One afternoon I was with my friend Paul, and we were walking around the woods and the train tracks. Whenever a freight train went past we’d always throw stones at the boxcars just to see if we could hit them and watch them bounce off. That one boxcar is 30 tons. That’s 60,000 pounds. A rock hitting that is like a fly bouncing off a car door. I’ve touched a boxcar close up. It feels like a stone wall.
We had entered the tracks by way of Passmore street. Passmore was a little street that had a steep incline that ended in a roundabout at the bottom. Beyond the end of the street was a stone wall. You could climb over the wall to the right next to where a fence began. Once over the wall, you could see the railroad tracks. But if you looked to your left there was an embankment that led down to some sort of water drainage area. The water was shallow and full of rocks. There was a stone tunnel that went under the tracks and led off to a large, round stone pit. You’d see the occasional rat running around back there in the rocks. Beyond that was the woods that led through to Tookany Creek.
After doing a little bit of research, I found out that the word “Tookany” is actually derived from “Tacony,” which is derived from the term “Towacawonick,” which means “uninhabited place” or “woods” in the language of the Lenni Lenape American Indians (Unami Language) The place we all played was once inhabited by people that had been here for a long time before our ancestors ever arrived here. I always wondered what those kids were like.
Think of this sort of tunnel but with shallow water running through it.
None of us knew why it was there. I’m assuming that maybe because Passmore street ended in a steep hill, it was once used for drainage and sewage removal many years ago.
There were all sorts of graffiti on the walls and bits of detritus everywhere. My all-time favorite bit of graffiti sprayed on that wall was the following joke:
“Dick Hertz was here.”
“Who’s Dick Hertz?”
I’d seen graffiti before but I always liked that someone took the time to write something funny that would give boys a chuckle whenever they came through the area.
I remember one night, Buddy Drew, (I’m pretty sure he lived on Passmore street) came running up to us and told us to come and see something wonderful happening on his street. My friend Michael and I walked over there in the rain. Parked on the corner of Passmore and Newtown Avenue was a long black limousine. I looked in through the tinted window and could see an 8 track tape of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in the player. We peeked through the bushes of the house where Buddy told us the magic was happening. I could see the celebrity through the window chatting with his cousin, (or, sister?)Miss Tallerico.
It was Steven Tyler.
Anyway… back to the story.
So we’re throwing rocks and just doing the things boys do. But one of the unspoken rules was that no one I knew would ever throw a rock at a passenger train. We just didn’t do it for obvious reasons.
I remember my mother telling me once she was sitting on the train one day headed into the city when she suddenly heard a loud bang, and when she looked down her whole lap was covered in tiny bits of broken glass. Passenger train windows are like automobile windows in that respect. They don’t shatter creating big pieces because they’re a piece of transparent tough flexible plastic inside the window. So if it breaks it busts into little nonlethal bits and the window technically doesn’t break a hole in it. Some idiot obviously threw a rock and that was the outcome. So stone-throwing at passenger trains was a big no-no in my neighborhood. It just wasn’t a cool thing to do because somebody could get hurt.
So, later we returned back to the treehouse at the end of the lot near my house. We just sat there doing our thing. Paul had to go home so he ended up climbing down and headed out.
A little while later I decided it was time to go home a well. So I started walking up the lot toward Hasbrook Avenue. When this black car slowly pulled up out of Newtown avenue and into the lot, blocking my path. A man got out and wasn’t wearing a uniform or anything.
I had heard of railroad detectives through local schoolboy lore. But I didn’t think they were real. Well, apparently they were and still are. But there was a part of me that thought this guy might be a pervert that molests kids. We knew about the whole stranger danger thing even back then. I also wondered why this guy showed up now. It had been hours later, and I was now alone.
He started asking about me and my friend throwing rocks at trains. So he must have seen us when we were all the way down by Passmore street. I was pretty nervous about the whole situation and explained that we would never throw rocks at passenger trains and were just doing a little target practice. I don’t know if this guy was just doing his job, or being a dick, or indeed a pervert.
But he pulls out this pad and pen and starts asking me questions. He asked my name and my address and my phone number and a bunch of other standard questions, but I remember him asking me other stuff like did I go to church and stuff of that source. That’s what seemed weird about the whole thing.
He ended up letting me go and didn’t do anything to me, but I was just scared that he’d call or come around my house and tell my parents. I just didn’t need one more thing for my dad to knock me around.
But that memory always stuck with me, and I never heard of it happening to any other boys I knew at the time. Just a weird day in the life of a kid.
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