The Lightning Guider Factory makes sleds

DUNCANNON, PA (WHTM) – It’s lightning Guidenot glider as many people called these sleds.

With the news that the Sled Works in Duncannon was for sale, it seemed like a good time to rummage through our safe and pull out a 38-year-old mothball video.

On December 17, 1984, journalist Bill Martin and I were able to visit the Standard Novelty Works factory to shoot a report on the 80th anniversary of the Lightning Guider.

We were really lucky to be able to film this assembly line. Standard Novelty, or the Lightning Group as it had been renamed, made winter toys like sleds in the summer and summer toys in the winter. They happened to have a special order of sleds to fill, so we had sleds to pull. We were really lucky.

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So without further ado, here is a transcript of the story:

“I think one of our fondest childhood memories has to be gathering a group of friends and heading up the biggest hill in town, pulling our Lightning Guides sleds. Well, the Lightning Sled Guider is made right here in Duncannon, Pennsylvania.

The Lightening Sled group began selling their product around the turn of the century, just after the patent for the sled’s steering mechanism became public property. Norm Rosen is owner and president of the Lightning Group.

“There are only three sled companies left in the United States and we ship our sleds all over the country. We ship to Georgia, California, Maine and all points in between.

“The Lightning sled is eighty years old this year, and apart from the addition of a few machines, they are made the same as they were in 1935.”

Prior to that year, all work was painstakingly done by hand.

“How are they made, explain the process?” “Well, we start with raw wood, and we cut the wood to size, the width, the length, we sand it, we shape it, we cut the runners, we paint it, we rivet it, we assemble the sled whole. The final step in the process is to dip the entire sled in a protective varnish to coat the entire sled and keep it away from the elements.

Ironically, production is at its peak during the summer months. Nearly 100 people take out 1000 sleds a day. At this time of year, there is barely enough work to occupy ten people. Bill Martin, Channel 27 News, Duncannon.

As you can see from the story, building a wooden sled with metal runners took a lot of hands-on work. We were told that efforts to automate the manufacture of the sleds had been totally unsuccessful. Robots smart enough to account for the expansion, contraction, warping and bending of pieces of wood did not yet exist.

Such robots may exist now, but too late for Lightning Guider and other sled manufacturers in America. The last Lightning Guide rolled off – or maybe we should say rolled off the assembly line in 1988, and the factory closed as a factory in 1990. It would reopen a few years later as The Sled Works.

I may be the only person who has ever shot a Lightning Guider assembly line video. If anyone else has done this I would really love to see the pictures.

There are still Lightning Guider/Flexible Flyer “slide sled” design wooden sleds, but they are expensive – anywhere from $65 to over $200. The sled market is now dominated by plastic sleds which can be molded in one piece and cost much less than their handcrafted wooden and steel counterparts.

Robert M. Larson