Summer and the Evolution of the Skateboard

Jul 9, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Contributors, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

Check out the coupon for the Reedley Sandwich Shop at the end of this article.

Heat parched soil, thirsty plants bought for reasons unknown as this gardening hobby is new to me, constantly moving the hose or the sprinkler—it must be summer. One thing working in your yard does, it brings you closer to your neighborhood. School is out and the boys down the street are playing half-court basketball in the road. The couple around the corner pushes their twins’ stroller around the block while walking their dogs. A girl on a skateboard with an I-Pod plugged into her earphones has made at least four laps around the block, swaying to the music as she dodges ruts, potholes, obstacles and practices improving her balance and skill.

Old roller skates

FLASHBACK!! Creeping out of my subconscious comes the evolution of the skateboard. You may remember one on the Flintstones, but mine goes back before television. It all started with a pair of cheap roller skates.
In those days the shoe of choice was called KEDS®. These were black canvas tennis shoes with white rubber soles and shoe laces. A universal shoe used for general P.E., basketball and great to kick around in for every day.
Most of us couldn’t afford professional roller skates—those lace-up boots attached to wheels that you rented at the roller rink—we had a pair of metal contraptions that adjusted to the length of your shoe. They were held on by a strap around your ankle and a metal adjustable clamp around the toe of your shoe. The wheels were steel, offering minimal traction and no one ever thought to oil the bearings.
Then there was a very important piece that made it all work. You sometimes find them strung on a string in an old cigar box along with the “I Like IKE” buttons—a skate key! This universal tool was used to adjust and tighten the skate so it fit the shoe. Unfortunately my Keds weren’t the best shoes to skate in because the fluctuation in the rubber sole could be disastrous.

Skate keys

Sooner or later the toe of your tennis shoe was going to slip out of the metal toe clamp. There was no getting away from it and the likely catastrophe that could occur if you were going around a tight curve or down a hill with this sharp, unforgiving piece of metal strapped around your ankle. Most kids of my era can share their experiences of road rash accompanied by little pieces of dirt and asphalt embedded in the knees. Eventually the skates ended up in a corner of the garage to rest in peace or at least until the next time a kid was bored and had a bright idea.
Kids of my era were very, very good at recycling, long before it became a household word. For this story, all you needed was an old skate, a couple of two-by-fours, a bunch of nails and short piece of lath (lath is a piece of wood used to hold plaster to a wall before sheetrock). A four-foot piece of two-by-four makes a good footrest.

Disassemble the skate and secure the back wheels to one end of the board and the front wheels to the other end. Then you take a three-foot-long piece of two-by-four and nail it upright at a 90o angle at the front end. It looks like a big “L”. The short piece of lath makes a good handlebar when nailed to the vertical two-by-four. You now have the perfect roller skate scooter.

Board skooter

There are a few things you learn when riding this type of scooter. First of all, the front wheels don’t turn like a modern skateboard does, so you have to lean in the direction you want to go. You may also need to add some more nails for extra strength. Plus, with the second skate, you can make another scooter for your best buddy. There is an example of a roller skate scooter in the Reedley Museum that uses an apple crate for the handlebar.
The luxury of listening to music while riding a scooter was way in the future. The only “portable” radios at the time were very bulky and heavy and even a car radio was considered a luxury.
I whiled away many a summer’s afternoon on my scooter, just like my own two kids did on their skateboards. My wife, on the other hand, wore black and white oxfords with her skates and rarely had her skates fall off.
If you’re looking for a cool place to ride your modern skate board-Print this coupon and take to the Reedley Sandwich Shop:

Jim Bulls is a contributor to our Hometown History section, being a charter member of the Reedley Historical Society; he also restores vintage cars.

1 Comment

  1. Please some body answer. Our bunch of boys in the 1930’s made roller skate wheels A two part scooter did not name it at that time. Used and apple box nailed on the front end of a three foot 2 by 4. Under the 2 by 4 we nail the front part of the roller skate to the front of the t 2 by 4 and the back part of the skate to the rear of the 2 by 4 and on top of the apple box nail a piece of a broom handle to the top of the apple box for holding on and steering. If you would give me your e mail address I will send you a live picture and am making more as I gather more boxes. Jim Please answer.


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