Memoir – The Train Tracks

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I don’t feel the need to be entirely truthful. I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

The Train Tracks

Like many, many towns in the flatlands, we had a railroad track running by our neighborhood. It ran along the west side of Boulder Hill from the Fox River all the way south through Oswego. I can still hear the sound of the train and the whistle blowing on warm summer nights when I had my window open. That train and the sounds of motorcycles racing along the river and the cicadas are some the favorite sounds from my childhood.

Standing on train tracks and just looking is a different experience. IN the flatlands, it really does look like the track go on forever. They have a mythic quality, the promise of someone other than where you are and the chance that something will come along from somewhere else and change where you are. For us, the train tracks were both and more.

The Bridge – At the river, the train ran across a bridge to the other side. One day while we were down by the river we thought to have a look at the underside of the tracks. We climbed up one of the supports and found that there was a walkway under the bridge and it went all the way across the river. It was like a yellow brick road to some magical place, only that is was made from old rotted wood and led to a sewage treatment plant on the other side. It was late in the day, so we decided that we would make an adventure of it that weekend. Weekend came and we got to the tracks by about 10. We climbed up and started across. It was wobbily, it echoed our nervous voices, it smelled like diesel and dead fish. You had to set over the iron supports every six to eight feet, so the going was slow. It was also a big nerve wracking because we were 30 feet or so above the river, which we knew was less than 3 feet deep. A fall would break your legs, then you would drown. In total, the bridge was two hundred to two hundred and fifty feet long. About a third of the way across, there was a platform off to the side. Nice place to rest, except that it was occupied. Two guys a year older than us were standing there smoking…and holding guns. One was the Crossman BB/Pellet gun that had taught a generation of us that squirrels are quicker than they look and the nieghbor’s house is closer than it looked. The other gun was bigger, but not a hunting rifle. Looking back on it, it’s possible that it was a .22, but more likely it was a specialized pellet gun. At that time, it didn’t matter exactly what they were. What did matter was that we were essentially trapped with two guys with guns. We said our hello’s and continued on the wobbily bridge, threading through the trestles as we went. I heard a ‘tink” and saw a little spark off to my left. Then another and another. Hymie, who was bringing up the rear, yelled, “get moving, they’re shooting!” We ran the rest of the way, jumping through the trestles and bouncing on the old rotted boards.

The Stash
Another day, we decided to walk the tracks from the bridge and head south until we got to the Civic Center. We bought some donuts and pop at the bakery next to the Buy Rite and headed south. Early on the trip, just a bit behind the apartments, we found a cardboard box suspiciously stuffed in some rocks on the other side of the tracks. We opened up the box and found someone’s porn stash. It was ragged, water damaged, and otherwise mangled….but it had naked women so we took what we could stuff into our coats and headed on. We decided to stop around lunch, but we needed a private place to do our reading. We followed a little trail back into some woods and came across a little clearing with stumps for stools and a ring for a fire. There were empty pop cans, old vegetable cans and cigarette butts scattered around. We figured we found some type of hobo campground. Though we had no idea what a hobo really was. So for the next hour, we had an educational experience and donuts.

Herbie, the duck
One other walk on the tracks, we made it almost to Oswego, but we stopped where the train crosses Rt. 25 just outside of town. We climbed down the embankment and found ourselves right by a culvert that lead under the highway and it was big enough to walk in if you bent over a ways. We shuffled our way through the and found a very secluded little creek and forest area that we had no idea was there. The creek formed into a pond fifteen feet wide or so and maybe 4 feet deep. The pond emptied out into another creek and then the river about 50 years later. It was like some sylvan paradise, idyllic in a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn kind of way. We sat down to rest , enjoying the quiet in between the passing of cars and trucks just 30 feet away but oblivious to our presence. In the quiet, we could hear a rustling now and then and a little peep. We searched until we found it, a little yellow baby duck. It would sit in our hand, follow us around, and otherwise be just a cute as a baby duck can be. We searched around, even went close to the house nearby, but we couldn’t find any sign of other ducks. We built him a nest of sorts where he could get to the water easily, but also be sheltered from the weather. We named him Herbie. We discussed what they ate and how we could take care of him. None of us were about to try to explain a baby duck to our parents, so when we left, we had to make sure he didn’t follow. We were awfully quiet going back home, knowing that a baby duck didn’t have much chance. When we spit up to go our separate ways home, we agreed that we would each talk to our parents about keeping him, then come back tomorrow with a way to carry him back. That night it stormed like it can only storm in the flatlands. High winds, heavy rain, and lots of lightning. We rode our bikes down there but we couldn’t get through he culvert because of the water. We crossed the highway and went down the hill to Herbie’s home. The idyllic little refuge was now a disaster zone. A lot of leaves and branches had washed through the culvert, along with a lot of water. The pond was gone, the shelter was gone, and Herbie was gone. The ride home was very, very quiet.

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