Cruising town to peruse curbside art during our city’s annual clean-up week that begins April 10, I wondered, where have all the rattling, rolling Radio Flyers gone?
I had a hand-me-down Radio Flyer wagon when I was a kid in beautiful Wessington Springs.
My wagon was the ideal platform for floats or pet containers in kiddy parades, soda pop bottle collecting missions, downhill racing, little brother watching, hauling groceries home from the store, and tipped on their sides just as Custer’s Seventh Cavalry horses had been trained to do, protective armor during neighborhood green apple or rock fights.
A quick reconnaissance through any flatland town will probably fail to uncover even one of those little red wagons probably now standing and rusting away in the purgatory we call The Landfill.
You’ll see a plethora of curbside plastic playthings, most made in China. But the little red wagon made of American steel by American workers has apparently coasted slowly into oblivion, denying today’s children one of the outdoor delights of childhood.
My Radio Flyer was well worn as a secondhand Christmas gift by the time it came into my care. Standing rainwater had rusted through the wagon box in places, leaving sharp edges to be avoided by bare feet when coasting down a hill.
Shiny, factory-made cotter pins that originally held the wheels on firmly were long gone and had been replaced by bent nails. The hubcaps, of course, were always the first to spin off into oblivion. My wagon’s tongue was slightly bent from collisions with trees and concrete retaining walls.
But even with that handicap, I felt fortunate to have a tongue on my machine. Some kids had to use a frayed old rope or piece of baling wire to pull their Radio Flyers.
My little red wagon was a constant companion. It introduced me to the concept of caring for and maintaining property. I learned all about the proclivities of oil and grease while applying liberal doses of both to the front wheel pivot pin and all four wheels and axels.
I used engine oil I was able to coax from mostly empty and discarded quart oil cans in the garbage piles behind the Co-Op Station. The less ubiquitous grease was rescued from some of the moving parts on our old car, swiping my finger across the dirt-encased globs yearning to be free.
You’ll seldom see kids proudly pulling metal Radio Flyers around town anymore. Most of today’s toy wagons are immune to rain water rust and have no need for cotter pins, pivot bolts, Co-Op oil or flivver grease. The Radio Flyers of my generation are gone forever.
Those wagons, first made in the Radio Flyer plant in Chicago in 1917, are no longer stamped “Made in the USA.” They’re now made in China, which also makes most of what is in your house, on your person and in your child’s toy box today.
Maybe President Trump can negotiate bringing the Radio Flyer wagon back home as he remodels the proposed trade accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership.
If you’d like to comment, email the author at [email protected].