Great moments in building history: When it comes to sledding, nothings beats the Ugly
When it came time to build a home for my family, I was probably like many other young builders, working nights, weekends, and, of course, winters. With the house framed and fairly weathertight, I dutifully dropped my tools at the site one Friday evening.
That night brought a nice wintry storm, the kind typical of coastal Connecticut, with 8 in. of snow covered by 1⁄2 in. of ice. When I headed to the house for interior work Saturday morning, I couldn’t get my truck up the steep 350-ft. driveway; it was covered in glare ice. I commended myself for having unloaded my tools the night before.
Later that morning, my daughters showed up, delighted with the snow and a perfect hill for sledding. More and more family members and kids came to enjoy a winter’s day zipping down the snowy hill.
Soon we were facing a sled shortage. Then someone spotted the Ugly. It had been abandoned, neglected in the bushes since the end of previous summers’ sailing seasons. The Ugly was a dinghy from the 1960s, molded orange plastic, about 5 ft. by 3 ft., boxy and square. The vessel was appropriately named.
I was called out to make it snow-worthy, which meant dumping it over and knocking out the icy contents. Soon, five or six kids assembled and took the Ugly for a test run. The Ugly may have been fine on the water, but it was a dream on a snowy hillside. The downhill runs grew faster and faster as the track got slicker. Eventually, all other sleds were rejected in favor of the Ugly, which offered a fast, unpredictable, out-of-control sleigh ride.
The weekend went on this way until Sunday afternoon. After everyone went home, I stayed behind, facing the task of loading all my tools back into my truck to be ready for work Monday morning. The remaining ice and snow made it impossible for me to get my truck up the hill to my tools, and I realized I would have to carry them all downhill. I got a load, went down the hill, then headed back up. After one trip, I was winded and despondent thinking about the number of trips I needed to make. Then I saw the Ugly. Maybe I could put the boat to work one more time.
I piled tool upon tool into the Ugly, filling the boat’s hold until tools were visible over the orange gunwale. With the final tools loaded, I locked the door to the house and jumped down onto the icy ground, where I slipped and fell, bouncing unceremoniously—and apparently nudging the Ugly just enough to make it move slightly. When I realized what was happening, I reached out, but it was a fingertip glaze of the stern. Helpless, I watched as the Ugly and its costly cargo of tools careened down the hill. It was either providence or dumb luck that caused the boat to veer at the last second, crashing into a stone wall instead of sailing off into a deep ravine just beyond. I was left with the task of retrieving my tools, which were scattered all over.
The next morning, coffee break was pretty typical. “So how was your weekend? Did you get much done on the house?” I looked down at my feet and sheepishly answered, “Yes, I did pretty well. I even took some time out to do some sledding.”
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers