Growing Up In Waterford, PA


The Railroad Bridge
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

Way back in the 1940s, I was employed as a kid. My parents, of course, were my employers, and they compensated me with room and board and ice cream. It was a full-time job, and I was good at it.

Part of my duties was to go fishing with my Dad. Sometimes we fished in the nearby lake, but more often we went to a few of our favorite spots along the big creek that meandered around town, But I was always anxious to go somewhere new --- some place I'd never been before.

Dad had told me many times about the good fishing at the railroad bridge when he was a kid. It was located about a mile from town and was a great place with tons of fish, easy to catch because almost no one ever went there. So, at about age 12, I was more than willing to go with Dad. He suggested we try out luck at the railroad bridge.

I remember asking about what we'd do if a train came along. Dad said we would be perfectly safe. Besides, a train was pretty unlikely because rail traffic on that line was fairly scarce. He'd never seen a train go through when he was fishing there.

But on the off-chance that one might come along, I wasn't to look at it. This was still the era of steam locomotives, and they had a habit of throwing cinders every which way. I've been told that getting hit in the eye with an airborne cinder is not a pleasant thing.

We parked the car at the coal yard beside the railroad and walked a little ways up the track to the bridge. "Little ways" were Dad's words. It seemed like five or six miles to me. Railroad ties are never spaced right for easy walking.

Eventually we got to the bridge, a big concrete structure about 100 feet above the creek. I wasn't sure I had enough line on my reel to even reach the water.

(Actually, it's probably more like 25 feet from the bridge to the water, but things look bigger when you're twelve).

Perched precariously on the bridge abutment, we had been fishing for a half-hour without the slightest hint of a bite. Of course, at that distance it was hard to see the bobbers, so we may have missed a twitch or two. But it was a nice place to be on a summer day. The area on both sides of the tracks was heavily wooded. Flowers were blooming, and birds were signing. It was just a lazy, comfortable place --- so calm, so serene.

Then I heard a train whistle in the distance!

I looked down the tracks, and way, way off I could see the glaring headlight growing larger by the second! And then I could make out the whole engine --- coming directly at us!

Dad reminded me to keep my face turned away. I said something clever, like "un-huh", and continued to stare at the approaching monster!

I hoped against hope that the thing would turn off on a side road before it got to us, but being very sharp-minded even at that young age, I realized that trains do not generally make right-angle turns.

Louder and louder and bigger and bigger it got! A great plume of black smoke billowed from the stack, and steam was issuing from various places! The engine must have been 30 feet high!

I could feel my blood pressure rising proportionately as the train grew closer! I was having difficulty breathing! Then I realized that Dad had a rather tight grip on the back of my shirt collar. I gasped at him, and he loosened up a little.

I'm not absolutely sure, but this particular locomotive may have been the biggest ever built! I'M pretty sure it was 50 feet high, and its speed was approaching 1,000 miles per hours! And it was going to pass within inches of us!

As the train got to us, the engineer blew the whistle! He Needn't have done that! My senses were pretty much overwhelmed by that time anyway!

The bridge shook frighteningly, probably registering 5.5 on the Richter Scale.

The noise was incredible, and ear-splitting, nerve-shattering roar way above the threshold of pain! Almost as loud as the stereos in some teenagers' cars!

In my mind's eye, I could see the bridge crumbling beneath us and the locomotive, (which was at least 80 feet high), toppling over on us! I briefly considered jumping off the bridge!

But the bridge didn't, and the locomotive didn't, and I didn't.

Now the foreign cars came rumbling by, nearly as loud as the engine itself! Have you ever had the experience of waiting for a train at a grade crossing when suddenly it seems as if the train is standing still and you are speeding down the tracks in the opposite direction? It's some sort of hypnosis, I think.

Well, this was a long train --- seven, maybe eight hundred cars --- and I was in a trance almost immediately. Dad and the bridge and I were nearly to the next town before the caboose came along and put an end to our trip.

The train passed safely and disappeared up the tracks at about the same place where the two rails come together.

Having lost interest in fishing, we sat there for a few minutes until we stopped vibrating. Then we pried our fingers out of the concrete, reeled in our lines, and stumbled back along the tracks to the car. Not a word was spoken. It would have been useless since we didn't regain our hearing for another hour or so.

I feel very fortunate in this experience. Today's amusement parks would charge an arm and a leg for a life-threatening attraction like that.

It didn't cost me a cent!

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