The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Going Dutch

March 19, 2014

SPRAGGING can save your life - Part 1

- — You don’t question the words you learn as a child; you respond to them. So, when I was a kid flying down a steep hill with a bunch of friends on a sled in my coal cracker hometown of Shamokin, Northumberland County, and a car or a dog or a tree suddenly appeared before us, someone would shout, “Sprag!”

Every kid on that sled then thrust their feet out into the snow and spragged for all they were worth. And if we were lucky, we got the sled stopped in time. To sprag is to brake, with as much haste as possible, by slamming your feet against the ground and wearing the tread off your shoes. We did a lot of spragging on our sleds, but it also came in handy on our bikes, especially when the brakes didn’t work so well.

And I seem to remember that it was the back-up system in event of (the frequent) mechanical problems with the soap box racers that my brother and his friends built. With those little speeders, the braking system usually consisted of a two-by-two stick of lumber nailed near the back tires. When you rammed the stick against a tire, in theory, the friction would slow and eventually stop the spinning of the wheel. In theory.

But steep hills and speeding race cars have a way of toying with theory, so it was good to have Plan B as close as the soles of your sneakers. “Sprag! Sprag!” they’d shout to each other when a brake broke off and went flying uselessly through the air.

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