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Little red wagons still making big impression

Artist Ken Spiering calls it the universal symbol of childhood.

It just might be.

There’s something about the little red wagon that sets it apart from other toys. Maybe it’s an American classic because, no mere plaything, it addresses a primal urge – the need to haul stuff. To get the job done.

It’s something kids understand.

Whether it is your stuffed bear, your Legos, the family dog or your little sister, if you want to transport important cargo from Point A to Point B, there is no more time-honored conveyance.

You might grow up and find yourself wanting to own a pickup truck. But you never really forget your wagon. For many of us, it was our first rig.

It remains nothing less than nostalgia on wheels.

“It does touch the child in all of us,” said Spiering, creator of the oversized Radio Flyer wagon – formally titled The Childhood Express – ensconced in Riverfront Park since 1990, shortly after the Washington centennial in 1989.

Chicago-based Radio Flyer celebrates its own centennial this month. And your friends at the Today section thought this would be the perfect occasion to ask readers to share family photos starring childhood wagons.

Thanks to all who did – those whose pictures we present today and those whose photos got left out of the mix.

Inspired by his son and the boy’s wagon, Spiering’s iconic creation for Riverfront Park became a source of joy for countless members of our community. Moreover, in the years following its installation, the XXXL wagon became something Spiering could count on when he needed a boost.

“I would sit and watch people play on it. It always gave me a lift.”

We hope, in some small way, these photographs will do the same.

Yes, some red wagons are used as flower planters, retro home decor or any number of other things. But almost invariably, when wagons show up in photo albums or online picture collections, they signal one thing: Family.

When people start telling family stories, childhood almost always comes up. And some things seem to roll right into the picture.

“Remember when you had that little red wagon?”

Sure, you do. Just about everybody does.

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