Boomers Got Cuts and Bruises

Mister Boomer recently heard a discussion about playground safety, and was immediately transported back to his boomer days at the schoolyard. The differences between conditions and attitudes during our time and today are more than striking, starting with the entire concept of keeping kids safe.

These days, every playground has some sort of ground padding, lest the children fall and hurt themselves. These days all visible nuts, bolts and screws have to be covered, lest little hands become injured. These days bare metal is often sheltered from the sun, or a substitute like plastic is used, lest children burn themselves from sun-heated metal. Contrast these things with boomer playgrounds.

First of all, there was the ground. Whether below swings, monkey bars, teeter-totters or merry-go-rounds, there were four choices of ground surface: dirt, concrete, gravel, or, on some occasions, asphalt. Not much thought was given at the time to kids falling off equipment. Most of the time, kids flew off the equipment on purpose, like jumping from a swing at peak height. The merry-go-round spinner is hardly found on playgrounds these days, probably because the whole idea was to get it spinning fast enough to throw kids off to the ground. The results were scrapes and bruises. Boomers called that fun.

In boomer days, everything at the playground was made of metal for durability. Only the swing seats were the exception, though they could be made of metal in some areas. Swing seats were generally made of wood or hard rubber. In all cases, metal heating up in the hot summer sun could burn little legs and arms exposed by wearing shorts and short sleeves. A quick “ow” and play was resumed.

Climbing the monkey bars, or attempting to climb any equipment in a manner that wasn’t intended — a common occurrence — could result in cut fingers when grasping connection points bearing nuts and bolts. Kids often tried to climb up the side posts of the swing sets, or walk up the metal slide. Mister B recalls kids grasping the underside of the metal slide and making their way up as far as they could. For Mister Boomer, the monkey bars were often to blame for a little blood on the hands after a rigorous play session. Mister Boomer’s only broken bone resulted from his five-year old self’s attempt to stand on the metal slide. A fall off the side resulted in a doctor visit and cast.

It was common for children to head back to class after recess with cuts and bruises. In most instances, the kids were not even sent to the school nurse. In summer, it was Mister B’s experience that kids would not stop play unless it was something tremendously serious. A little blood on the fingers or scraped knee was a Red Badge of Courage, not the end of the world.

Mister B can only imagine how a teacher today might react to some blood on a child after recess. And what would happen if a kid appeared in school, covered in scrapes and bruises? In many states the teacher would be required to report the situation. What was an everyday thing for boomers is now the subject of an investigation of parental or other adult physical abuse.

So, which era is better? That may depend on how you define safety, and your point of view on raising children. On the one hand, boomers were allowed to make mistakes that resulted in scrapes and cuts and the occasional concussion or broken bone. It did not freak out our parents; rather, they seemed to take it in stride as part of growing up.

Mister Boomer suspects that some blogger fifty years from now will write a similar post about the days when he got carpel tunnel syndrome from spending so much time grasping a video game console, or texting. For the most part, Mister B is glad he was allowed to get scraped and bruised. It was part of play, and a lesson that there were positives and negatives possible for every situation.

What memories of playground cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains and broken bones do you have, boomers?

Boomers Wondered, “Where’s My Jet Pack?”

As the world of science touched our lives during the Space Race, a vision of personal flight long imagined in science fiction entered the scene as a real possibility: the jet pack, or more accurately, the rocket pack, since it did not have a jet-propelled engine. A rocket pack was a device worn by an individual that contained fuel tanks and control mechanisms to propel the figure, in science fiction, across the skies.

The first rocket pack was invented by a Russian inventor, Aleksandr Andreyev, in 1919. He imagined a liquid fuel mix of methane and oxygen as his propellent, and affixed wings that were three feet long to the back of the device for stability in flight. A patent was issued to him years later, but his device was never built.

The idea was constantly cropping up through the years. The Nazis tested versions of flying platforms during WWII, but their plans fortunately did not result in operational devices. Various companies tested versions of rocket packs in the 1950s, and the U.S. Army was interested in possible military uses for reconnaissance, passing over mine fields, crossing rivers, ascending steep inclines, etc. The government contracted Aerojet General to develop and test a rocket pack, which the Army dubbed a Small Rocket Lift Device (SRLD). In 1960, the Army discovered that Bell Aerosystems was testing a rocket pack (which they called a rocket belt), and shifted their funding over to them. Bell’s version used a propellent made of a hydrogen peroxide mixed with a bit of nitrogen.

Testing was well underway between 1960 and 1965, first with trained test pilots, then, at the Army’s suggestion, by an untrained pilot. Bill Suitor, age 19 at the time, was hired to join the team of pilots. Between 1965 and 1969, the team executed 3,000 flights with a perfect safety record. While successfully getting its pilots airborne, the duration of each flight maxed out at 21 seconds by the mid-60s. Short flight duration coupled with expensive engineering and high fuel costs caused the Army to scrap its program. Bell continued to demonstrate the device at air shows and state fairs, so it piqued the imagination of many boomers along the way.

Boomers had watched episodes of Rocketman on TV and already wanted to fly with their own rocket pack. As if rocket pack fever wasn’t enough, James Bond entered the mix in the opening sequence of Thunderball (1965). Our man 007 made his getaway courtesy of a Bell Aerospace rocket belt. His stunt double was none other than Bill Suitor.

Mister Boomer recalls seeing a Glad garbage bag commercial on TV in the 1960s where the Man from Glad flies in with a rocket pack to rescue the woman struggling with an inferior trash bag. Despite his memory, he was unable to verify this memory online.

Today the rocket pack is alive and well, with several companies producing versions with various forms of propellant, and individual inventors have created their own devices with mixed results. Two practical applications did arise from the rocket pack idea, though: today astronauts use a similar device for space walks. The NASA device is a direct descendant of the Bell rocket belt. Enterprising inventors realized that if they could figure our a way to keep a fuel supply coming to the belt, fly time could be greatly enhanced. They found a way to pump water to the propulsion unit, and the water jet pack was invented. These devices propel a person, tethered to to the pump unit, above and around a body of water. Variations on the device include one that resembles a skateboard, and others that act like individual “jet shoes.” A recreational rental market has cropped up in several tourist-centric locations around the globe.

Did you want a jet pack, boomers?