On the Skids

There’s nothing quite like the right accessories to personalize a collector car. Some of those items are so unusual that they can be interesting, even if they’re never installed. Consider The New 1954 Connecticut D-Skidder, an aftermarket sander set that applied sand near the wheels of a vehicle to aid in snow traction. One set was recently found at a flea market in its original packaging with the installation instructions tucked inside.

“My father had a set on his ’56 Dodge,” said Mark Zalutko of Forty Fort, Pa. “That had been a fire chief’s car in Hazleton and I think that’s why they put them on. I think it was the purpose of getting out when (the chief) had to.”

Hazleton, Pa. is a city known for impressively snowy winters, so Zalutko’s explanation is probably correct. The Dodge’s sander set was not a Connecticut D-Skidder, he said, but apparently was a dealer-installed option.

Regardless of the brand, he said that, based on what he saw when his father was showing the Dodge in the 1980s, automotive sanders were largely forgotten by that time. Some spectators recognized them, possibly from having seen them on trucks or buses where they remain in widespread use today, but others were surprised to learn what they were and how they operated.

His father was prepared; when he showed the car, he placed a small tray in front of each rear wheel to catch the sand that he applied in demonstrations.

The Dodge’s sanders were one reason that Zalutko bought the D-Skidder set, but not the only reason.

“I loved the bright orange and black colors,” he admitted, “how they looked on there. They were in mint condition, so I just figured I’d get them and someday, eventually, sell them. I just came across them and saw them — that bright orange paint — and I said, ‘why not?’”

 The D-Skidder was a product of Connecticut Telephone and Electric Corp., which was then a division of Great American Industries. Located in Meriden, Conn., the company manufactured the obvious products — telephone and electrical equipment — and in the early days of motoring produced coils, magnetos and other components for automotive ignition systems.

The kit consists of a hopper, tubing and controls, along with the necessary fasteners and connectors. Its instructions are fairly clear, but installation isn’t something to be taken lightly, as building a wooden platform inside the trunk might be necessary, the rear seat must be removed, holes must be drilled, cables must be fed through the body and so on. Patience and attention to detail would go far, as the instructions delicately state that, “by carefully following the steps given, the D-Skidder may be installed with a minimum of time and effort. DO NOT OMIT ANY STEP!”

Wisely, the company realized that even those who successfully made it through the installation process might not know just how to use the sanders, so it provided a summary that begins with the basics.

“The D-Skidder is easily operated by pulling the sand control handle,” it explains. “When driving on icy or slippery road surfaces, apply sand before stopping. This will lay a sand track so that you can stop without skidding and start again — forward or backward — without spinning the wheels. Releasing large quantities of sand is not necessary. In normal driving on icy or slippery roads, release sand only as needed.”

That would cover just about everything that the average driver needs to know about sanders. One additional warning — that sanders sometimes don’t work as they should — likely could’ve prevented more than a little frustration, had it been included with a note on the importance of using dry sand and being prepared to tap the sanders to break up clogs.

Probably the most interesting item in the instructions is a common-sense suggestion. Those who might have believed that the D-Skidders would enable them to sneer at potentially hazardous winter surfaces are admonished to “drive safely! Regulate speed to road conditions. D-Skidder provides that extra margin of safety!”

Neither installation nor operation of the D-Skidder is something that concerns Zalutko, since he has no plans to use it in his 1951 Thrif-T, a very small three-wheeled delivery vehicle. He agreed, though, that the Thrif-T’s lightweight probably means it’s not very capable in snow and that sanders would certainly be an amusing addition to an already unusual vehicle.

“Can you imagine them in my Thrif-T?” he laughed.” That would be neat to have them in that.”

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