I was born, raised, and lived as a Little Falls Westsider; then I left. But I am BACK, and still a Westsider and a Minnesotan.
Those of us who grew up on the Bestside had many things available to us; stores, churches, rec centers, schools, parks, and all the many things that are found in a small town. If we wanted to see a movie, go to the fair, or learn to play baseball on a REAL baseball field, we had to cross the river to THE OTHER SIDE. To get there (east), we could get there by using the mother-approved way, or we could go the kid way, the fun way, the dangerous way; we could walk on the wild side! Our choices were the Broadway bridge (boring) or the TRESTLE by the paper mill, which brought us across the river only a few blocks from the fairgrounds ballpark.
Now a railroad bridge added excitement to our lives, because we could die while attempting to cross it. Signs warned us that it was railroad property–NO TRESPASSING!! Either railroad workers or the papermill workers would yell at us or, if they were young enough, they would chase us to keep us off that bridge.
Now you have to understand that the trestle was not like the one that spans the river today; it was old, wooden, narrow, and high above the river. It was a single track wide and it had a narrow catwalk on the south side, with a wooden railing to keep us from plunging to certain death in the river below. If we were on our bikes, that meant walking the bike across because if we tried to ride across on the catwalk and fell, to the north we would land on the tracks and break bones; if we fell to the south, we would undoubtedly fall over the railing, into the river and drown.
Actually, crossing was no big deal, unless we were about halfway across when a train came along quickly and quietly, leaving us with 2 choices: run toward the train and hopefully be off the bridge before the train killed you, or try to get off the bridge before the train caught up with you and killed you. We discovered that when you are 10 years old, it doesn’t take long for your life to flash before your eyes.
There was a third desperate choice that some of us had to resort to–the water barrel. Every 100 feet or so (distance, height, and danger, are variable elements to a kid, so my details may be off a bit) there was a platform jutting out from the catwalk that held a barrel, in that barrel was water to be used to put out any small fires that may have started on the bridge. The barrel was also big enough to hold a kid who jumped in it and the held his bike out over the river until the train passed by, not killing him. We lived–usually, and most eastsiders went on to lead their boring, humdrum kid lives, while we Bestsiders faced death on an almost daily basis, either by train or angry mothers.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger–and occasionally, smarter. I have not crossed an active trestle in at least 55 years. God, how I miss the terror!
Date of Essay: February 21, 2012