GIVE a Yankee boy a suggestion, and his native ingenuity will devise a way to surmount any difficulties that may arise during his attempt to follow and develop it. Every boy delights in exercise; but the solid ground and his own body do not offer chance for enough diversity of action to satisfy his restlessness, and consequently we find him climbing fences and "shinning" trees at every opportunity. There is something fascinating about a gymnasium to the young lad and older youth, but unfortunately gymnastic facilities are not available to a great part of energetic Young America. Few boys, however, in the country realize how easily home-made apparatus can be constructed. A few suggestions as to the building and equipment of a rough-and-ready out-of-door gymnasium such as any boy can make for himself, may be adapted by the reader to the circumstances and facilities at hand.
Every boy knows what is required for the construction of the ordinary swing. If trees are near by, they may be made very useful, as they are often so formed that they will furnish support for a beam or joist to which the ropes may be attached.
Often a single large branch will support the pendent apparatus.
Or, if in-doors, there is always some convenient beam in barn or shed which can be utilized.
If made rightly, the swing may serve both as a swing and as a trapeze. The trapeze bar should be from an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. The handle of a broken pitchfork, hoe, or rake is often used.
Notch the bar near the ends to prevent the rope from slipping; hang the bar so that it can just be reached from the ground, and the trapeze is ready for use. Ropes reaching almost to the ground may be fastened to the bar, and there you have a complete swing and trapeze combined. When the trapeze is used, the lower swing may be laid aside.
A still better arrangement is to have the trapeze bar a foot or six inches above reach. Attach iron rings to ropes, and hang them from the trapeze bar so that they will be about as high as the head. Numberless little combination tricks can be performed with this double apparatus. Rings can be purchased at one dollar a pair.
If, however, the rings' are not readily procured a handy boy can make them himself of plaited rope; while not having the stiffness of the iron rings, these will serve the purpose.
Of course, the rings may be detached from the trapeze at any time. Thus we may have with little or no expense, trapeze, swinging rings, and an ordinary swing.
These equipments require, of course, some overhanging support.
What boy has not circled the cross-bar of some old barn door? Yet, this is simply the horizontal bar; and the horizontal bar is one of the most popular pieces of apparatus in a gymnasium. The best bars are made of hickory, and are one and a half or two inches in diameter. The ends are square and when regular uprights are used, there are small holes at the ends for the insertion of the supporting pins.
A very good bar can be purchased of dealers in gymnastic goods for two dollars. But boys may make a bar for themselves out of maple or hickory, or by using a large pitchfork or hoe-handle. Home-made bars should, however, always be tested thoroughly before being used, and should not be used by very large or heavy boys.
A Wrestling Match.
The greatest difficulty arises in fixing the bar firmly. If an old tree is at hand, a hole about an inch and a half deep may be cut out, into which one end of the bar should exactly fit.
Then, if a large post or an ordinary piece of joist can be firmly planted at a distance of four or five feet from the tree, the other end of the bar may be inserted in that. The planted post should be well propped to prevent spreading. The bar should be about five feet from the ground.
All the feats on the horizontal bar, except a few of the more difficult and dangerous, may be performed with the bar at that height. But a tree is not al-ways available, and the boy must often depend for one support upon the side of a house or barn or upon a fence. If he squares the end of his bar, he can easily arrange a support by nailing firmly to the house a piece of thick board or plank, with an opening cut to receive the end of the bar.
The board should be thick enough to prevent the bar from coming out of the opening when it bends with the weight of the performer. The other end, of course, may be supported by upright joist or plank as described above.
If a rough mattress of hay or straw cannot be made, it would be well to loosen the earth on one side of the bar to save any unnecessary jars; for beginners are quite liable to fall upon shoulders or back.
Jumping standards are most easily made. Place two upright sticks firmly in the ground. Drive in nails, an inch apart, allowing them to project an inch or two for holding the cross-bar. The uprights should be six feet apart, and the ground in front should be firm and solid in order to assure a good take-off for the jump. A small stick is generally used as a cross-bar; although many use a small rope, to the ends of which weights are attached to keep it taut.
A handkerchief or white paper placed on the crossbar aids the jumper. These standards may also be used for hurdling, pole-vaulting, or high diving. For the diving, a thick, soft mat is necessary.
The vaulting-horse is a piece of apparatus not well known to those who have not attended the gymnasium. But a great variety of exercises may be done upon it, and a rough one may be easily constructed, especially in the country. Secure a smooth log about five feet long and from twelve to twenty inches in diameter, and after rounding it at the ends, insert four substantial and firm legs, about two and a half or three feet long. One set should be about a foot from one end of the log, and the other two legs about two feet from the other end.
This log may be covered with canvas, under which a little straw or hay may be placed, or it can be used without a covering. By attaching curved pieces of wood to the log, pommels are supplied which will greatly add to the usefulness of the apparatus and to the number of feats that may be performed upon it.
All kinds of vaulting and many easy tricks are done on the horse.
None of this apparatus can be constructed without perseverance and patience; for trifling difficulties will nearly always arise, which, owing to the different conditions under which boys may work, cannot be considered here.
BY WILLIAM F. GARCELON.