Tobogganing, the winter sport of children sliding down snow-covered slopes in parks and back streets, had a different meaning in Spokane in the 1880s. The tobogganing season meant the ground had finally frozen and a layer of snow had been laid so commercial tugs could get into the forest to haul logs and travel to far-flung areas to pick up cargo from horse-drawn carts with much less effort.
That’s because during the fall months, most of the dirt and dirt roads were sticky mud that many horses and wagons could not handle. Likewise, the spring thaw would make the roads impassable again.
A Spokesman Review story dated December 17, 1889, told of five men who left Spokane in four large sleighs, each pulled by four horses, to the Old Dominion Mines in Colville Land, 90 miles away. They carried provisions for a nine-day journey and planned to return from the mines laden with tons of lead and silver ore. For many remote mines, tobogganing was the only way to get the ore from the hinterland.
An 1894 short message in The Spokesman Review stated that the January cold snap made it possible to sledge firewood to Garfield, Washington, just as the city ran out of supplies.
A March 1897 news bulletin from Rockford, Washington, said that after an overnight light snowfall, freight transport teams “are rushing in all directions, drivers know that an hour of sunshine will bring everything to a standstill”.
The term “hard tobogganing” or “rough tobogganing” meant facing adverse conditions, be it in the business world or in politics.
Recreational sledding was mentioned several times in The Spokesman-Review or Chronicle in the late 1890s, usually referring to “coasters” in the streets.
An 1898 news story stated that the city had no ordinance against tobogganing other than the rule against blocking roads. The city had considered an ordinance against tobogganing, but councilors were reluctant to punish children for their fun.
The message said, “If every little boy in town was fined $ 25 in the city coffers every time he drove down one of the streets or sidewalks, the community would never have to collect taxes and could incidentally pay dividends counting.”