#980 Old, dangerous playground equipment


Slides used to be dangerous.

After climbing up those sandy, metal crosstrax steps you got to the top and stared down at that steep ride below. The slide was burning hot to the touch, a stovetop set to high all day under the summer sun, just waiting to greet the underside of your legs with first-degree burns as you enjoyed the ride. It also smelled like hot pee, years of nervous children with leaky diapers permanently marking it as their territory. Lastly, to top it all off, there were no cute plastic siderails or encapsulated tube-slides, which meant that if you went too fast or aimed your legs poorly, your shoes would grip-skid on the metal, and you’d spill over the side, landing face down with a sickening thud in a bed of pebbles, cigarette butts, and milk thistles.

World of Unimaginable DizzinessIt wasn’t just slides, either. Everything in the playground was more dangerous. And they were different and unique, seemingly put together by the neighborhood handymen who in a burst of creative energy one Saturday morning emptied their garages of old tires, 2x4s, and chains and just nailed it all together.

There were wooden tightrope beams suspended high in the air, daring the confident, athletic kids to attempt a slow, heart-pounding highwire walk while other kids encouragingly showered them with handfuls of sand and pine cones.

There were fire poles two stories high — just a cheap, simple pole planted deep in the ground. It was popular, and educational too, quietly introducing children to concepts like gravity, friction, and badly sprained ankles. There was a certain Fire Pole Form too, a kind of arms-on, cross-legged-spider-wrap maneuver that was both awkward and majestic at the same time.

PerfectAnd of course, there was my favorite — the Big Spinner, also known as a Merry-Go-Round, but not the kind with lights and plastic horses going up and down. This was just a giant metal circle that laid about a foot off the ground and could be spun, usually by someone standing beside it. If you were lucky you’d get a pile of kids on there and somebody’s mom or dad would kindly whip you into a World of Unimaginable Dizziness. A couple kids would fly off from the G-forces but most would hang on, teeth gritted, eyes squinted, cheeks flapping wildly against the wind, until the Big Spinner reluctantly came to a slow stop and finally let you off. Then you’d all walk away in different directions, some kids hitting tree trunks head on, others falling down nearby hills.

These days those classic playgrounds sure are hard to come by.

Safe and aloneEverything is plastic now — unaffected by temperature, easy to disinfect, and bendable into all kinds of Safe-T-Shapes, the sharp, rusty nail heads of yesterday replaced with non-toxic washable adhesives poured from a cauldron of polymers and Purell. Now not only are our kids getting lame baby-approved fun, but just think what we’re doing to the tetanus shot industry.

Seriously though, new playgrounds sure are terrible. This guy agrees. They say that playgrounds have gotten too safe and become so sterile and boring that kids just walk away from them, preferring instead to hang out in the weeds by the railroad tracks or throw bottles in the alley behind the pizza place. Kids could actually be placed in more danger by these lame plastic netherworlds that encourage more video game time instead of fresh air and bruising. Another blow to childhood struck by overprotective parents and pesky lawsuits.

Going nowhereWell, we can’t change the world, so let’s just enjoy the good news: old, fun, dangerous playgrounds are not completely extinct. Yes, the Safety Conglomerate hasn’t killed all the buzz with their rocking horses two inches off the ground, pillowy-soft imitation sand, and stationary, bolted-on steering wheels. Old, dangerous playground equipment can still be found. They’re out there.

So please — when you find monkey bars taunting you from ten feet off the ground, extended see-saws that allow for maximum elevation, and rickety, sagging rope bridges with planks missing, please, run around like crazy, bump your head a few times, and twist your ankle. Because tell me something– is there anything quite like it?


This post is in The Book of Awesome

HeavenIllustration from: here

517 thoughts on “#980 Old, dangerous playground equipment

  1. OK, so I wandered over to see what all the fuss was about and I love this place. I was having this same conversation about playground recently. Another big difference: concrete! I still have knee scars from that concrete. (Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, to provide concrete for kids who are hanging upside down 15′ above the ground?)

    Great blog!

  2. We had a kick-ass swing set at the local Public School that stood about 12 feet high with thicks chains and heavy-canvass seats. We’d get going at a good clip and have competitions to see who could jump-off the furthest. We would launch ourselves like maniacs off these things!

    One day my buddy Jamie was swinging and was at about bar-level when the chain broke on the swing-up and he was launched right onto his head – huge cocobonk and rocks inbeded in his head but he was back at it a few days later…

    I visited my old neighbourhood the other day and walked around the old haunts after supper – No children were outside playing hockey or chase or marbles – nothing.

    Man… when we were kids, the street would’ve been crowded with dozens of kids! Unfortunately, the old adage that says: “The more things change, the more they stay the same” does not apply here.

    1. We had a swing like that at our grade school.We would stick our arms out to the side and tuck up our feet as we glided down we were World War Two bombers!!! Jumping from those were great! So was kicking your shoes off!
      Until they landed on top of the school building! Once the sprinklers came on!
      Now that was fun!!

  3. AWESOME indeed.

    just reading that post reminded me of that distinct feeling of dizziness on the Merry-Go-Round – the one you felt, just before you’d hurl!

  4. They took those awesome, 3rd degree burn inducing slides out of our local park. I would have preferred my kids play on them instead of what is there…one of those plastic covered monstrosities that is such bad repair that I REFUSE to let my kids on it.

    I have fond memories of 10 kids piled on the bottom of the slide while the next kid in line tries to knock as many people into the splinter filled pile of wood chips at the bottom.

    Luckily my kids have had the chance to use rickety old slides (not the nice style like you showed, but the tall metal ones with the steps behind) that are 10 feet high and about to fall over and nothing to hold them in. My 4yo almost falling backwards off of one. They’ve played on see-saws and fallen off or slammed into the ground when their sibling decided to just jump off. They’ve gotten stuck at the top of the dome styled monkey bars and gotten sick on the merry go round and fallen off of swings onto hard dirt below (not that rubber, recycled tire covering).

    Most days I prefer the nice soft padded grounds and bizarre climbing structures (less chance of trips to the ER that we can’t afford) but I’m glad they got the experience of the old school playgrounds I grew up with.

      1. For some reason I would always go down the slide backwards and end up with a sandy head afterwords, hehe good times!

  5. Very interresting… I’ve heard about many thing like this but it’s always funny! (sorry if I didn’t write correctly this comment, I’m French ^^”)

  6. I’ll always remember the merry-go-round at my elementary school because it wasn’t level. You could ‘walk/jog’ on the inner portion of it like an uphill treadmill. The speed you could achieve was unbelievable.

    We would get the biggest kid we could find and have them ‘walk/jog’ as fast as they could, then grab a passing bar and hang on for dear life.

    This gave us 3 games in one.

    Who could hang on the longest.
    Who got thrown the farthest.
    Who took out the most innocent bystanders while airborne.

    Great memories of days gone by…

  7. I actually wound up in the ER when I was 3 because of one of those really hot metal slides. Turns out leaping up and falling head first down a flight of metal stairs is not good for your head. However even i still hate the new plastic playgrounds they suck. You also forgot the newest risk posed by old playgrounds, they found that the wood ones leak aresnic.

  8. I just got back from Copenhagen with my 2 years, so it was basically a tour of all of Denmark’s most dangerous playgrounds. Got to love the idea of “hey, lets just pull an old boat out of the harbor and make it a playground attraction” That and we found one place with a 3 story plywood castle with tunnels, a real draw bridge, rope swings, the works. I loved the 12 foot high suspension bridge made out of only change, tree branches and rope. Though one thing i really admired, most playgrounds had cafes that served wine & beer, got to love the Danes.

  9. How did those of us who grew up in 1950s-60 ever manage to reach adulthood?

    Slides? We had all-metal slides with real ladders! You young whippersnappers don’t know how good you have it! :D

    No bicycle helmets either. But my most serious injuries were a couple of skinned knees and elbows. Knee and elbow pads would have been more useful.

  10. Too true, too true. Childhood seems to have become so sterile and structured. I’m glad I got to have mine before they coated everything in plastic and got rid of “running around town unsupervised” as a favorite playtime activity. Play dates? There’s something about this expression that genuinely makes me want to smack someone. (Apologies for the rage, but seriously, it makes me feel icky.)

    There’s just one redeeming aspect of the new generation of public play technology, and that’s those plastic ball pits. Those are fun. Cool experiments for you to try:

    1) Can these things be thrown hard enough to raise welts?

    2) Is there treasure down there?

    (Hint: Yes, and, Yes!)

    1. I feel you dude, who the hell came up with play dates I mean kids can make friends on their own you don’t have to embarrass them and maybe help them earn a good bullying jeeze!

  11. “We had a kick-ass swing set at the local Public School that stood about 12 feet high with thicks chains and heavy-canvass seats. We’d get going at a good clip and have competitions to see who could jump-off the furthest. We would launch ourselves like maniacs off these things!”
    I wondered if anyone was going to mention “bailing out”. We’d get those swings so high we’d be perpendicular to the crossmember, then see how much altitude and velocity we could achieve.
    … and I still proudly bear a scar in my left eyebrow from the stitches I received from a merry-go-round incident almost 50 years ago.

  12. We had a playground in the park that was dangerous. It was made of fiberglass, metal, and wood and set in a sand pit. About a month ago, they tore it down and replaced it with a safe playground, with rubber tiles on the ground.

  13. Pingback: Mangler 2000
  14. Haha so unfortunately true, I wish you were lying or being ironic with this article.

    Good job!

  15. I can still see where the stitches went between my toes when I kicked the corner of the metal slide. And the two front teeth that are fake from the metal “seatbelt” bar on the babybucket swing smashing my mouth as I tried to whip it around the support bar up top. The scar on my knee that still looks like gravel when I took a header off the end of the slide. The scar under my chin from the teeter totter whacking me upside when my arms couldn’t push down hard enough to lift my sister.

    Ahhhhhhh, good times. Thanks for the memories!

  16. When I was a kid, somewhere along the Aussie coast, there was one of those rockets… the ones where you climb up level after level until you get to this opening with a slide, or continue up further.

    This one was unusual, it was at least twice as tall as any I’d seen before, and the slide was huge.

    I had to have a go at it, and did.

    What was really awesome about it though was that it stood on a cliff, way above a pristine beach.
    and once you were up there, you’d get this incredible view of the area.

    You could see the endless ocean crashing to the shore below, with shells, seaweed and foam.

    And yes, it was very windy up there.

    It was an absolute joy, something that would make a kid drool… and best of all it was free.

    We went there a few years later, and it was missing.

    I wonder now if it was really that big, or was it because I was just so small? either way, it was a true delight.


  17. My local park still has one of those! I still enjoy going for a drink and hanging off the 9ft high bars, or spinning my friends younger siblings on the whirling metal disk that tilts unsafely to one side.

  18. Our park had this swing that a lot of kids couls use at once, which was basically a swinging plank.

    When we got this squeaky thing going, the plank resembled a ram, and really packed some power.

    Sometimes a dog or a person who wasn’t watching would almost get in the way, toddlers were especially prone.

    Naturally it’s gone and our park is full of plastic slides which you can walk up without difficulty.

  19. We seemed to find ways to make the dangerous equipment more dangerous… at my elementary school there was a main playground, and some other equipment behind the kindergarten classroom… probably put there for storage and not meant to be used, but we always snuck back there because the swingset there had a 2 person swing, the kind that has 2 seats facing each other and you have to synchronize movements to make it work… and we always fit more than 2 people on it. That is, until we put 6 kids on it one day and the frame snapped. XD

  20. Ok…everyone has these great memories of all this dangerous crap. This is great. I too am 38 and got to experience all the danger. I have many stiches and broken bones to show for it. Everyone here seems to think that kids are coddled. Aren’t we the ones allowing the coddling? It’s time to wake up folks! I am tired of the government keeping me safe from myself. Something really needs to be done.

  21. I’ve grown up in the age of plastic playgrounds, and they really do suck, but whenever I vacation with some family in Mexico, those old metal “death traps” are EVERYWHERE, and it’s SO awesome!

    There’s this one thing shaped like a circle, with seats inside of it, and it has a pole right in the middle with handles on it, and the handles are supposed to spin the pole, which in turn spins the entire circle.

    It’s SO much fun, and it’s guaranteed to make you dizzy as hell!

  22. At my first school they had a giant jungle gym they called “The Spider” only 4th graders and up were allowed on it. It was comprised of 6 ladders that stretched up and met at a cage like platform. As a 2nd grader I thought the thing must have been over 300 ft tall. One summer my mom took us to the playground and allowed us to climb it. Up up up we went only to be horrified by the height once we were up there. It took me what felt like hours to finally figure how to get down without dying, of course I fell the last few feet and hurt myself but that’s to be expected. The pride I felt at having conquered that beast was unimaginable.

    I drove past the place as a teenager only to find that they had replaced all the glorious metal skyscraping slides with plastic counterparts, the sand and gravel with rubberized turf, and that they had completely removed any form of the merry-go-round. As for “The Spider” it was completely missing, a set of kiddy swings in its place. I took my visiting cousins there one afternoon and after 10 minutes they were bored. What about monkey bars so high that falling seems like it’ll be the end of you? Where’s the joy in always knowing your safe? Where’s the sense of accomplishment?

    Static charged 2 foot slides just aren’t that entertaining

  23. Does anyone remember the money bars and hanging upside down by your legs and swinging yourself until you could let go and do an armless flip and land on your feet??/
    THAT was the big thing to try to accomplish and it was all done on metal pipes welded together!!
    Did we care that we fell onto hard packed dirt? Hell no!

  24. How I miss those pee smelling metal slides of doom, and the lessons of centrifugal force from the merry-go-round slingshot.

    Kids are going to need a lot more imagination to hurt themselves.

  25. Ahhh .. I can remember it now .. the long metal slide that was blistering hot in summer and the faint smell of candle wax that went with it….

    Well actually it wasn’t so faint every kid used to roll up with a candle in their pocket to wax the slide down and to make the ride so fast it hurt when you piled off the end head first…

    happy times!

  26. I remember once my cousin and I playing on a seesaw, one of us would sit on one end and the other one would lift up that end to the top and step off, so we’d drop a good 6-7 feet, and once I was riding one of those spinners and lost my grip and flew off, hitting my head on a metal bar in the process……good times

  27. The funny thing is that a lot of these kid safe playgrounds these days still have those half assed tredmill cylinders that you can run on, that is until you slip and the hand rail in front of you kindly removes your front teeth…

  28. I fell off the top of the metal playground slide at our elementary school, and surprisingly got up without any damage at all, at all, at all… lol. And they were too hot in the summer, and you could catch your feet sliding down if you weren’t careful, and I wish I could get one for my kids and grandkids. Plastic sucks.

  29. I remember back in the day when i would get in trouble if i didn’t come home with grazed knee’s. Gone are the days of playing outside all day, getting sprains, breaks, bruises and grazes. Kids today dont know how to live!!!!!

  30. “Van

    Those old aluminum swingsets that pulled halfway out of the ground when you really got the swings going.”

    *Oh* yeah, getting the whole swingset rocking before launching out of them onto packed dirt! It was the best.

    Our mid-70s playground had tractor tires buried halfway in the ground.. filthy, hot as hell, and full of spiders. I spent hours sitting in those. Not sure why now, but it seemed like fun at the time.

  31. I very much love summer :)
    Someone very much loves winter :(
    I Wish to know whom more :)
    For what you love winter?
    For what you love summer? Let’s argue :)

  32. while working as a play ground attendant I was rushed to hospital , injured by an item of play equipment , photo of scar to follow

  33. Great stories guys, parents definitely need to remove the cotton wool. I was fortunate enough to have played on a few dangerous playgrounds before they started disappearing. One was a 3 story “rocket ship” leaning a little, looked more like the tower of Pisa. Anyway they took it down after one stupid kid fell off it. I think they also took away the massive power pole swing, where the pole is lying about 30 degrees off the ground with a tractor tire swing attached. You could fit maybe 3 kids on that thing, often the idea was to go so high/sideways that gravity kicked in and the rope buckled, like a lot of swings. I guess too many dumb bystanders got taken out, I know I did once or twice… yet somehow I’m fine.

  34. I remember the giant clown face with two swings on either side of his head, two people would sit on the swing while someone spun the pole the head sat on and the wieght of the two people on the swings caused it to spin, we played on that for hours until someone spun off..lol..and if anyone knows where I can find those old rocking horses that once the spring got too worn you could rock those babies to the ground front and back..I want one for my backyard or as many as I can find..hopefulhalle@yahoo.com..thanks!

  35. We too have been sterilized by the boring playground brigade.
    When I was a kid we had a huge steel witches hat that swung back and forth bouncing off of a big tractor tyre in the middle and also could be spun like a merry go round… pitty the kid that got their ankle stuck between it and the tyre… but hey! you only did that once thats for sure… playgrounds are seconds of fun these days – when I was a kids I’d be there all day long, without a hat or sunscreen!!! Ha Ha Ha, I am still here 30 years later to tell the tails to my kids!

  36. I loved the merry go round that you had to push till you fell off! Those were the days!

    And the swings with hard poles instead of chains, I never got it to go all the way over but know kids that did!

    Too much suing everyone has ruined it for our powder puff kids.

  37. if you look hard enough you can still find these type of playgrounds around – they are like hidden treasures, few and far between.

    There is one near where i lived as a kid that has a slide made out of rollers – guaranteed to catch unsuspecting fingers and toes

  38. We had a ridiculously long metal slide and poured a bucket of water and dishwashing detergent down it. You’d think the rest would be history but after very narrowly avoiding death a couple times and attracting a small crowd, we stole a long strip of thick black plastic off a nearby grapevine and set that up at the bottom with water and dishwashing detergent too. I slide straight down the slide, hit the plastic without slowing in the slightest and woke up in hospital having hit a tree. Good times.

  39. At the elementary school behind mine, they had a very large wooden and metal playground structure we called The Woodens. There was a 2 story-high metal slide, wide enough to fit 6 kids across. There was usually a pile of 15 kids at the bottom, more kids coming down the slide and going up it simultaneously, and kids jumping onto it midway after having wriggled through the wood beams. I miss the traffic chaos and the splinter- and burn-ridden danger of that playground.

Comments are closed.