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Pulling the Red Wagon Down Memory Lane

Wednesday 05 July 2017 at 02:19 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 29, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            It’s funny what you think about on your 83rd birthday! I am writing this on my 83rd, and my thoughts are “long, long” thoughts, like a child’s thoughts. “And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,” so said Henry W. Longfellow in his poem, “My Lost Youth.” Racing around in my head this afternoon are images of the red wagon my parents gave my twin brother and me on our third birthday, but my memories of the wagon do not begin until we were five, and don’t stop until we were about thirteen.

            You can’t tell from the old photographs, and I don’t remember the brand, but I think it was a bright red, Radio Flyer metal wagon. I say that, because plastic wasn’t invented yet, and wooden Liberty Wagons were sold in the 1920’s, the first metal wagon not on the market until 1927. We first enjoyed our red wagon in 1939, the year World War II began, so my parents, having purchased it in 1937, before steel became an essential war material.

            My brother Ralph and I played with this wagon daily, endlessly, as it was very versatile. One day, we’d put a plank across it for a wing, sit on the plank and fly what we considered our open cockpit airplane. Smiling Jack from the comics was our hero, and he flew an open cockpit plane, with both a single wing and a double wing. My mother had Kodak photographs of us in the wagon, wearing our aviator caps, which were very popular winter caps during that era. I think every boy in Dime Box wanted to be an airplane pilot in those days, especially after a double-winged plane landed in a corn field one day.

            On other days, it was a locomotive, and we tried to drag other things behind it. We didn’t live too far from the train tracks, and trains zipping through town were the most exciting thing that happened during the day (the plane landing was once in fifty years; the A & M Aggie Band marching through downtown Dime Box was a once in a lifetime event). Trains went by every day, and our father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, so we knew a lot about trains and railroads. Our Radio Flyer became our Cannonball Express. We even learned some of the old railroad songs from my father; however, he was not an engineer, he helped keep the rails in good running order. Next to aviators, in those days, railroad engineers were a boy’s greatest heroes.

            But the red wagon is pulled on throughout history. When our daughters were little, we bought them a red wagon, as much like the one I had as I could remember, and we literally wore its wheels off. I used to put both girls in the wagon and pull them around and around the block, around and around two or three blocks, and then when we got back to our driveway, the older one would say, “More, Daddy, more!” (I’m not sure the younger one could talk yet at that point in time).

            So, here I’d go again, pulling the two of them around the block again and again, until I was so tired I had to sit down. As soon as I would stand up came the cry again, “More, Daddy, more!” Actually I kind of enjoyed this, especially since it was a way I could get out of mowing the lawn without feeling guilty. They put our cats in the wagon to ride with them, but the cats would leap out, though Genie, the part Siamese, would stay in the doll buggy when my daughter pushed her. What delightful memories these are on my 83rd birthday!

            And the red wagon goes on, and is pulled some more. When two granddaughters came along, the wagon was resuscitated, and once again, I pulled two little girls in the red wagon around and around the block, only this time, the horse (now an old mule) ran out of get up and go and collapsed after a couple laps. Fortunately, the older granddaughter loved to be the horse and pull the younger one, giving me some respite. It was during this time that the wheels literally wore off the wagon. Recently, my wife and one of those granddaughters are turning the now wheel-less wagon into a fairy garden. What delightful memories on my 83rd birthday!

            In 1999, the Radio Flyer Wagon was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong, in Rochester, New York. When you think of how many other children played with those wagons as my brother and I did, and how many fathers pulled their daughters, and sons, around the block in a Radio Flyer, steel or plastic, and how many Grandpas pulled delighted grandchildren down the street and around the corner in them, the great red wagon does indeed deserve to be placed in the National Toy Hall of Fame. “The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.” And the thoughts of old men are long, long thoughts. Especially on their birthday.


Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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