matter, when the glider was full, the main goal was to get the contraption going so high that support bars would “bang the stops.”  

Not being good at physics in grade school and since then never overcoming that deficiency I am unable to figure the amount of force exerted against the glider’s mechanisms.  I was going to use the word, “safety mechanisms” but I am sure the glider had absolutely no safety mechanisms.

Kids would stake a claim to a portion of the glider and once set everyone in unison would lean forward and as what little forward motion was generated stopped the gang in unison would lean the other way.  After each set of “leans” the glider’s cycle of movement became longer and longer.  There was a substantial framework around the glider, but once the motion began the glider would protrude several feet from each end as it reached the maximum travel limits. I once saw a kid walk in front of the glider which happened to be on the backswing only to get airmailed a few feet because he hadn’t cleared the flight path on the glider’s return trip. The riders would lean and return until the glider would drive upward to the point where there wasn’t any travel left and it hit the stops, causing the whole thing to shudder.  After the glider banged the stops it arced earthward again, everyone on the thing started to prepare to shift their weight the opposite way in order for the glider to hit the stops as it arced upward on the backswing too.  We had all adapted to the extremely sudden change of direction that banging against the stops caused.   Before long there was a constant “clunk, clunk, clunk” as the glider banged back and forth loaded with a bunch of smiling, sweating and happy grade school boys.  Each bang against the stops of the glider fully loaded with riders had to exert extreme pressure on all the joints and supports.


I don’t know how old the glider was, but it seemed like it was pretty old the first time I rode on it. Earl said that our Dad once told him the he and Bert Hill put the glider together from a “kit” the school had purchased from a playground equipment supplier. Dad’s involvement meant that the glider had to have been purchased after 1944 when my parents moved to Manito. By the time I remember it the wood platform and seat was weathered and pretty old and splintered. The splintering wasn’t something you would appreciate if you were sliding back and forth while sitting on the wooden center part.  The metal was a permanent pitted rust color. The most glaring problem was that a bolt at one connection that joined the swing bars with the glider had broken and fallen out.  When the glider was being used in a “playful” mode it was safe and the broken bolt didn’t cause much concern. On the other hand, when an all out attempt to hit the stops was made with a glider loaded with kids, the stress created a gap between the bars at the connection site of the broken bolt.   On the opposite point of the travel cycle the bar would “snap back” into position until the glider returned.  Contributing to the potential danger was the fact that standing next to and holding onto one of the four vertical bars was the most desired spots on the glider.


One day when we were on the glider, my friend  was standing up holding onto the vertical bar which had the broken bolt.  Everyone knew about the bars separating, even the teachers, but in the time before detailed liability disclaimers and people willing to sue over spilled coffee, the only thing done was to warn everyone to be careful.  The glider became full of boys and of course we wanted to start hitting the stops.  We were working hard shifting our weight back and forth.  The glider moved a little higher each time as the riders became more and more in sync with each other’s movements.  Soon we were hitting on all cylinders and before long we just knew we were going to be banging against the stops. All of a sudden everyone was frozen by a blood curdling scream of someone in intense pain.  My friend either forgot or just hadn’t paid attention to the fact that the bar bowed out on the upswing. He hadn’t noticed  his thin second grader arm about to drop into the little space between the two bars.  On the glider’s backswing, the bar as always snapped back into place, except this time, my friend’s arm was still in the way.  I don’t remember if his arm had been stuck, or if it had come out on the next trip upwards before we could get the glider stopped, it didn’t matter, my friend was in agony.  To stop the glider in a hurry during mid-flight required all the riders to “lean against” the movement of the glider instead of leaning into the movement.  The bigger and stronger the kids on the glider were, the faster the glider could be stopped.  Unfortunately for my friend, several 2nd graders couldn’t offer too much emergency resistance to stop the glider. Amos Thompson came out and led my friend back into the school and took him to his office to call his parents.  As luck would have it, my friend hurt himself on the rare day that his parents had gone somewhere during the middle part of the day. My friend’s dad, a bus driver, had to return to drive kids home from school later in the day and until then they were “out”.  From before noon until the end of school my friend wasn’t able to see a doctor without parental consent, so he laid his head on his good arm, moaned softly and cried the entire afternoon waiting for someone to come to his aid.  It was hard for Ruth Burks to teach a class load of 7 year olds who were suffering in “sympathetic pain” while listening to results of the real pain that my friend was going through.


I can’t remember how long it took, but finally the old glider was retired and probably scrapped.  In today’s world, a safety expert would have looked at that old piece of playground equipment and have all the school officials arrested for allowing anyone to play on it.  Not only was the broken bar a problem, even in perfect operating condition, the glider was far from being safe.  If a kid fell off as the glider banged against the stops, the glider would soon be coming back to hit him on the backswing.  Not only being injured from the drop to the hard packed gravel ground, the glider loaded with boys probably had as much punch as a medieval battering ram coming back for more.  When the glider was really going, the heads of the people riding on it passed by the side and overhead support bars fairly closely and getting their skulls smashed against the bars was always a potential vicious injury. Although many kids “grazed” their heads, my friend was the only serious glider injury that I remember.  My brother  Earl also remembers that occasionally someone would stand or walk in front of the glider and get knocked off of their feet by the battering ram motion of the glider.  The ends of the glider were equipped with old tires to add a little cushioning to the ends.  All in all even if in pristine condition the glider was full of what industrial safety experts call “pinch points,” and other hazards but it was one of our favorite “play things” the danger just never crossed our minds.

Ken Lacey,
Sep 16, 2017, 12:38 PM