Wagons for Easter

What seemed like extravagant gifts turned out to be useful to these families.

A basket with eggs, candy and maybe a few small toys was what a kid usually got on Easter morning when I was growing up in the 1940s in Iron River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But on Easter 1949, my cousin and my little brother got an unusual surprise. They each received a Radio Flyer Special Edition wagon.

I was the oldest of the cousins, and the wagon issue started when I got a Radio Flyer Special Edition for my 9th birthday on April 14, which was just a few days before Easter that year. Almost all our extended family lived in the same tiny neighborhood, and when my cousin and my brother saw my birthday wagon, they wanted one too. So, with Easter just around the corner, our families decided to splurge and buy the wagons. Ordinarily, such a big purchase was reserved only for a birthday or Christmas.

After gathering at my grandmother's house for Easter dinner, we kids lined up outside to form a wagon train and have a picture taken with our shiny new Radio Flyer Specials. My mother, who is now 107, remembers the wagons cost about $4 each.

Those little red wagons served us well over the years. What we called the "back road" was sparsely traveled and had a slight hill that made it great for my brother and me to coast down.

Unfortunately, my cousin Joan was not allowed to engage in such rough play with her wagon. Her mom insisted she "take care of it." But she was allowed to use hers for a doll buggy, and she often pulled the little red wagon along the path between our grandma's house and hers to borrow a cup of sugar or flour for her mom or to return some item. In those days, mothers were always borrowing or returning something from one another. In our neighborhood, it was "all in the family" when it came to sharing resources.

Sometimes we used the wagons to give our dogs, Prince and Pal, a ride, but that usually didn't work. They were used to running on their own and didn't want to stay confined in a wagon. In those days, dogs didn't have to be tied up or fenced in, especially out in the country where we lived.

In the fall, my brother and I helped haul potatoes from the garden to the house in our wagons. Later in the fall, we'd help my dad and Uncle John by using our wagons to carry wood they had chopped to the woodpile.

Our wagons were stored during the winter when snow was in abundance. Then, we kids used only sleds, skis or toboggans for transportation.

I have many happy memories of our little red wagons. When I grew up and had kids of my own, I bought another wagon, this time a regular Radio Flyer, to transport my kids to visit my parents who still lived less than a mile away. The wagon was cheaper than a stroller.

We owe the pleasure of those wonderful little red wagons to Antonio Pasin, who was born in Venice, Italy, in 1897. He came to America at age 16 and ended up in Chicago, where he invested his savings in woodworking tools and made his first wagon in 1917. He had never had a wagon of his own when he was young, and he wanted to make a wagon that was affordable for every child.

In 1927, he took a risk and invested his savings in a small factory, calling his first wagon the Radio Flyer because he was fascinated with both radio and flight. The wagons were later named according to size and style. The most popular color was red, but the wagons were also available in green and blue.