Snow days meant for Flexible Flyer

Daily Times Leader news reporter Steve Rogers takes a ride down the hill behind the newspaper office on a Centennial model Flexible Flyer sled.
Staff Writer

With winter weather closing local schools and business, many people remember riding down icy hills as children on the popular Flexible Flyer sled that was once manufactured in West Point.

Samuel Leeds Allen, a manufacturer of farm and garden equipment, was the father of the Flexible Flyer sled.  In the 1880s, Allen manufactured a variety of bob sleds designed primarily for adults. Allen applied for a patent for a sled with a T-shaped runner and slatted seat Feb. 14, 1889. 

He called it the Flexible Flyer. The name was trademarked May 7, 1904.

Beginning in 1950, the model name of the sled was moved from the top to the back of the slats.  Flexible Flyer models dominated sled sales throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1968, Leisure Group, Inc., of Los Angeles purchased Flexible Flyer and Blazon, Inc, a manufacturer of outdoor play equipment.  In 1970 production of the Flexible Flyer sled was moved from Philadelphia to Medina, Ohio. 

In 1973 a group of private investors purchased the Leisure Group’s toy division and moved all operations to West Point.  In 1989 Flexible Flyer celebrated its 100th anniversary and introduced a Centennial model. The West Point Facility closed in 2006, when Flexible Flyer declared bankruptcy.

"It was a good place to work," Charlie Poindexter, a former member of Flexible Flyer management said. "We built the sleds in the off season, during the spring and summer. We filled the orders for suppliers in the fall. We manufactured swing sets in the fall and winter months. It worked out very well and we had a great product."

He said he started working at the plant in 1966 in maintenance, doing trouble shooting. He said he did photography of the toys for sales, and worked in all the different departments. He was over the West Point division when it closed its doors in 2006.

Poindexter said the manufacturing plant would ship 300,000 of the Flexible Flyer wooden sleds and up to 200.000 sleds that were plastic during the course of a year.

"We made several different types of sleds," Poindexter said. "Of course everyone thinks about the wooden models first, those were the ones you could steer because of the way the front would pivot. But we made saucer sleds and plastic bobsled types."

The sleds could be found in neighborhood Western Auto stores and hardware stores from the 1950s through the 80s.

"I still have a sled or two from my time working at Blazon Flexible Flyer," Poindexter said. "I worked with a lot of nice people. I worked in every department in the plant during my time there."

Poindexter said in addition to sleds and swing sets, Blazon Flexible Flyer made hobby horses and nursery horses or toddlers.

Now the Flexible Flyer sleds are cherished pieces of childhood memories.