Image note: I had all but given up trying to find an image of this wonderful playground device but reached out to a group of folks who also grew up nearby and Patricia Wong Dewey came through for me. The original T-Swing depicted in this story is shown below in the upper left corner of a photo from her collection. The photo is dark, but look in the highlighted box and you’ll see it. I decided to keep my hacked together image above because it better demonstrates both how we used and how much our beloved victims “loved” their rides. Here’s my account of this great contraption.
Young teenage boys are often struggling with balancing the drive of two or more forces from deep within our souls. For the purpose of this memory, I’ll call out just a couple: one is the drive for epic, adrenaline-laced adventures because we had to collect as many great shocking memories as we could before our bodies became breakable and the second is that we knew academically that we can actually die so had live life a bit more carefully than we would have otherwise chosen.
The third drive is of course, this our new-found attraction to girls. You know this one well and you also know how it results in all kinds of actions with unintended side effects. This story only touches on this third drive, but arguably made it a lot more fun.
For longer than I’ve been alive, our side of Petaluma has maintained a large city park named, McNear Park, named for a famous founding family. In 1971-73, this park had a unique (and if used correctly – epic) type of swing. We all know that regular swings can result is some pretty creative uses but, as designed to be used, were pretty safe.
Arguably, the swing at the center of this story, had no safe use. It could only really be used as a thrill ride because, well, we could not figure out any other way to use it. And as we used it, it was the most awesome swing ever, and should have been installed with nearby recovery areas, with soothing music, coloring books and looping videos of snowflakes gently drifting down against a peaceful river and valley landscape.
I tried to find an official name for this swing, but, as near as I can tell, all pubic information about this swing has been purged from the internet – perhaps by insurance lawyers who were in a lather to erase liability for several great wipe-outs that should have cost them millions of dollars. So, except for this story, all memory of this swing has been scrubbed from history or perhaps only available on the dark web – where I’ve never been.
We called it a T-Swing because that’s what it looked like:
- One heavy vertical post in the center, reaching about 12 feet high,
- One horizontal, spring-loaded, support cross arm for the top of the “T” that both flexed a bit like a teeter-totter and rotated in circles around the main vertical post,
- Two swings hanging at either ends of the “T”,
- All designed so the swings could “gently” rotate around the center post.
Really? Someone actually thought this swing would be used gently when even the most modest circular velocity would pull the rider out away from the center post and leave her hanging on to the inner seat chain to keep from falling out. They were so mistaken…
We did not use it as designed of course. Our chosen method took full advantage of the easy access to scary levels of centrifugal force for the epic experiences described below. Here’s what we did:
- Starting with a completely stationary swing, we put a beloved victim in one swing, and had her just sit there. And yes, it was best if she had never seen the T-Swing in use before and already trusted you to some degree.
- We assured her of her safety – because normally, she already doubted it.
- Then a runner, put his stomach into the seat of the other swing and moved to the center post, grabbed it and started pulling his swing around it. The runner would speed up as fast as he was able. The beloved victim’s swing, of course would follow around at increasing speed.
- When the runner got her going pretty fast (as judged by the degree of distress noises the beloved victim emitted and, yes we did this, the nearly parallel angle she was swinging at compared to the ground) it was time for the fun to really begin.
- The runner would let go of the center post and run, with the swing still in his stomach, as far from the post as he could get in few seconds because,
- When the inertia of the flying beloved victim caught up with him, all her momentum was immediately transferred from her to the runner and he shot off at an amazing rate of speed, sometimes sailing well above a parallel to the ground trajectory.
- The victim, now with no momentum, almost stopped in midair and instantly dropped back to the ground.
- She could be excused for thinking the ride was over, but then the in-flight runner-now flyer, caught up with her and the great transfer of momentum reversed itself.
- She normally started screaming at this point as she launched to almost match her original speed while the runner dropped to a near stop. The acceleration was really surprisingly fast and this transfer of energy went back and forth several times until everything slowed and stopped or…
- The runner staggered back to the post before the beloved victim could jump free and stagger off to safety and started the whole process over again, because once the runner started to circle the center post, the beloved victim was quickly too high for a safe jump to freedom.
For most of us, about 3 cycles left both the runner and beloved victim dazed and out of breath. She might also complain of mild stomach distress to match an unusual facial skin color. Some of us were threatened with terrible sounding types of revenge by beloved victims who had often needed to sit down before they fell down and made random bubbling burp-like noises.
After only a few years – this great swing tragically disappeared for some reason. But for the survivors – it created some great memories. Many generations of children and teenagers have been denied the epic ride available on the T-Swing, but perhaps lived longer.
McNear Park is still there. The sand filled play area is still there, but it is now filled with really boring toys.