EAST FALLS MEMORIES: “Up the Nuts” by Russ Gardner, Sr.

East Falls Local kids dogs sleds tree 2 couple left PX PAINTING text

If you lived in East Falls during any winter, you knew about “up the nuts.”  If you were visiting relatives in East Falls when there was snow on the ground — you knew about “up the nuts.”

East Falls Local zoom down below

It was exciting to see what kind of snow we had after a night of snowing. A dry powdery snow that blew easily with the wind was no good. A heavy snow that started to melt quickly was no good. But if it was a wet snow that packed easily under your foot – THAT was heaven! It meant there was going to be good sledding “up the nuts.”

East Falls Local sledders coming at me

This was the time you got to test out the new sled you had. Don’t get me wrong, sledding down the street was OK, but you didn’t have to steer very much, not like you needed to “up the nuts.” The wide grassy lawn behind the building toward Warden Drive is very hilly, with a flat spot at the top to launch your sled from.

East Falls Local zoom top of hill

If my sense of history is correct, “the nuts”’ was a golf course at one time  —  there was still a flat spot on the left side of the hill that used to be a green or the start of a hole where you’d tee off.  I believe it’d been part of a mental hospital, which is probably how it got called “the Nuts.”  The name stuck, even though the land changed hands to Ravenhill Academy and finally to PhillyU.  (ed note: Roseneath Farms was a sanitarium for nervous disorders, which indeed had a golf course –but the name “nuts” actually goes back to when groves of chestnut trees populated the hills here.)

East Falls Local zoom ride 1

Many winter nights the nuts would be packed with people and sleds! It was always worth it to walk to the nuts pulling or carrying your sled. Everyone had fun back then, there never was any trouble.

Depending on the snowfall, the sledding was great. And we would come home freezing to death with wet gloves and shoes!

East Falls Local zoom ride 2

I always wore brown cotton gloves that I’d get at Len’s, and usually wear Ked’s High-top Sneakers. Some other kids wore mittens that kept their hands warm and dry, and boots. I was a big kid, so no mittens, and I didn’t own boots. I always came home freezing cold.

East Falls Local dog with frisbee

Nothing warms you up faster than a cup of hot chocolate — after a day of sledding, it’s hard to imagine anything tasting better, either. Sometimes my mother would bake a few potatoes and we’d eat them when we got home. They were put into tin-foil and baked in the oven, then we’d peel back the foil, split ’em open and add lots of butter and salt. A real treat was a baked sweet potato!

Us kids would often be out past 9:00 pm, and no one worried. The nuts stayed busy for hours at night and we would all walk together. East Falls was so safe back then – you could turn to any adult for help or a ride to your street.

East Falls Local zoom top of hill coming down 2

What a treat to ride those hills! One year a family showed up with a toboggan sled that held six or seven people, but most of us improvised with whatever we could find that would slide.

We could ride with someone else (piggy back); ride on a piece of cardboard (as long as it held together) or on a bread tray from the bread trucks. Getting a bread tray was simple – wait for the guy to leave his Bond or Stroehmann bread truck to take trays into a store, get into the back of the truck, take a tray and hide it under the truck until the driver left. It worked lots of times. You could really fly on a fiberglass tray…

When we got older, a friend of mine (Johnny Zimmerman) from Calumet Street had a 1950 Ford. We took the hood off his car and used that to sled on up the nuts. We could start off at the top of the hill and wind up in the middle of Warden Drive. We almost got hit by cars a few times too.

East Falls Local zoom top of hill coming down 5

You could come down from the top of the hill, hit the flat spot on the left hand side (right side coming down) and go airborne off it, only to hit hard again at the bottom and get bounced off whatever you were riding. Many sleds got broken doing that, but was it ever fun!

Several people always seemed to get plowed over on the hill trying to walk back up. You always wanted to stay there sledding, but when you couldn’t feel your fingers anymore you knew it was time to go home.

East Falls Local zoom top of hill coming down 8 wipe out

Walking back home was hard to do when you’re so cold, especially walking up the hill of Conrad street past Mifflin. But once over the top, the walk got easier.

Stepping from the bitter cold into a cozy warm house was the best! When we still had coal heat, the smell was fantastic —  we’d stand over the heat registers in the floor to warm up. We’d wring out our gloves and dry them on there too. The acrid scent of coal heat still today reminds me of home & comfort, like a campfire or wood-burning stove.

East Falls Local mom with toddler on lap scared

I miss the sledding during winter “up the nuts” — the laughter, good times and all the friends I remember from those days:

Friends from Calumet, Midvale, Vaux, Coulter, Indian Queen, Cresson, Merrick, Eveline, Stanton, Frederick, Dobson, Fisk, Sunnyside and Conrad. From Mifflin and  St Bridget’s.

I miss the sounds of the snow crunching under our feet, the rush of sled runners coming down the hill, hollers of “Get out of the way!” — followed by more laughter, and cheers for the farthest and snowiest rides.  We never did give the bread trays back to the bread truck driver, and I don’t remember what we ever did with them. If you see one up the nuts, it might be one of them.

Those days are gone now, and there is a new generation growing up in East Falls. I don’t know if kids go “up the nuts” when it snows anymore. If they don’t, they’re missing out on some great fun (especially if you finish your day off with a cup of hot chocolate and a coal-heated house).

East Falls Local kids dog sleds PAINTING

My memory takes me back to “the nuts” sledding, and I smile remembering all the good times. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a more heart-warming picture of innocent family fun:  snowballs, scarfs, hats and gloves, falling off the sled and rolling in the snow. Someone’s dog trying to get in on the fun, people gathered to watch. So warm with laughter, we couldn’t care less about the cold!

That’s the way it used to be and I can only hope it still is; after all, you wouldn’t want to change a Norman Rockwell painting! Would you?

 “If you lived in East Falls during any winter, you knew about ‘up the nuts.’ If you were visiting relatives in East Falls when there was snow on the ground, you knew about ‘up the nuts’.”

EDITOR’S FYI: This neighborhood sledding area is slated to become PhillyU’s new softball field — for more information including an online petition by a concerned East Fallser, please see our recent post, “X Marks the Spot for New PhillyU Development.”  **UPDATE 1/23/16 — PhillyU has revised their plan, the Nuts are safe!** 

East Falls Local Master Plan sign 3 toddler snowsuit insert text

 

3 Comments

  • Nancy Petro

    My daughters both loved sledding at the nuts and I hope to take my granddaughter there soon. Wonderful memories. Even if it becomes a softball figmd it should still be great come the winter snow!

  • Gerald M. Wilkerson

    Yes that does bring back a lot of memories for me. For me the times in the Sixties up until 1971 when I joined the U.S. Army. I went with my Father and my three sisters there many times during the Winter months with our old but never forgotten American Flyer Sleds. There was not that many trees to dodge. Only thing that you hated was when the snow started to melt and the ground started to show thru and you hit one of the bare patches of mud you kept on going but the sled came to a sudden stop. But that was the thrill of it. Now living here in El Paso, Texas the snow here is far and very between. How I miss the days there. I can still see the walk from Indian Queen Lane to the “NUTS RUN” and back with our sleds.

    SSG Gerald M. Wilkerson (U.S. Army Retired)

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