Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Memories from Criag

Here are some memories shared by our neighbor, Craig Fletcher. Remember these days?

It went pretty much like this. Back when the rocks hadn't cooled completely and I was but a wee lad;Going for a Sunday drive with my dad or with a friend's pop was a very big deal. Adventure was around any corner and still local too. All us kids would pile in a car without restraints of any kind and hang out the windows while raising hell right up to the limits of the responsible adult driving. Driving East on South 12th street, we would get all big-eyed when we saw the gap in the trees between Pearl and Stevens where the guy drove the 54 Merc off the road at a high rate of speed and clipped off the treetops. He wasn't found right away.

Most of our fathers were volunteer firefighters, members of the UP Boosters Club, Masons and also in the same Army Reserve unit. Believe me, those guys built that community on respect and a handshake. Our dads knew all the cool spots where the wrecks had been and regaled us with the gory details with a little begging on our part. The tour East through town included tales of the big fires in Tacoma and maybe even a stop downtown to have a pop and clamber over the TFD rigs. Dads would usually stop and grab a beer at some point while we wrestled in the car. The drive would continue down the hill and we might go across the 15th street bridge with its railroad tracks in the middle. The boards on the roadbed would pull the old bias-ply tires all over the lane. We loved to meander through the port and all the smokestacks eventually leading to the drawbridges. If we were lucky, we could stop for an Orange Crush or a Nugrape for cheap.

Coming back across 11th street across the Hylebos then the Blair bridges dad would point out the locations of the dock fires that claimed a TFD battalion chief and his engine. He always maintained that his friend died of a heart attack before the fire got him. Easier to deal with that way. Continuing West on 11th st he would turn a block North and parallel the road to drive under a succession of whirly cranes that were just wider than the one lane road. That was a big lumber mill just before the ramp to the Puyallup River bridge. Once on the bridge he would take the turnoff ramps from the bridge to the fingers between the waterways. Clattery old board ramps. You can still see the cuts in the sidewalk where they were.

Likewise, on the Murray Morgan bridge, you can still see the cutoff on the North railing just before getting to A Street where the traffic could take a right and bypass down town heading for Bayside Drive (Schuster Pkwy)Cliff Street is still there under the 11th street bridge and you can access it by a ramp on one side and stairs on the other just off A St. A turn back East from Cliff St onto the steel switchbacks under the bridge led down to Dock Street. You still can walk on the switchback if you take the stairway out on the South side of the bridge and get to Dock street. Dock street was another narrow track with fork lifts and trucks crowding the lumpy road as we headed North towards the bridge to Bayside Drive. This wood bridge had a ninety degree turn once it was high enough to cross the railroad tracks and led to the best part of the ride.

Tucked in under the cliffs and overhanging trees above the tracks, Bayside Drive led down to the old docks and the Sperry Tunnel. Not like your usual tunnel, it was truly a one way passage with a traffic light at each end and was carved out between the cliff and the Sperry Mills. Water cascaded down the walls constantly and the wood beams low overhead looked inadequate to hold up the flour mill growing out of the cliff. The roadbed was potted horribly and there was a sharp offset at the mid point. One very cold winter, when the tunnel was frozen solid with ice, a significant portion of the TPD night shift vehicles were stacked up in there chasing a suspect. Wet, dark, narrow and dilapidated, that tunnel was the greatest for kids with overactive imaginations.

Once we cleared the tunnel, the narrow road eventually wandered up to the intersection of 30th and McCarver where we dropped back down across the tracks at the big old sawmill. The mill wasn't always keen on our driving through. The huge rusty steel burner with all the sawdust flaming away was another favorite of ours. The Ocean Fish Market was right there by the dock and then the Top Of the Ocean restaurant was another favorite stop. We kids would tear up to the top deck to play around the fake stacks while dad wet his whistle.

The rest of what is now Ruston Way was a narrow meander with rail crossings and washed away bulkheads and tumbledown buildings. One of the rail crossings was nearly parallel to the road so the road jogged sharply the width of a lane. There was no sidewalk, a crappy road and quite a bit of space between the road and the incline to the railbed above.The Ruston tunnel had a fourteen inch water main on the roadbed cast in concrete up against the wall of the tunnel that made it one way for all but narrow cars and you could semi-safely walk through on the square concrete over the main. They buried a couple of 8" mains later to open the tunnel a bit.

Many years later, married and with kids I still took that Sunday drive and it wasn't all that different with the exception of the Top Of The Ocean having burned down in 67.