It’s not unusual, especially on the Letcher County Genealogy Facebook page, for someone to post an old photograph of a small rural school similar in appearance to the one I attended at Blair Branch from 1955 until I finished eighth grade in 1963.
Most of the photos are of old, white, high-ceilinged, woodframed buildings that had as few as one room and as many as three with a couple of basketball goals mounted on wood posts adorning the playground. Few, if any, of them ever housed a student body of more than 100 or had more than three teachers who split up the grade levels.
However, Blair Branch Grade School had a fixture that I don’t recall ever seeing on other old school grounds photographs. Perhaps I’ve simply overlooked merry- go- rounds at other schools. I’m reasonably sure that alert readers will correct me if I’m wrong, but it would have been impossible to take a photo of Blair Branch School from the front without including the merry-go-round during most of the years I was a student there.
Do not be thinking of anything with figurines or anything similar to what you will find if you Google merry-go-round. I’ve already tried and failed to find anything close to the contraption we, at Blair Branch, called the merry-go-round.
It was made of heavy-gauge, two- inch galvanized- steel plumbing pipe or spokes attached to a central spindle section of six-inch steep pipe. The center pipe was fitted over a slightly narrower, solid steel post with sets of ball bearings between them. I figure it was made by a plumber with way too much time and pipe on his hands.
There were six sets of spokes, fashioned entirely from pipefittings in such a way that they formed a circular platform. Imagine if you will, a 12-foot apple pie cut into six identical pieces with all the pie filling scraped out except for the outside edges of the crust and individual pieces, top and bottom and you have a general idea of what our merry-go-round looked like. A very large pie skeleton suspended nearly two feet above ground.
Because of the steel bearings inside the center posts, this thing would spin at a very rapid rate. It had six seats about 20 inches above the ground that would accommodate up to three or so kids per seat while a couple of other kids grabbed hold of the outside edge of the spokes and spun it around. I’ve seen other schoolyard merry-go-rounds that were nearly ground level and riders stood, rather than sat on them.
Ours was made far enough above ground that kids could actually stand behind the seats and between the spokes to push the thing around, an act so dangerous that it was against the rules — not that many a boy didn’t get the seat of his pants “dusted” with a paddle because he didn’t think a teacher was watching.
If I had a dollar for every scraped knee, shin, hand and elbow caused by that merry-goround, I would be a very wealthy man today. On the other hand, I don’t recall any broken bones and that is akin to a miracle.
Well before I reached eight grade the merry-go-round had become so wobbly that it would hardly go around, much less spin.
This condition was brought on by some older, out-of-school riffraff who, to prove their manhood on one Halloween night, lifted the several hundred pound frame off the spindle and leaned it up against the side of the school building, losing several of the ball bearings in the process.
I’ve forgotten how we got it reinstalled, but it never worked very well after that and it mostly became a place to sit and eat lunch as opposed to something to play on.
If you recall strange and different playground equipment from your school days, feel free to get in touch with me. I intend to keep old school day activities alive here from time to time.