One summer back in the late 1950s or early 60s, one such crazy idea my brother had was a zip line. This was long before it was called that. Nowadays you can buy kits for the back yard or go to an expensive park attraction to zip. What John did was on the cheap and totally homemade.
We had a huge old black walnut tree at the end of the driveway and a short distance from our chicken coop on one side of our backyard. I think my grandfather had planted it around 1900. By the time brother John tied a thick rope around the upper half or so of the tree, it was really big. I think it would have taken two or three kids to wrap their arms around it, it was that big.
Anyway, a block and tackle thing something like this one pictured was threaded on the rope and the other end of the rope was secured to a smaller tree about 50 feet away (maybe more) at the edge of our stand of trees we called the little forest. The starting end of the rope was attached about 20 or so feet up the walnut tree – much lower at the other end, therefore allowing for a thrilling ride. There was another rope hanging from the pulley thing which allowed us to whip the pulley thing up to whoever was in the crook of the tree waiting their turn to zip. The person waiting would grab the pulley by the hook, he would push off from the walnut tree holding on for dear life and zip down the rope in a good clip only to end a moment later using his legs to break at the smaller tree. Once at the end, I don't think there was a problem dropping from the pulley to the ground. At least no one complained about the distance. And the ritual would start over again.
We had a short ladder propped up against the tree which reached a branch we would grab onto to boost ourselves up to another branch in order to climb the rest of the way to start our extreme sport. Waiting to ride, we would hug the trunk of the tree. I'm not sure if there was a smallish platform at the jumping off point or not.
For a long time, I was the only girl allowed to climb and ride. I guess I was somewhat of a daredevil, or just crazy now that I look back on it. There were several of my brother's friends who participated, too. It was hours of fun most of the summer. No one wore a helmet or pads. There was no break on the pulley to stop us – only our legs. No one ever got hurt either.
One instance I remember, a girlfriend of mine wanted to have a ride. So the guys helped her up the tree and onto the seat. As she was starting to zip, one of the fellows grabbed the dangling rope and held my friend in the middle of her run high enough up she couldn't (or wouldn't) jump down. She started to scream to let her down, but they held her up there for what seemed an eternity and finally released her to finish her run. She never asked to zip again!
For the longest time we were all holding on to the hook, dangling as we went down. I don't know why, but one day there was a crude seat attached to the pulley hook. The seat was a piece of wood with small ropes on each side similar to a homemade swing's seat. Zipping down wasn't the same; the adrenalin rush didn't rush as it did for us holding onto the hook for dear life. The fun pretty much subsided.
This is how I remember it. I'm sure my brother could add a lot more stories to it. I don't remember how long our fun lasted that one summer. Once it ended, I'm sure brother John was on to something else before school started. There was always something going on in our backyard.