The Day the Bulldog Gobbled my Radio Flyer

Like so many of the lads of the depression era I too had a red wagon,  still famous even today it was a Radio Flyer.

The 1930’s version made quite a mark in the American landscape of the  day and was a hot seller and has now been in production for over 70 years.   I was given mine on my birthday , either the 6th or the 7th I can’t be sure which. There are only a few marks that help me remember. We lived on a steep hill and I was forbidden from riding the wagon down the hill cause it was really scary and mom got mad when my shoes were torn up during braking so I had to take a less direct route to the sidewalk in front of dads grocery store at 303 Nickerson street about 3 blocks away. That side of Nickerson street was very busy and included a lot of interesting places and ‘the happenings’ in my preteen years. Street cars and traffic from Ballard  going to the Fremont Bridge and Westlake and Dexter Avenues provided lots of activity. There was room to park my wagon outside while I went in the store to see what was going on or to put something in the wagon to take home to mom. In the same few blocks of the street was the Dairy Daisy creamery where Rosie would fix me a hamburger and a malted milk for a quarter. There was Trott ‘s Coal yard, and Blitz funeral home and NAWICO Winery that always added a spicy sour scent to the street. And next to dad’s store was Canal Motors a, car repair shop where the floor was always greasy black with cars tilted up so George and Len could get under them to work. There was a small office in the front, next to the big slide up door, with a window where a friendly lady worked.

My dad’s store was the center of a lot of neighborhood activity and I spent quite a bit of time either in or around the store. I learned a lot of new things like throwing a piece of carrot at a customers dog without being seen by the customer when it tried to enter the folded back doors and lift its leg. And how customers would get together and chat on the corner with the window and if I was lucky I got to share in some special thing they were bragging about. I especially remember one time that a man had a tin of some creamy candy-like sweet from Sweden that he allowed me a sliver of! Wow! was it so good I wanted more of that! I often looked for this product over my lifetime but never again found it.

At that time peanut butter came in a big barrel with a push down lever faucet stuck in the end and there was always a drip that I would wipe off with my finger after dad filled someones Mason jar or a little white paper bucket with a wire handle.  The peanut butter wasn’t creamy like it is today but more oily and runny!  The smell of the peanut oil overpowered the back room which was sort of lucky since you wouldn’t really notice the smell from  the toilet stuck way back in the far corner of the pie shaped store. Another barrel held BIG pickles but it had a heavy wood cover over it. There were traps back there as well I remember as well as the distinctive smell of mice!!

Dad would cut customers pieces of cheese off a big round cake that had a sort of cloth over it’s outside and there was a big glass dome that covered the stand and the knife and the cheese and it was all on top of the glass case that had sauerkraut (yuk) and potato salad inside with a lot of other thins to eat where they were kept cold.

On the East wall of the store was Stan Parker’s Meat market and the butchers would pull big halves of cow and pigs out of the walk in freezer ( I was NOT to ever go in there) and after whipping the knife back and forth real fast on a “steel” would cut as big or as little a chunk of meat as the customer wanted , weight it and wrap the meat in white paper and tie it with white string . I remember lots of big livers and tongues and there were fish of different kinds. Chickens were hung on hooks on a bar over the top of the big meat case, and turkeys when it was thanksgiving and if you wanted the butcher would take the feathers off along with the head.

I used to race my wagon along the street in front of the store and across the front of the car repair shop and clear to the end of the building with the winery in it. I would kneel with my right leg in the wagon and push with my left leg while steering with my right hand and really fly! To get going faster I would go up the side hill at the end of the store to the alley and come costing  down whip to the right around the corner and then pumping my leg like crazy would race with the traffic of cars and trucks along Nickerson street.

One day I had made several successful runs down the hill around the corner and clear to the far East end of the building setting new records in my mind for driving a Radio Flyer. I was so ‘pumped’ that I went a little farther up the hill and as I whipped around the corner I pumped a lot harder and got going really fast but then in an instant the Radio Flyer turned to the left just as I got to the driveway for the door of Canal Motors and I was spilled out onto my side and Radio Flyer righted itself and shot straight out into the street and was gobbled instantly by a big red bulldog, a coffin nose Mack Truck!  I could see as I got to my feet that the hard rubber front tire of the truck had squashed  my wagon right in the middle!

I stood there stunned at what had happened to my wagon as people including the driver gathered around the ‘Bulldog asking “Where’s the kid?”. The lady from the shop who had a front row seat from her office window came out, put her arm around my shoulder and said “Here he is!” So after extracting  the crushed Radio Flyer from under the right front tire and placing it  on the parking strip the driver climbed back into the Bulldog’s open cab and traffic got moving again. Someone went in the store and soon my dad came out and told me that it was to bad about the wagon and he was glad I was OK.

I suppose the tale was told in a veriety of places and ways that evening but for the last 70 years it has remained a mental video of great detail engraved in my memory.

I got another Radio Flyer soon after that and it lasted a very long time being used by my brother and sister and various other of the neighbor hood kids but I don’t have any memories quite like from my time as a radio Flyer racer.

One comment

  1. What a great story. I just happened along this picture when searching Google images and saw a picture of the wagon pictured above. i own that actual wagon and recognized the picture! I too have fond memories of my childhood wagon which made me start collecting them about twenty years ago. The wagon above actually has some history behind it and was featured in Playmakes magazine! It is one of my prize possessions! thanks again for your inspiring story!

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