The Mekemson Kids Did It— Railroaded: Part 3… The MisAdventure Series

A logging truck dumps logs into Caldor’s pond. Marshall considered hiking out on these logs as high adventure. My opinion was that they were an accident waiting to happen

We weren’t really bad kids, just adventuresome with our adventures occasionally bordering on juvenile delinquency. Caldor Lumber Company was a favorite target of ours since it provided a myriad of opportunities for weekend and after-school exploration. Twenty-foot high stacks of drying lumber were made for climbing and the truly bold might leap from one to another. The appropriately named Big Shed was filled with these stacks but I was much more fascinated by the number of owls that lived there and provided scat for my natural history collection. The millpond featured floating logs which Marshall ventured out on lumberjack like but I avoided. Not even a triple dare, or worse, older brother scorn, could temp me into a possible dunking in the pond’s dark, murky waters.

I am petting a friendly donkey here. My real reason for including this fading photo, however, is it shows the stacks of lumber at Caldor that we would climb up onto and leap between if they were close enough.

All of these activities paled in comparison to joy riding on rail pushcarts. Caldor had narrow gauge rail lines snaking through its drying yards and used pushcarts for transporting heavy items. We quickly discovered that three or four of us could get a cart rolling. We would then jump on for a free ride. Small down hills added a thrill factor. Fortunately, hand brakes on the carts enabled us to stop the carts before running into the stacked railroad ties that marked the end of the line. Except once.

Our nemesis at Caldor was an old fellow who had been in some type of mill related accident and left with a limp. Caldor made him the night and weekend watchman so he could continue to make a living. We provided him with something to do in an otherwise uneventful job. Sneaking up on us seemed to be a true passion of his so we kept a wary eye out. It was inevitable that he would catch us on a pushcart ride and he caught us at the most exciting point, just as it was gaining speed going downhill.

“Hey you kids, get off of that pushcart!” he yelled as he hurried after us at a slow limp.

What were we to do? We jumped off of the pushcart and high tailed it for the Woods, which were right next door. The pushcart, meanwhile, continued to gather speed, slammed into the ties and did a spectacular flip before sliding off down a small hill. We were duly impressed and so, apparently, was the watchman who let out a string of obscenities peppered with the F-word as we disappeared into the pines. Pop mentioned the next day that the watchman had reported to him that he thought we were  involved. We carefully explained that some kids from Placerville had been in town and were undoubtedly responsible.

A more serious threat of railroad justice arrived on our doorstep in the form of a Southern Pacific Railroad detective who claimed Marshall had been pulling spikes out of the railroad trestle over Webber Creek and throwing them into the stream. Marshall put on his ‘I’m outraged act.’  Yes, he had been throwing rocks off of the trestle into the creek below. What kid wouldn’t?  But he would never dream of doing anything that would cause physical harm to anyone. Had the detective bothered to check to see if any spikes were missing from the trestle? No. Had he contemplated the possibility of a skinny 90-pound 12-year-old kid being able to physically pull out the spikes? No. The case was closed.

While Marshall’s innocence was sustained for once, the experience had the unfortunate consequence of eliminating the trestle as a place to play. Walking across and staring down between the railroad ties at the 100-foot drop to Weber Creek was a sure cure for summer boredom, as was contemplating the arrival of a train when we were in the middle of the trestle. If that wasn’t exciting enough, we could always walk across on the narrow plank that ran under the tracks. There were no railings or safety net.

MONDAY’S POST: Our journey down the Colorado River takes us to the magical Havasu Creek and then on to the dangerous Lava Falls.

WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s off to the Alaska island of Kodiak where our son works as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. We cross the island for a day of hanging out with large brown bears as they fish and feed their cubs.

43 comments on “The Mekemson Kids Did It— Railroaded: Part 3… The MisAdventure Series

  1. The push cart scene is riveting in a ‘those kids are going to get themselves killed’ kind of way. My Dad and his brother had a lumber business to supplement their farm income. My youth saw much climbing on tall lumber stacks. I can still conjure up the smell of fresh wood.

    • Great places for hands and feet in climbing those lumber stacks, huh Sue. 🙂 And fresh lumber, a smell you never forget. It’s right on the tip of my nose now! The rail cars were relatively safe, until we had to bail… –Curt

  2. Laughing out loud at the image of you kids hightailing it into the woods as the pushcart slammed into the ties. Great story telling Curt. OMG what brazen fun you all had as children.
    Alison

  3. Curt! I can’t believe how mischievous you boys were! In such a dangerous way. But that’s the mom in me speaking. If my kids had been lumberjacking out on a pond or jumping out of pushcarts, I’d have a heart attack. I can only imagine the vengeance the night watchman wishes he could have gotten.

    • I suspect it was a good thing our mother didn’t witness any of our exploits, Juliann. 🙂 But there was a lot of freedom to wander. If we weren’t home by six for dinner, we got in trouble… That was pushing it. –Curt

  4. I was a trestle walker myself, and wrote about it once. I think I had today’s overly cautious parents on my mind. But those trestles! Ours was high, too, and just short enough that we convinced ourselves we could (a) make it to the other side, or (b) get below the track if a train came.

    We always were putting our ears to the tracks, to see if we could pick up the vibration of an approaching train. Luckily, the trains ran on predictable schedules back then, so we knew when to expect one. And, they always were freights, running on town speed: which is, slow. There was more danger of one of us slipping than there was of a train taking us out.

    If you ever need an extra railroad spike, I’ve got a pile in my bedroom.

    • You have earned your trestle walkers’ merit badge, Linda! Right down to ear on the track trick. Could you see through the ties to the distant ground? That was part of the thrill. And thanks for the offer on spikes. (grin) –Curt

      • Yes! We could see the ground — far, far below. It makes me quiver a little to think of it now, but I’m not quite as nimble as I used to be.

      • I think it was that view more than the possibility of trains coming, Linda, that gave me the greatest thrill. The trestle has now become part of a walking path and is paved over. No more trains, no more views of an early demise. 🙂 –Curt

  5. One of my dad’s early jobs was working at a lumber company and although he had moved on by the time we kids came along, he still knew everyone there and took us often to the yard. As you and Sue reminisced above, that fresh wood smell was intoxicating. I love it to this day.

    • Whenever I pass a lumber truck, I breathe deeply, Lexi. 🙂 Since Pop was the company’s electrician, we had access to the whole mill when he was with us. Being kids, we were particularly interested in the huge saws. –Curt

  6. The usual exciting adventures of the Mekemson kids brought to mind an article I read recently how that awful “helicopter parent” trend finally seems to be fading. If I remember right, the latest term seems to be to let the kids “free graze”! It’s pretty hard to imagine what life must have been like for the kids brought up with the concept of having every moment of their lives scheduled and hovered over.

    • I think I read the same article, Gunta. Our society had reached the point where allowing your child to ride her bike to school on her own was considered child neglect and subject to legal punishment. Hopefully, the pendulum is finally starting to swing back in the other direction. –Curt

      • If you read the same article, there was that wrinkle in there about how racial profiling seems to reflect on what kind of freedom is acceptable. If mom/dad have to work and leave the kids alone, it’s very different scenario from when it’s kids sent off to play in some posh playground.
        I remember riding streetcars and buses in Boston in the 50s and thought nothing of it. As recent immigrants all the adults went off to work having arrived in the states penniless. At 5 or 6 yo, I had to translate and negotiate this foreign land for a grandmother who spoke Latvian, Russian, German and a bit of Polish, but never did learn English. Crazy times when I think back on them. 😀

      • May have been a different article. This one was by Lindsay Whitehurst and focused on such issues as letting your child ride her bike to school on her own isn’t child abuse. Sounds to me like you had to assume adult-like responsibilities at a very early age. My adventures were more in line with play. 🙂 –Curt

      • Oddly enough those early ‘responsibilities’ didn’t manage to suppress the imp in me. Looking back I feel sorry for my dear mom having to cope with me and all the new (to her) cultural issues!

      • Good! Glad the imp hung in there. 🙂 And I’m not surprised your mom was a little shocked by it all. In Peggy’s experience as an elementary school principal in a school where kids came for 18 different countries, she often talked about the important role that children had to play in the transition of families from one culture to another. –Curt

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