by Leon Chamberlain

When I was growing up there were three possessions that were critical to a boy’s happiness and survival. One was a bicycle, which I have written about. The other was a Flexible Flyer Sleigh which I have also written about. The third is a sling shot, correctly called a flipper crutch. A sling shot is a device consisting of four long cords, 18 inches to 24 inches tied to the four corners of a pouch approximately 3” square. A rock or other hard item is placed in the pouch and you would hold the cords in one hand and swing it over your head. Centrifugal force would hold the rock in the pouch. After rotating the sling around over your head several times as fast as you could, you would release two of the cords allowing the rock or other hard item to be released. The rock would travel towards its target at a high rate of speed hopefully striking the target. This is the device David of the Old Testament used to slay Goliath.

Leon and a friend getting into mischief

Being accurate with a sling requires much practice and skill. A flipper crutch is a device usually cut from a tree branch that forms a “Y”. Two rubber bands are attached to the top of the “Y” and to a pouch. You use the energy created when you pull back on the pouch loaded with a projectile to propel to its target. For rubber bands we would cut strips from an old inner tube from a car or bike. Back in the 40’s and 50’s inner tubes were made from natural rubber which has good elastic properties. The pouch was made from the tongue of an old shoe. Our “ammo” was usually some hand-picked round rocks about 1⁄2” in diameter. In a pinch we would use an old marble. We were very careful to avoid windows and people. Unfortunately we would sometimes target birds that invade our fruit trees. A well-placed rock would easily kill a bird or shoo-off an unwanted dog. We called our flipper crutch our personal protection device and you did not mess with someone who was good with their flipper crutch.

I read somewhere that the army investigated using a flipper crutch to propel a small explosive device. More modern versions of the flipper crutch are called wrist rockets and they use steel balls as ammo. As you can imagine, these devices border on being deadly. As a young boy I made many flipper crutches and spent many happy hours shooting at targets of bottles and cans. It was all we needed in those days.

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