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Yesterday, when I was taking the dog on her run, I caught scent of a smell that took me right back to elementary school.

No, it wasn’t kindergarten paste, mimeograph ink, or cafeteria Sloppy Joes. It was, in fact, the aroma of sun-warmed tires.

You might be wondering what the hell sort of school I went to that the smell of old tires would be a memory trigger. Well, it was this one:

The back of the school
Just a typical little one-room rural school in Northwestern Nebraska. One of a dying breed, though at the time, we didn’t know that. It was just our school. The student body ranged anywhere from eight to twenty kids depending on if any of the local ranchers’ hired hands had school-aged children. Typically, we had one teacher and a teacher’s aide, and if any kids needed something like speech therapy, a specialist would be scheduled to visit the school to work with him or her.

Since it was a small school serving an area of low population density and no especial prosperity, we were not exactly rife with all of the latest equipment, technology, methodology, and excitement. Which, I think, may explain why we children treated a bunch of old car tires as part of the playground equipment.

Sure, we actually did have a proper playground with the old-fashioned, exciting, kids-could-get-hurt sort of toys.

Monkey Bars, from which we all vigorously hung upside-down, did daredevil jumps, and generally treated with a casual lack of caution.

A teeter-totter, which all of us kids learned to walk across and balance, as you see me doing here.

Merry-go-round, which we used to see how fast we could get going. Also, kids would stand up on the seats, grab the top support struts, and let their feet fly out from beneath them. We called this feat “flying” and it was widely popular. Surprisingly, nobody ever was badly hurt doing this. The one actual traumatic injury I remember from my school days was when Kelli jumped out of the swings (seen behind the merry-go-round) and somehow managed to fall backwards and break both of her arms. Which could happen to anyone.

Anyway, as you see, we had things to play on and with, but we also had a bunch of old tires. There were some old truck tires, some very old-fashioned tall, narrow bias-ply tires that must have once belonged to something like a Model A, and there were a few more modern radial tires. I’m not sure why there were a bunch of old tires at the school; perhaps someone had once donated them thinking the kids could use them as planters. In any event, we used them for many purposes the manufacturers never intended.

  • As you might expect, tires were used to demarcate the bases for Kickball.
  • Similarly, tires were used to indicate the goalposts for our signature anarchic games of soccer.
  • We sometimes built low walls out of tires to simulate a playhouse in games of Families.
  • We had tire races, where kids would stand a tire on end, and see who could bowl their tire the furthest.
  • And best of all, in the winter, when we built snow-forts, we used the tall Model A tires to make “gun ports” in the sides of our forts, through which you could hurl snowballs at passers-by.  You’d stand a tire on its side and pack snow all around it, to make a porthole in the wall.  Very stylish.
  • The modern radials were very bouncy, so they were in high demand to use as sort of individual-serving trampolines.
  • Around this time of year, when it was regularly very sunny, but still quite cold, we’d line up tires along the south side of the schoolhouse in the morning, and at lunchtime recess, we’d go out there and sit in the tires and warm our bottoms.  And that’s where the fragrance of sun-warmed tire took me yesterday.  To the mid-1980s, rural Nebraska, basking on an old truck tire in the midday sun.


It makes us sound like a bunch of pathetic urchins, but I can assure you that we were in the main, a crew of well-cared for, reasonably-mannerly, ordinary kids who did as kids do, and found a way to make just about any mundane object into a toy.

Here’s a mass photo of the student body (very badly taken, as I was the photographer) circa 1986.

Here’s another, slightly better one, from the spring of the same year, taken from the top of the monkey bars, again by me, with my old Instamatic.

6 Responses to “Almost anything can be a toy.”

  1. Mark says:

    That’s where you grew up? Um, where are the houses?

    This is the view (looking east) from the park that was in front of our building where we lived when I was a little boy.


  2. Meetzorp says:

    Yeah, this is rural northwestern Nebraska. Houses are fairly few and far between.

    Here’s a picture I took of my car in 1995, and in the distance you can see the neighboring ranch complex. Most of the buildings in scene are various sheds, stables, hay barns, and other utility structures. There is a house somewhere in amongst the warren.


  3. Mark says:

    Looks windy.

  4. Meetzorp says:

    It is that. Very. Almost always.

  5. Mark says:

    Bruce Springsteen titled one his albums “Nebraska”. He recorded the songs at his house in Colts Neck on the Jersey shore. Makes sense, no?

  6. Linda says:

    Do you know the history of the merry go round? There,s one very like this in my hometown of Mvillisca IA but it originally came from Lost Sorings, KS.

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