About a half mile away from the Pink House, down fourth street, across the Pipestem Creek, in a cow pasture, was Cardboard Hill. Cardboard Hill is where we spent most of our time in the winter. Every kid in the neighborhood would make the rounds of Sears, Montgomery Wards, and Dodgson Appliance, looking for refrigerator or stove boxes. Lacking those, we’d accept just about any box large enough to break down and sit on. We’d haul those pieces of cardboard to the top of the snowy hill, pile on as many kids as would fit, then slide down the hill at top speed. No adults were anywhere near. The top of Cardboard Hill was about 70 feet above the flood plain. There was a short flat spot just before the huge (to a seven year old) drop-off into the river. That last steep part was probably only eight or ten feet, but that’s enough to get the heart racing. In summer the hill was just another cow pasture, but in winter after school or on a weekend afternoon it was alive with kids.
Another of my favorite places to visit was the railroad. It was only a couple of blocks from our house. I’m told that even as a little boy (maybe four years old) Mom and Dad would occasionally find me sitting on the tracks in the rail yard, watching the switch engine build a train.
Those were the steam days, so there was a water tower and a coal loading station across the street from the “Beanery.” That’s where the crews had breakfast while waiting for the engines to be fired up and the trains to be assembled. It was always buzzing with working men and great smells.
Even better than the Beanery was the roundhouse. Talk about great smells! Coal, steam and oil. What a combination. In those days there was no such thing as security. Imagine this … a seven year old boy walks in through the open doors of the round house and starts climbing around on live steam engines. These were the big over the road engines. Sure, there were a couple of those newfangled diesel electric units, but they were really boring. Steamers had way more knobs and levers. We could even get down in to the pits below the engines, but I don’t recall that we ever took that challenge.
Almost every building in that complex is now gone. Abandoned and more or less cleaned up. Boring.
Just beyond the rail yard was a gravel pit. We made it that far just a couple of times, but that’s not the kind of thing you ever told your mother about. They had cut into the hill to excavate gravel, leaving a cliff about 30 feet tall. There were large pools of water at the bottom of the cliff. Not only that, but we had to cross the rail yards to get to the pit. We’d climb over, around and through freight cars in the yard. Somehow we missed being there whenever they moved a train. In later years we’d ride bikes around the long way to get to the gravel pit. I get the chills just looking at the site now, even though the wall has mostly flattened out.
I went to Franklin school for most of the first six grades. There was no kindergarten for us. The school was only a couple of blocks away. My mother or grandmother may have taken me the first day, but the standard procedure was to walk both ways, and come home for lunch. Thinking about this today, what mother would let her six year old kid walk along the river bank for a block, cross the bridge, the railroad track, and then a busy street to get to school? Those were the good old days.
It amazes me how many names I remember in that picture. I’m in row 2, Mark is in the back, Ray and Doug are in the front.
There was a lot to learn on the walk to school. In the mornings we’d leave a penny on the railroad tracks. Then we would throw rocks, some as big as we could carry, off the bridge to try and break through the ice. If the ice didn’t break, then we didn’t need the bridge, we could just walk across the river. By evening the penny would have been run over by the train and we would have a new trinket.