by Ray Allen
Part 2 - The Hannah Sisters
Chapter 10 - Pond Creek and the Trestle
One of our favorite spots in all of Santa Rosa County was a swimming hole called Pond Creek. As kids, we joked about the name—was it a pond, or was it a creek? When we grew up, we learned that this was the common name for a place in a river that had been used for logging. Milton was once a logging center, and when logs are floated down a stream, the loggers need a wide place to "turn the logs". Some of the wide places in the rivers were actually dug out for this purpose, and that was what was called "pond creek."
In any case, the one we visited was in an area out on the highway that was sort of a park. In our day, it was just a wide place in a small river, and it was wonderful. With picnic tables and icy cold swift-running water, Pond Creek was, and probably still is, the classic small southern town swimming hole. Almost every day it was filled with families enjoying relief from Milton’s incredibly hot summers.
Fred always drove us there, but this of course was an excuse for a big picnic so all the sisters would go too. They never swam, that was for kids, but they broke out all manner of sandwiches, pies, and of course, a cooler filled with “CoColas.” This was our first experience swimming in a spring-fed freshwater river, and I remember absorbing the all-new experience. The beach along the creek was sort of muddy, so unlike the ocean beaches we knew. And we could never believe the freezing cold spring water. No matter how hot the weather, Pond Creek was ice cold. We’d jump in hot and come out shivering every time. Like so many other rural swimming spots, Pond Creek park had huge old oak trees, and several of those had swinging ropes on them, so you could swing out over the creek, let go, and plunge into the clear, cold water. We loved it every time, and always begged to go again.
Each morning during our visits, Grandmother Allen would announce the marching orders for everyone. It wasn’t a formal meeting with assignments, but they were definite, and there was no questioning. In fact, she did it all smiling, but there was never a discussion. Maxie was to cook the roast for tonight’s supper. (And it was always supper in the south, not dinner.) Fred was to do these errands, and of course, we, the precious ones, had various easy chores or maybe a new adventure in the schedule.
One morning, she told Fred that he was to get some picnic things ready, since she wanted to take us to the trestle. We had no idea what that meant, but Fred smiled, and seemed to agree it was a good idea.
In a few hours, we were getting into Fred's car with Grandmother Allen, and we were off out into the country once again. We were told we were going somewhere new, and we'd have a great picnic out by one of the rivers. It was probably the Blackwater River, the big one that flows right through Milton. After awhile driving down woodsy roads, we pulled into a stopping place, another one of those clearings that seemed to be everywhere for recreation around Milton.
This one was high above a wide, slow-moving dark-watered river. The river had very high banks, and we walked over and looked at it---a beautiful, big wide river, way down below. As a kid, the scene reminded me of pictures I had seen of the Grand Canyon, except here forest was thick on both sides. From our perch on the bank, looking just downstream, we could see the major structure for miles around--a huge wood-beamed iron bridge, with railroad tracks on top, stretching all the way across the gorge. That day we learned what a trestle was. It was enormous, and we were really impressed. Fred told us some stories about how it was built, how old it was, and where the trains that crossed the big trestle were going.
After our picnic, we all got up, packed our things in the hamper Grandmother Allen always took on picnics, and the real adventure of this trip began. They told us we had to be very careful, since we were going to take a walk out onto the trestle. We were thrilled, and couldn’t wait. After a short hike and a climb up onto the nearby tracks, the four of us emerged out of the woods and onto this monstrous magical bridge. Walking on a railroad track, as everyone knows, is not easy. You have to step from tie to tie, and they’re spaced for holding the rails, not for people’s steps. Fred and Grandmother Allen held our hands and helped us along. Before we actually left the banks, there was gravel underfoot between the ties, but when the tracks left the bank and stretched out over the open river, the gravel disappeared, and there was the dark water, directly below, probably 100 ft. down. To kids, this was real adventure. Between each pair of ties now, there was nothing but air between us and the water. It was dizzying, and sort of scary, but with Fred there, we were never really afraid.
The four of us carefully picked our way out to the very middle of the river. The view to either side was spectacular—the big old river flowing below, and heavily-forested banks with huge trees on either side. We stood there awhile, and the grown-ups explained how the river had once been really important for logging, how and where it flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, which family members had worked on the river, and other stories about it. We were wide-eyed the whole time, drinking in this unique experience and incredible view.
Just when we were about to turn back and return to the car, Fred heard something. He mumbled something to Grandmother Allen, and we could tell they were suddenly very serious. Pretty soon, we all heard it. The whole trestle, which was a huge arch of bolted wooden beams below our feet, began to rumble. It was vibrating, and soon there were very soft squeals or squeaks coming from the old supports below. Suddenly, we all realized what was happening, and it happened within seconds. Fred snatched us up, one under each arm, and took off hopping from tie to tie as fast as he could toward the other side. Grandmother Allen, dragging the picnic hamper, ran behind us. We jumped off the far end just as the locomotive passed us. We threw ourselves on the ground and sat there in the grass, panting while a big black steam engine flew by, with scores of freight cars behind it. The sound was deafening, of course, since our resting place was probably less than 10 feet from the tracks.
The train was gone into the woods as quickly as it had appeared. The chugging died away, and silence returned. We all just sat there for a few minutes, and then Fred and Grandmother Allen tried to assure us that everything was ok, but we could see that even they were visibly shaken. We never went to the trestle again.