#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. That’s why I’m glad I live in a small town. There are 2 parks, 1 is safe and boring while thee other is dangerous and fun.

  2. THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I have been asking people for years about a school playground in Cgo that I loved because it had a ladder up to two paralell bars, and you would wrap your arms and legs around the bars and slide down. No one else remembered them and I thought maybe I was loosing my mind! And…you have a picture of one! Now I can prove my memory and sanity to everyone! I love it.

  3. We used to have the best playground in the world. It was called the Adventure playground and it was CRAYZAY….something was always broken, it was built by our school’s caretaker, and it was made out of wood, tires and ropes.

    It was utterly fantastic, especially the tower which took you 3 storeys up with dizzying heights and a fireman’s pole that took you all the way down again. We had a gigantic metal slide that fried you in summer and a frightening maypole with ropes that you had to get on someone’s shoulder to climb up.
    In my final year at primary school our new principal bulldozed the entire thing. It broke all of our hearts. What made it worse is that it was replaced WITH A PUSSY COLOURFUL 2M HIGH NEW PLAYGROUND!!!
    I will never forget the Adventure. Best playground EVAH!

  4. Love all the stories! Brought back fond memories of a solid, plank-style teeter-totter at my elementary school (St Jacobs, ON). Hours of entertainment: one kid would sit on one end, and as many kids as possible would pack in around the other end, and on the count of 3 would push down as quickly and forcefully as they could, sending the lone rider flying into the air. There were only a handful of times that the “flyer” didn’t clear the large metal loop handle. Ahhh – those were the days!

  5. This is maybe my favourite article so far (and this is the farthest I’ve gotten so far, too). I agree whole-heartedly. I’m not even in my twenties yet and I am luckily old enough to have experienced this stuff. I remember the firepole that I was always too terrified of to go on, and, of course, the best one: The Merry-Go-Round of Doom ™ as dubbed by me and my sister and our temporary playmate when we went to Nova Scotia for a weekend cabin vacation. I remember hitting the ground so hard the wind was knocked out of me.

    The thing I miss most is that kids who would be a step away from breaking a leg would get up, dust off their knees, and continue on playing. The kids I see today cry when they jump off the swing and land awkwardly (on their knees, not their face).

    Yeah, these things were dangerous, but it really was way more fun than these plastic things they have now. And I can’t see why kids would be anything more than injured as long as their parents paid attention whilst their kids were fooling around.

  6. Let’s bring back the good old playground stuff! The only thing is we would have to require every parent to sign a waiver stating that if their child did something stupid sue-happy parents were not eligible to win the lottery. Of course this would also require constant unbiased adult supervision and probably a permanent video camera on the premises that could provide the necessary evidence if needed.

    1. They were trying to take the swing sets out of the schools here because some kid fell off one and broke his arm and his mom was trying to sue the school. I was so mad about this. Its just stupid. Things are going to happen, kids will get hurt.
      Thankfully, the swings remain and they aren’t going to take them out.
      If you’re gonna be like that, send your kid to school wrapped in bubble wrap and pillows.

      1. EXACTLY what I say. Leave ’em in bubble wrap and pillows til they’re 40 and let the rest of us enjoy the cool old playground “deathtrap” equipment—we had SO much more imagination than kids today. I miss freedom…

  7. I was looking to try to buy some of that old playground equipment before it is all outlawed and stumbled on this forum.

    Growing up in Midland, Texas back in the 50’s I learned about everything I needed to know about people on the Sam Houston Elementary School playground. You learned who to trust – on a see saw you would be about five feet up in the air and the kid would jump off the other end letting you crash to the bottom. You were a little more cautious the next time. Everyone appreciated greatly the guy who would spin the merry-go-round while the others got to ride. You learned to stand in the center of the spinner where the g-forces were equalized.

    Back then, kids were not obese from high fructose corn sugar and Happy Meals, so you could take a bit of a beating on the playground and still make it back to class from recess. It might be dangerous for the overweight kids today to use the same equipment – their frail bodies could not take spills, g-forces, etc. Today the boys are emasculated and the girls are defeminized.

    George W Bush was at the same school and playground a few years ahead of me. We both got our MBAs, so we didn’t do too bad. I hear he even achieved greater success We may talk a little funny but that was West Texas. Out on that playground we learned that actions cause consequences.

  8. I am only in my early 20’s but i still like to hunt down the old play ground stuff. Today’s is just no fun, i see these playgrounds and wonder how any child can have fun on these. My best memories were burning my legs on a slide, the teter-toter that was uncomfortable or flying high in the swings while touching my feet on a gravel ground, being swung up against the merry-go-round because of my dads strong arm, everything was just awesome. Including the time i fell high from the monkey bars and dislocated my shoulder. Getting hurt is part of being a kid, if they dont get hurt, they wont learn and eventually will think everything is ok. Now i see small monkey bars, plastic slides that are only a degree more inclined than my driveway, rubber grounds, the list goes on.Let kids get hurt, its part of life, it weeds out the tough ones. we survived, but kids today aren’t going to know any better.

    1. “Let kids get hurt, its part of life, it weeds out the tough ones. we survived, but kids today aren’t going to know any better.” Yup. Like I’m alway’s sayin’, it’s nature’s way of weeding out the stupid… So glad I grew up when I did. I broke an arm plus a few other injuries, but it’s all part of growing up. At least we weren’t pussies.

  9. I remember when I was little, there was a semi-new playground (not old metal stuff, but the first generation of the plastic crap), and it was a beautiful, hot summer day. I don’t know exactly what was going through my head during this point in time, but I must have thought that it would be a great idea to slide down the bright yellow plastic slide that had been sitting in the sunshine all day on my knees, while wearing shorts! Needless to say, it hurts just as much to have the skin on your knees melted and peeled off by hot plastic as the blistering heat of metal slides. When I got stuck in the middle and had to literally roll off the slide, I couldn’t even stand/walk and had to be carried home because the stinging was so bad. But it was a life lesson and I don’t regret it.

    Bring back the old school, dangerous playground equipment!

  10. We had the metal slide and at the bottom was concrete. At the swimming pool we had two diving boards, a small one and a really high one. The big diving board went 1st, then the little one, then the starter blocks at the shallow end… At least we got to enjoy it all as kids! :)

  11. I miss these old swings we had at a park. They were probably about two stories high, and had crisscrossing bars that went down to these hard metal seats. Instead of pumping your legs back and forth you’d use your hands. I loved those swings and they’ve subsequently been taken apart and dismantled. The old wooden playground thing is still there (the bridge now has more sag, but still there).

    Used to ‘pop’ kids on the bridge. They’d get on one end of the bridge, and you’d jump onto the bridge from the other and they’d jump up in the air. HEH.

  12. I remember back in third grade we had the BEST old playground- steep metal slides, precarious monkey bars, tall swings, and two old-style merry go rounds! That all changed when I entered fifth grade to find our fun filled playground had been replaced with a short plastic slide, shorter swings, no monkey bars, and rubber chunks in place of wood chips. Sad day. Sad day indeed.

  13. Can someone out there please help me find info. on a piece of backyard play equipment from the 1960’s. It was a steel, vertical, circular cage, on it’s own stand, that when you sat in it and pumped a metal bar, you swung back and forth, and if you were strong enough you could actually spin it upside down. It
    was so much fun, I just loved it. But my parents got rid of it after my sister broke an arm playing on it. I’ve mentioned this to many people over the years,
    but no one seems to remember it. We couldn’t have been the only family who
    had one of these. Someone please help!

  14. You think this is bad, just wait 10-20 years and playgrounds will be even safer and less fun. They will most likely have an inflated floor with slides only 2m tall, ect.

  15. I remember when I was younger going to this one campgroud for four consecutive years in a row. Each yeah a new part of the playgroud said ‘use at your own risk’ The First Year everything creaked, the second the zip line ending was broken, the next year there were holes at the top of all the equiptment. The last year I was there even the dock said use at your own risk. Through it all, we never stopped playing on the playingground. I miss those days.

  16. I wept when I looked on Google Earth at my hometown and saw all the playground equipment was gone. In First grade they had this tall merry go round.The seats were probably 3 ft off the ground.It would be crammed with kids.They would get it spinning and then it would rock in and out from the main pole.I remember sticking my feet out to help push off the pole in the center.This thing was big enough to hold a 18 yr old boy!Or a high school football team.It was built!!
    there was also a huge slide around 12 ft at a local park.Two heavy duty poles held it up.On the top was a platform.Kids would slide down the poles.
    Using wax paper on a metal slide works real good too! It was a time when the body healed faster,was more flexible,and a lesson was learned~~
    Consequences!! If there was no dangerous equipment to play on then we made our own dangerous fun!

  17. Yes,someone with wet pants ruining the slide.If the person next to you on the swings was “equal” with you then you were married! Hanging free hands by my knees on the sidebar of the swing set. A swing is like a rocking chair.Great relaxation! Those horses that were on frames.Thing bounced because they were held by trampoline springs for little kids.When I was just a little thing the was a gas station that had BIG ones for adults! I so wanted to ride those!!
    A tractor tire served as a sandbox!

  18. all hail the now gone cathedrals of our childhood we the faithful shall keep your memory shining bright. We shall never forget the castles,rocket ships,and wonder made of wood,cement,stone and steel. we hearken to thee knowing we shall never return nor shall we forget.

  19. My playground goes back to the early 1940’s. We had something like the witches tree but it had a big metal pole in the middle. A circle wooden seat about a foot wide and three feet from the ground went all the around held the pole and was held up by wires. We stand on the seat hold on to the wires
    and swing around and back and forth. Sometimes the seat would hit the pole. I don’t remember anyone getting hurt. This was in Pontiac Michigan at the Webster School playground. Does anyone remember the name of the “ride?”

  20. My wife and I called the merry-go-round at our local park “the Baby Grinder” for it’s sinister, dangerous looks. Naturally, we let our kids spend hours on it. Unattended of course.

  21. Easily one of the best things I have ever read on the Internet. I am currently a 17-year-old boy in Tulsa, OK. Understandably, most of my playground experiences were with the new plastic stuff. Back when I was 4 years old I often went to Whiteside Park, which had a mix of plastic and painted wood. I remember a boy named Joe who used to be there many times… he could swing really high on the swings which were still the old chain kind (albeit with a plastic bottom). AFAIK they still have the same equipment today, including the plastic 10-12′ straight and steep slide (not too many slides are straight anymore). Another park, Darlington, had and still has all-metal equipment (though it’s a really small structure). However, LaFortune is the one I want to write about here. As late as 10 years ago they had old wooden equipment (with metal slides and bars). I remember some very high monkey bars (maybe 8 feet?), a swinging bridge (had to be pretty small… maybe 10′ long tops), and 3 slides, each bigger than the other (top one was maybe 10 feet). Back in 2000 or 2001 or so they changed to new plastic equipment. At the time I was very excited since they had changed from a relatively small structure to two large ones. Returning to the topic of playgrounds, in 2004 I had the opportunity to visit a playground untouched by litigation-fearful government. My great uncle was about to pass away, and the family took a 1-day trip to Aurora, MO, to see him one last time. Apparently not wanting to see him in his poor condition, my mom found a playground and told my dad to play with me there (I was 10 at the time). That is an experience I will never forget… there were an old-style metal seesaw, a metal merry-go-round, and a very steep metal slide that had to be at least 15-20 feet tall. Being accustomed to plastic all my life, I was at first afraid of the big slide. From what I recall I eventually got on it and loved it… as well as the other stuff there. From what I see on Youtube some places still have this old-school equipment… but they are mostly in other countries (Germany pops up a lot). After reading this article I realize what has truly become of society today. This is not simply a problem with playgrounds, it extends to all aspects of daily life. The American legal system is becoming too constricting to organizations, often doling out six-figure amounts for accidents that deserve more reasonable payments in the lower four figures (case in point: Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants 1994, aka the Coffee Case). Though consumers may think they are getting a better product from the additional regulations, they are the ones who are really paying for them. Thus the governments force unintended mandatory “insurance policies” upon the people… businesses have to pay more and skimp on the product to meet regulations, and the consumer ends up paying for a few people’s troubles in the form of increased prices or inferior products. Change needs to occur in the law schools before it can occur on the playground.

    1. On second thought, one of the Whiteside playgrounds was fiberglass, not plastic… The other slide may have been fiberglass as well.

    2. Oh and that one part should have read “not wanting me to see him in his poor condition”, not “not wanting to see him in his poor condition”.

    3. Also sorry for writing “returning to the topic of playgrounds” where it shouldn’t have been… I originally had my sentences in a different order, but thought that putting the call to action at the end would be more effective, and I forgot to delete that phrase.

  22. I LOVED the double pole slides with nothing in the middle. See pic of the green one above. No one I knew seemed to remember them till I found this website. By the way, we still have a Drive-in in McHenry, Illinois

    1. savor that drive-in while you can, they’re fading out, there used to be around 4,000-5,000 of them at one time, now there’s about 400 of them left, if that. hopefully, they’ll come back.

  23. We used to get a bunch of the big kids, on per rail, on the merry-go-round and get them to run around really, really fast and get the thing going like a NASA training simulator.

  24. We had my son’s birthday party at a zoo playground last year and they had a merry-go-round that had about 30 kids piled on it and a dad was whipping the kids around as fast as he could. My husband and I quickly put our 4 year old on for the ride, kids flew off but they just got right back on-the adults stood around laughing like crazy remembering how much fun we had doing the same thing as kids.

  25. Ah the joy of spinning the merry-go-round so fast you could hang on to the bars and fly, getting the swing so high you could swear you were about to go over…and then jumping off. The games of chicken played in between the swings and spinning them so your hair got caught. Climbing to the top of the monkey bars and hanging out. We had a merry go round at school that looked like a cone with wooden seats, plenty of tripping hazzards opening up the oportunity for face smashing. Then there was the tire castle with its steel spikes sticking out everywhere. My all time favorite though was the games of high jump we used to play…with a skipping rope…on a cement pad. Needless to say we were all good at scissor kicking when it came to high jump.
    I once got into a bumps war on the teeter totter and the whole neighborhood decided to help my opponent, I wound up smashing my head about an inch from the one next to it (not awesome btw) but still fond memories.
    The horse on the spring, that you could smash into the ground front and back…..so many memories…

  26. Once, I was on this slide, and while sliding down, the part connecting it to the top broke off, and then the entire slide broke off.

  27. To those looking for a drive-in. McHenry drive -in in northeast part of Illinois, McHenry county. Believe it still has the playground under the screen.

  28. they took out the old playground equipment at our local city park which included an awesome swirly slide, swings, a rocking horse which held six children and a witches hat…
    tghey built a new court house right beside the children’s playground where some pretty serious things go on in and outside of there…
    What the H and who the H… decided this to be bright??? ABSURD and not awesome at all.
    And I agree with everyone who said, supervision is the key, because anything can happen anywhere! Be mindfully watchful attentive and children will for the most part be safe and great stroies from parks will transpire like, “Baby to baby love”

  29. just to think one day these too shall become legends and those who played upon them myths. Then history shall obscure us and the playgrounds as fog obscures the beach and the ocean takes away the shipwreck. So we and the playgrounds shall fade into that night our sunset doth come at last……

  30. Can you or anyone, tell me the name of a piece of back yard play equipment…it was metal, had 4 “spokes” with seats attached and we would pump with our arms and feet and go around and around…this is driving me nuts…hope someone can answer:)

    1. that sounds so familiar to the type of merry go round like that one that used to be at the grade school i went to in the 70s, one would have to pump it with their arms to get it to move, i don’t remember off hand if there were any place to pump with the feet though.

  31. where have all the playgrounds gone *long time coming where have all the playgrounds gone** long time gone when will they ever learn
    where have all the monkey bars gone * **
    where have all the rocket ships gone * **
    where have all the see saws gone * **
    where have all the castles gone * **

  32. We had some people build these cool kid sized excavators for the playground in our neighborhood. They had all sorts of cool handles and a big digger on the front. They were going to GIVE them to our park…but NO, they were way too dangerous. We couldn’t accept them. NOT AWESOME. Totally lame. Might as well take away their bubble gum too. They could choke.

  33. I remember Wall Park outside of Philadelphia, PA back in the 80s. One of the slides were identical to the 1st pic, there was an old metal “stagecoach” with rotting splintery seats, a much larger firepole/slide combo that scared me just looking at it, and a bathroom which someone could easily get trapped in due to the cinder block design, grates over the windows, and broken off door handles (push the door shut all of the way and you are locked in!). Oh, and all of this right next to a steep enbankment to the creek 30 feet below! Fun! Even trapped a bigger kid in the bathroom once :) Even though this place was ready to kill someone, I have many great memories of the place. Of course, all of that stuff is gone now, replaced with modern safe stuff and far smaller to boot.

  34. I have a summer job at a child care centre, and on the first day of the job I had to read all of the books about the job :P In the playground safety book I found info about the playground, dating back to about 15 years ago. I actually attended this same child care centre when I was little. I remember the giant wooden structure with a tire climb and big slide starting at the top. The slide was made of plastic, but it wasn’t the overly-safe slides we have today. It was more like a dark green industrial tube that had been cut into a slide. I was actually terrified to go down it because it was so tall! But when I did go down it was so much fun! My heart broke as I read the story that was unfolding in the various reports of the supposedly “dangerous” equipment being replaced with “safer” equipment (AKA boring equipment). That got me thinking about my elementary school playground. My brother is a few years older than me and there used to be a swing set he played on. But by the time I started at the school the swings were gone. Also for years I played on the tall, black, metal monkey bars, but eventually these were taken out too. Once my brother got pushed off the top of the slide and broke his collarbone. My parents never blamed the school for the accident, but I feared the slides would also be taken out, and these slides were already the apparently “safer” plastic versions. Kids stopped playing on the playground equipment and played more in a group of trees that were located at the far end of the soccer field. During my last few years at that school, kids were prohibited from playing in the tree area too! Apparently kids were playing with sticks and would sometimes run right smack into the trees. It was so annoying how the things that were the most fun were too “dangerous.” We were not allowed to slide along the ice in the winter, or to play on the hills of snow formed by the plows(BTW the hills were not by the road, they were at the side of the blacktop). Also “red rover” was not allowed to be played because they thought the kids would get hurt. When the grass got wet because of rain in the morning, no one was allowed off the blacktop because the grass was too slippery. Eventually I left behind the now rather dull playground when I became too old for playgrounds(personally I don’t think anyone is too old for a really good, fun playground). Once my family, and a bunch of other families we knew, went camping at this campground. The campground had a playground, and I volunteered to take the younger kids to the playground. When we got there it was a tire climb, metal slide, wood structure, tire swing, merry-go-ground, long-lost playground paradise! The kids had so much fun playing on the old equipment, and so did I!

  35. Personally. I think they’re all a bunch of pansies! You’ve essentially taken all of the fun out of playgrounds by making them “kid friendly”. B S!!! Playground today are so boring, its no wonder kids want to sit inside an play Nintendo!!!!!

  36. My favorite playground deathtrap was called THE KICKERS. Chains hung from a pole connected to a triangular piece of metal that 5 kids could run around and whip their bodies into the air and fly! Some turned loose in mid air and flew an awesome way into the air! What fun!

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