Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sled Riding Nirvana

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

Byersdale, like most towns in our valley, was built on a steep hillside. That made it an ideal place for winter sledding. We knew a number of good spots.

Just across our street was an old farm house – perhaps the oldest house in the village. The farm was gone but there was still a good sized lot in back. The lot stretched about 200 feet up a steep grade to McCabe Street. Close to the top was an apple tree. There may have been a small pine tree at the bottom of the slope, but besides that and the apple tree, the only vegetation was closely cropped grass.

Just behind the house was a brick retaining wall, then a two foot drop to a sidewalk along the back wall of the house.

To get a long ride, we pulled our sleds all the way up to McCabe Street - but it was just as fun to start at the apple tree. At the end of the slide, we would steer sharply and drag our legs to pull up short of the retaining wall.

Every winter, one or two amateurs would sail over the wall and into the back of the house. Mrs. Vann or her daughter would come out, alarmed; to see if anyone needed medical attention. I don’t remember any serious injuries. Mrs. Vann did have to nurse several knotted heads.

When we got older, we sought out more challenging slopes. Streets were inviting, but they were usually plowed bare and cindered. Or they would be congested with struggling cars, wheels spinning, engines whining, tail pipes sputtering.

Winter roads were too dangerous for a child on a sled.

Just at the corner of Anthony Wayne Drive and Essex Street, a steep winding path led down into Legionville Hollow. The path twisted its way through dense woods for perhaps a quarter mile, ending at a private road.

Those familiar with Byersdale may remember a property back over the ridge called “Uncle Bill’s Farm”. “Uncle Bill” wasn’t an uncle of anyone we knew and for that matter, his name may not have been “Bill”.

Anyway, the private road connected Legionville Hollow Road with Bill’s Farm. At regular intervals of 30 yards or so, Bill had posted professionally printed signs - “Keep out”, No trespassing”, “No Hunting” and like welcoming messages.  Local lore had it that Bill fired rock salt at trespassers with his 20-gauge, so the signs only completed the task of intimidation. We dared not venture too far up Bill’s drive.

We rode our sleds all the way from the corner at the top of Byersdale down to Bill’s drive, a distance as I have said, of about a quarter mile, over rough terrain and around large trees. It was a lot of fun if you made it to the bottom in one piece. But to start over, you had to walk all the way back, slipping and sliding and pulling a sled.

Fortunately, we had a third place nearby that wasn’t anyone’s back yard and didn’t involve a long trek back to Point A.

When we were kids a bridge carried Duss Avenue over Legionville Hollow (along about 1980, the bridge was replaced with culvert and fill). Legionville Hollow Road used to take a sharp left turn and descend to Legionville creek parallel with the bridge.

Well, along came Progress and a new road as straight as the crow flies replaced Old Legionville Road. The portion of the road that went down over the hill to the creek was bypassed entirely but fortunately found a new life as a place for neighborhood kids to sled.

We would build a big fire at the top of the hill, stay warm and sled way past sundown. The roadway was in good condition. We could create icy conditions within about 30 minutes after a snow by walking up and down the hill trailing our sleds.

Old Legionville Hill was smooth, straight, steep and fast. There was no traffic. Nobody complained if we built a roaring fire. Homeowners and reclusive landowners remained undisturbed.

Sled riding Nirvana – we had found it - under, of all places, the Legionville Bridge.


  1. We had a road like old Legionville..Merriman Road. Merriman Road runs from Ridge Road Extension down a long winding hill to Sewickley Creek Road at Stone Bridge. Leaving Ridge Road Ext., just past Longvue Circle, there are eight houses on the hill until you hit the woods. The pavement stops at the beginning of the woods. There were two houses in the wooded part before you hit nothing but woods on the side of the road for about a mile...almost all downhill. The road was not used much once it steal Bob's wording: Sled riding Nirvana. About a quarter mile or so down the hill the road leveled off. That was the sled riding area. Economy Borough never plowed or salted the road and we kids loved it. At the bottom of the hill was an old driveway that used to lead into the woods. Years ago there was a house up the hill from the junction of the driveway and Merriman Road. There was a sheer cliff about 20 feet high of shale that made a perfect backdrop for the flames of our sled-riding fire. In those days, no matter where you went sled-riding, you had to have a blazing fire. The Dziabiaks lived where the last driveway connected to the road. Mr. Dziabiak worked for a car dealer that always had junk cars sitting around in his lot. He provided many car hoods for us to load 6 to 8 guys on to slide down the hill. It was a great time to be had spending all day Saturday or Sunday sled-riding down that hill, getting warm by the fire, and just being kids.

    1. jd aka john domansky

      i found this road in about 1996, went to fair oaks cemetery & wanted to go up to the ambridge cemtery, mom was down below by stone bridge dad was up that road, the big van dodge big engine, i said hon instead of going all the way around, to ambridge then up to the cemetery, i will try this road, merriman, there were deep ruts & water runoffs that cut deep, van was high & i started up, much to wifes dismay, i made it, with room to spare. from then on, come to ambridge from chicago go to fair oaks stop in to see frances otrahalic at 16 ambridge ave,( met her daughter & son in law on ebay buying ambridge postcards) cousin on moms side. they fed me in hungry years. as did the brecks on 15th & duss, moms sis too. gerard breck built model planes big ones. last saw them in baden, cousin millie Otrahalic lived there until she died a few years ago, she & dom owned Romas on 15th & duss. great food. great family. moms other sis lived in st paul, she sponsered mom & dad. born in st paul 1932 dec