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By Dan Beard

Fig. 73. 
Tom's Wooden Legs

The other day a magician appeared to me. Instead of a peaked cap he wore a derby hat, and, in place of the long black gown, his garb was the ordinary suit of a New York man. There was nothing mysterious in his manner, but, with a smiling face, he looked into my studio and said: "The boys want a new book, and put in something on Stilts."

Tom's Wooden Legs.

I believe in magic.  Let me try it on myself and see if I can bring back a scene of my youth in Kentucky. Ab-ra-ca-dab-ra Stilts!  Who is that pale-faced, curly haired boy straddling over the blue-grass lawn on long, wooden legs?  Why, it's my old playfellow, Tom! Hello, Tom! Where did you get those stilts?  But what a foolish question!  I might know what the answer would be: " Made 'em." 

It took me all one Saturday to finish a pair of wooden legs like Tom's. I begged a pair of Aunt Annie's clothes-poles for the sticks, and sawed them off the proper length, then, with my jack-knife, I shaped the handles and smoothed them with a piece of sand-paper. Next I took a sound piece of two-inch pine board, and marked with a piece of soft brick the outline of one block. With a handsaw I soon cut this out, and, placing it on the remains of the two-inch plank, outlined a duplicate block. After this the blocks were smoothed off with my knife.

I then heated a small piece of iron and bored holes for the nails and screws, and fastened the blocks on to the sticks. We called these "hand -stilts," because the sticks are just long enough above the block to reach the hands of the walker (See Fig. 73).

 In those days there were only a few of us who had money in our pockets, but that is about the only thing that was not there--bits of string, marbles, tops, leather slings, with old nails as " hummers " to throw from them, jack-knives, occasionally one with a whole blade,  "rubber" buttons for finger-rings, in all stages of manufacture, with sand-paper, buckskin and pumice-stone for polishing them, "lucky stones" from the head of a fish, to make us certain winners at marbles; two or three buck-eyes for ballast, fish-lines, hooks and sinkers, and an apple or two for lunch between meals. 

Fig. 74, Fig. 75

These were some of the things that were always in our pockets. In the twilight, after tea, Tom and I sauntered out on our hand-stilts to visit some boys on the next street. I am afraid our visit was not altogether prompted by friendship; we knew that those boys did not dare use straps over their feet for fear of a fall, and that the sticks of their stilts were awkward and long, poking up from behind their shoulders, and for reasons of timidity the blocks were set low. So we wandered over to show off and let those "girl boys " (Fig- 75) just see what reckless, wild fellows we were. 

A Short-Lived Triumph.

As we approached, the boys on the next street lined up against a brick wall, and stood watching us swagger by, but our triumph was short-lived, for, as we neared the corner, we met Dick, another playmate, and he was not walking on the side-walk, but striding over the uneven limestone-paved street, with his hands carelessly thrust into his pockets, and his mouth puckered up, whistling, "Way Down South in Dixie." 

Was he on stilts? Of course he was; but he not only had straps over his feet, but straps on his legs, and the sticks only came to the knee, leaving the hands free. He could not even see us until we hailed him with " Hello, Dick! " 

Then he only stopped whistling long enough to say "Hello, fellows," and continued on his way. 

We watched him disappear down the street and nothing was said until he strode out of sight. Then Tom remarked: "Ain't Dick stuck up ? Poo! we can make stilts like his; that's nothing! " " I'll bet we can," I replied, to which Tom nodded his head by way of assent, and, as a smile spread over his face, said: "Well, I don't care; we can lick salt off of those fellows' heads, anyhow," referring to the "girl boys," and to the fact that our stilt-blocks were enough higher than theirs to render this feat possible.

New Woman on Stilts

According to the newspapers, walking on stilts is the very latest fashion able amusement of the "new woman " in London. If there is any truth in this statement, it is safe to say that it will not be long before you boys will be called upon to make stilts for your sisters. 

There can be little doubt that the time is coming when a book written for boys will be the only one girls will read, or, rather, every book will be written for young people, and will be addressed to both boys and girls. 

Just why girls should not walk on stilts or engage in any similar sport no one yet has given a satisfactory answer. Twenty-five years ago the boys used to make stilts with very low blocks for their sisters, and the girls seldom would use them, but insisted upon using their brothers' high-blocked stilts.

Tomato-Can Stilts

In the cities, where wood is scarce, it is quite pathetic to see the boys tramping around on old tomato-cans for stilts. The tomato-cans have strings tied to them in place of poles, and these strings are held by the hands.


One bright boy, on Fourth Avenue, New York City, has a pair of stilts made of old laths, from the ruins of some dismantled house. Three laths nailed together form each stilt pole, and the blocks are made of a graduated lot of pieces of lath nailed together. Now, if a small boy in the tenement-house district can make himself a good, serviceable pair of stilts out of some old laths, there can be no doubt that the boys who read this book will be able to find material and tools to build themselves beautiful gadabouts.

See Also:

Giant Dance
Japanese Stilts
Shepherd Stilts
Stilt Tricks
Tattooed Stilt Walkers
Other Stilts

More Outdoor Things to Do!







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Last modified: October 15, 2016.