Neighbors: Former residents recall the toboggan slide at Mickelson Field in Fargo

Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist. The Forum
Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist. The ForumThe Forum

A woman wrote Neighbors last fall telling of her memories of being at Fargo’s Mickelson Field’s toboggan slide and asking if anyone had pictures of it.

Well, Vicki (Johnson) Gunness doesn’t have pictures, but boy, does she have memories of the field and the slide.

Vicki and her husband Dick Gunness divide their time between their lake place near Pelican Rapids, Minn., and Green Valley, Ariz. After seeing the above-mentioned column, this is what she wrote to Neighbors:

“My brother Mark Johnson and I, as very young children in the ‘50s, loved to go to Mickelson Field to skate and warm up in the old warming house. I remember the old stove we would stand around and the rugged wood benches to sit on when we removed our skates to warm our cold, damp feet between skating times.

“I can still taste the red licorice and hot cocoa and other candy treats waiting inside for our enjoyment.

“Mickelson was our favorite place to go for skating and tobogganing in the winter and baseball for my brother in the summer. The field became a meeting place, too, especially in the summer, for families to go to watch their family members play baseball and cheer for the home team. This gathering place united north Fargo families in one reunion after another all summer. Way too much fun!

“Next to the warming house was the old, wood, very tall toboggan slide with its narrow, steep steps that we had to navigate while dragging the old toboggan to the top with one arm pulling it upward. Not for the faint of heart,” Vicki says.

“The toboggans were all lined up outside the warming house for our enjoyment. I remember, with envy, a few kids received their own shiny toboggans as gifts.

“I cannot count how many times we trudged up those high steps to enjoy a few moments of pure joy sliding downward and slipping into the waiting snow. Our toboggans would slide for a while before coming to a stop. Sometimes their toppling us over was an added thrill.

“Going at night, in the dark, with the floodlights filling the skating rink and toboggan slide with the most beautiful glowing light, was just magical.

“I learned to twirl a circle and would pretend I was a skating ‘star.’

“We lived in the Horace Mann school area, so my brother and I could walk to Mickelson, as our house was only one block away. We could go out alone even at night. Fargo in the ‘50s and ‘60s was a time when a blanket of safety covered children in a way kids these days will not know.”

But there was one thing that happened some siblings today probably can identify with.

“My brother,” Vicki says, “would ditch me as soon as we got to Mickelson so I would not be identified as his sister.”

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Memories from Mark

That brother apparently now doesn’t mind letting people know Vicki is his sis. In fact, Mark, who now lives in Mount Vernon, Wash., sent her his memories of Mickelson Field, and Vicki forwarded them to Neighbors.

“The toboggan sleds were lined up in various sizes, from single ones to ones which would carry six to eight people,” he wrote Vicki. “Someone would haul the large ones up and then a group would jump on and head down.

“Mickelson had developed ice sides (probably a foot tall) to keep the toboggans going the right way. At the end, you would hit the snow, and you’d never know what would happen then or where you would land. That was the fun of it.”

Another thing Mark remembers is that “in this one-room rugged old building there was someone, usually a college kid, who was hired by the park board to run it.”

Vicki says Mark recalls vacations when he’d head over to Mickelson at 10 a.m., bring his lunch to eat there, go home for supper, then go back to the field until 9:45 when the rink and slide closed.

“Mark tells about the time the supervisor warned that because it was 15 degrees below zero, he was closing the warming house.

“We told him we hadn’t heard that and wanted proof,” Mark said. “So we all sat around and listened to the radio until the announcer said, ‘It is presently 14 below.’

“We all cheered it wasn’t 15 below, and went back out to slide and skate. I’m sure the supervisor was very disappointed.”

“Mark also remembers that each skating rink had its own hockey team,” Vicki says. “Mark played goalie. He says there were eight or 10 rinks around the Fargo area like Mickelson. The teams would have tournaments. One year Mark’s team won the championship. They even got medals.”

So there, Vicki says, Neighbors has “a sister and brother sharing memories of another time. A safer time.

“A time free of the worries of the world and just magical moments enjoying the simple pleasures of being raised up in Fargo, N.D. Even though my brother tried to ditch me.”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email blind@forumcomm.com.