Head for the Hills

Camden is the site of this Postcard from Maine - also the site of one of the last remaining toboggan chutes in the country...and the self-proclaimed last American maker of wooden toboggans. CBS Sunday Morning contributor Tim Sample has a heart-warming story about a chilly past-time.

There's not a lot of snow up in the state of Maine this winter, but it hasn't kept people in Camden from indulging in one of their favorite winter pastimes: tobagganing.

In fact, the Camden Snow Bowl is the site of the National Toboggan Championships, where people from all over the country have been putting their sleds on the line for 9 years now.

Why Camden? Well, according to local Cathy Latham, "we've got the only toboggan chute on the East Coast, as far as we know."

Jack Williams is the flag-bearer and the guy who talked the town of Camden into rebuilding their old toboggan chute. He remembers, "Back in the 30's, we used to have a toboggan chute, then that went by the boards. I suggested, let's rebuild the old toboggan chute. Then somebody said, let's race toboggans, it's only a ten-second ride but it's grown like crazy."

To compete in the National Toboggan Championships in Camden, you don't need much: a good toboggan, a catchy team name and a colorful outfit. But mostly you're just going to need a spirit of adventure.

Good cheer and high spirits are easy to come by. Just ask some guys who came up from Massachusetts for the race.

One guy says he likes the training regimen. "You go out in the morning, say, 'I think I'll have that short stack of pancakes,' since weight is speed."

There are plenty of colorful costumes. But, to get your hands on a good wooden toboggan, you've got a couple of choices:

You can follow the example of Todd Temple of Bath. Ask Todd what kind of toboggan he's got and he'll tell you, "It's homemade."

Or you can scrounge around.

Another tobagganer says he found his old toboggan in a junk store and fixed it up. He says, "It's not one of the fastest, but we're having fun."

But if you want to buy a new wooden toboggan, there's really only one place to go: Dave Nazeroff's Camden Toboggan Company.

Ask the tobogganers what makes a Camden Company toboggan so good, they'll tell you, "Well, you can get 'em. That's what makes 'em good."

Dave Nazeroff says: "we claim to be the last and only toboggan manufacturer in the country. And we'll hold onto that unless someone comes knocking on my door to prove elsewise. And we don't mass-produce them in any way. It's somewhat primitive. But I guess we enjoy that part of it."

Nazeroff started the Camden Toboggan Company a few years back to keep the men on his construction crew busy during the slow winter months.

Nazeroff recalls: "so we got the ad in the paper and darn if we didn't get four orders for that year for Christmas. We come out here in the shop, fellow and yself, and said 'how are we gonna make these things?' - cause we had never made a toboggan before, and didn't have a clue."

Eventually they got pretty good at it. They learned how to steam the wooden slats just enough to bend them around the wooden forms, and how to coax the pieces together to make the curl at the front without breaking any.

Dave Reed is the chief toboggan maker. He says, "They don't make a lot of toboggans at the Camden Toboggan Company, but that doesn't seem to bother anyone."

Nazeroff adds: "From one season to another, I'd say we make about 30. And that's quite enough. What we do in the Fall is go out and ask some loggers to supply us with ash logs. I've even bought logs from a couple that twitched them out of the woods with a team of horses, we pushed them up on to my truck and took it to the mill."

Dave Nazeroff keeps a list of all his customers over the years - and gives every toboggan a number, so he can keep track of it.

For all his joking, you can tell that Dave Nazeroff and his crew are proud of every toboggan they make.

"They're intended to be heirlooms," Nazeroff says. "We don't want anyone to use them, hang them on the wall and say, 'my father gave that to me.' People call and say, 'I remember when I was a kid and I had a toboggan. I want one for my kids.'"

Wonder if they ever test-drive them? Nazeroff says: "No, never been on one. We keep our record clean. None of us has actually been in the race."

Dave Nazeroff and his men might not be sliding down the toboggan chute, but just about everyone else in town is - and at least half of them are on toboggans from the Camden Toboggan Company.

Nazeroff tells us, "People have called and asked us, 'can you produce fast sleds?' And I say, 'sure, we can produce fast sleds, but they're extra money. They're about 25 dollars extra for a fast sled.'"

There's really nothing much hi-tech about anything that's going on here: a few pieces of wood lashed together and pointed down hill.

When you ask Dave, the only manufacturer of wooden toboggans in the country, what he's doing to prepare for the Year 2000, he says, "As long as ash trees are growing in the state of Maine, we're all set."

And as long as people remember the thrill of barreling down the side of a mountain on a few slats of wood, Dave and his men will be keeping busy well into the next millenium.

For more information or to order a toboggan, the Camden Toboggan Company is located at 49 John St., Camden, Maine 04843. 207-236-6390.

For information about the Camden Toboggan Championships, contact Cathy Latham, and the Camden Chamber of Commerce, 207-236-4404.

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