(Note: the following article is reproduced from the Vernal Express, January 14, 1987. A few corrections were made to the figures.)

Toboggan maker, last of his kind.

Rescue unit saves 6500 per year.

By Steven Wallis

Express News Editor

In the past 200 years there have been numerous developments in methods of sliding down a steep, snow-covered hill, but none carry the mystique or the personal valor of a hand-made toboggan - it's the last of a kind.

Jim Hendricks welds...

From his Maeser shop, Jim Hendricks has been producing a hickory wood toboggan for the past 14 years. There is no shop like it anywhere in the country, but Hendricks does not take full credit for the development of the toboggan.

Several 100 years ago, Indians in northeastern United States used a birch-bark device, a "Taw-baa-gan" to tow cargo behind them over the snow. A 100 years later the toboggan, like those of today, was developed.

Made of wood with a curved front, they were popular mainly for recreation, but in some cases they were used for hauling cargo.

In the late 1940s, Todd Weems of Big Bear Lake, Calif. wanted to purchase a toboggan for his daughter, Linda, but none were available at any price because of World War II. Determined to give his daughter the present, he built his first toboggan out of some hardwood flooring heated in a pan of water in his kitchen and bent over a round wooden form.

Ski Renters Interested

The ski rental people at a nearby resort were immediately interested in the toboggan and ordered 100 of them. He was instantly in business. He relied on the help of a neighbor who built row boats to set up a shop. He hired mostly relatives, and he called his creation a "Toddboggan".

In five to six years the small operation had sold several thousand toboggans in California, Oregon and Utah. Then the roof fell in - he discovered he owed more in federal excise tax than be was worth. He was bankrupt as quickly as he went into business.

A general building contractor and former tool-maker of Consolidated Vultee Aircraft in Downey, Calif., Jim Hendricks, became interested in the business.

Building in Big Bear Lake was slow in the winter and wanting some more to do in the winter, he bought the business.

Then the demand was for toboggans for snow-play in sizes of three to eight feet. Eight-footers did not sell well, and because the lumber came from the mill in random lengths, the longer pieces began to accumulate.

Rescue Unit born


Rescue Unit

To utilize the longer pieces, Hendricks developed a first-aid toboggan. The "Sun Valley Rescue Sled" was a starting point. He re-designed the unit and added special hardware to attach a "Stokes Utter" to carry an injured skier safely down the mountain.

The first unit was developed in 1954 and soon was selling to many ski resorts in the U.S. Over 20 of the units were on the hills during the 1960 Olympic Games at Squaw Valley.

Not everyone was pleased with the first units. Ski patrolmen, especially in the East, complained that they were too heavy, particularly on less steep slopes.

After the hardware was changed from steel to aluminum and other improvements, the hefty 140-pound unit was trimmed to 70 pounds. The lighter unit began selling in 1960. Today, nearly 700 have been shipped to 28 states and parts of Canada. Yearly an average of 6500 accident victims are brought to first-aid stations in the units.

With both the snow-play and rescue toboggans, business continued to grow, and Hendricks hired more help. He employed from 10 to 12 workers every winter. The shop's biggest customers were rental outlets.

In the late 1960s the toboggan business dropped. Three wheelers, snowmobiles and more and more ski areas changed the demand for winter recreational products. A "sue-happy public" made it difficult for rental shops to retain insurance, and soon that toboggan market dried up.

The population explosion hit California and began to make drastic changes in the little mountain town of Big Bear Lake. Property values skyrocketed, four-day weekends brought over 200,000 people to the mountain and "things became a madhouse"

"Likes the clean water, peaceful rural setting"

Hendricks began to get itchy feet, and after a year of looking, he decided to move to Vernal. In 1969 Vernal was "rather a sleepy little town" - everything closed up on Sunday, there was clean mountain water, no freeways, no railroads, no smog and the winters were not too bad. It was just what Hendricks was looking for. He moved.

The first rescue toboggan used a first-aid litter purchased from "war surplus stores," but soon that source dried up. He had to develop a jig and tools to make his own litters. To date he has made over 1,000 of the special basket-like units that fit on the rescue toboggan.

Hand-made parts

He used to hire a welder and a machinist, but now he does all the work. All parts are made from scratch.

Over the years he has supplied about 1,100 units to over 150 major ski areas from California to Maine and also in British Columbia and Alaska.

He maintains a small supply of recreation toboggans in his shop at 1214 North 3000 West, but the majority of his toboggan making efforts now focus on the rescue unit.


The business has not made him rich, but the work is something he knows and enjoys. Now entering his "golden years," he still has a steady hand on the acetylene torch, and he machines all the metal parts used to hold the litter to the toboggan.

10000 in a Lifetime

He has made over 10,000 toboggans in his lifetime, and now prides himself on being "the last of the wood toboggan makers" as toboggans have disappeared from the marketplace.

"To my know ledge, there is no other in the United States. If people want a toboggan, they will have to come to this shop in Vernal."

After 34 years in the toboggan making business, Hendricks is eyeing retirement. He has just enough materials in stock for 50 more rescue units.

He is tempted to just close up shop, but if the right man should come along, he says he would not hesitate a moment to sell out and share the secrets he has learned over the years of toboggan making.

No, he would not totally stop working with wood and metal, but he would let go of his life-long work just enough to call it a retirement.

He is facing the fact -- "I can't go on forever."

Watch the YouTube VideoThe Last Toboggan Makerfrom a news broadcast (approximately 1979) when Jim decided to retire.

Jim Hendricks passed away in the fall of 1989, just before his 75th birthday. His wife Virginia and son Paul carried on the family business until Virginia passed away in 2000.

Paul Hendricks eventually moved to Las Vegas, taking the toboggan factory with him.  He operated the business, along with his wife Diane (“Deb”), from Las Vegas until his death in 2012, after which the business was disbanded.

The jig for making the toboggans along with the last complete rescue unit were sold to Randall Edgar of Bellevue, Idaho, who is using the jig to make and repair toboggans to keep the ski area fleet of rescue toboggans working.  That story can be found at: