It is July and what did we do in July in the 1950′s in Salkum, Washington? We headed to Mill Creek, about a quarter mile behind our house “down under the hill,” to the swimming hole. Every adult should have memories of the” old swimming hole”. Ours was extra special and I remember literally hundreds of hours during the summers of the 1950′s and early 60′s having such a good time in and around the cold, cloudy waters of Mill Creek and our swimming hole.
Just getting to the swimming hole was an adeventure and could be difficult if not dangerous, depending on (1) age and (2) athletic ability, which for me was (1) the youngest among the neighborhood kids and (2) very little. After a morning of doing some chores – chopping wood for the stove, tending the garden, mowing the lawn – we headed to the swimming hole. We grabbed our suits off the clothesline where they had dried (somewhat) during the night, walked past the raspberry vines and pea patch and grabbed some fresh raspberries and peas still in the pods. This was much to the dismay of my Gramma who would go each evening to pick peas and berries only to find very few remaining after ten or twelve kids had gathered their “trail mix” on the way to the swimming hole.
The first obstacle, and one that most kids did not even notice, but gave me nightmares, was the dreaded barbed wire fence. Behind our house was a small, grassy area, about 40 feet by 70 feet which was our all purpose athletic field. Bordering the field on the north side was the fence. It served to keep Talbot’s cows in and was also our baseball left field “Boston Green Monster”. The fence had three rungs of barbed wire, the bottom one about 18 inches off the ground and the top one about four feet. The young and wimpy kids crawled under the bottom rung on their bellies head and butt down so as not to catch on the barbs. The first, really acceptable way, was to pull down on the bottom rung and go through like getting one a horse, only keeping your head down. The older and more athletic kids would do the same using the second rung. The really cool kids would just put their hand on the top of the fence post and hoist themselves over both feet at once. On rare occassions, we would witness the the awesome hurdle move. A kid would take a short run at the fence and then just hurdle over it, landing on two feet on the other side. Rich Cook did this without even breaking his conversation. He was later the first Mossyrock High player I ever saw dunk. Other kids, like my oldest brother Rich, would try and sometimes make it and other times catch a foot and land in the briars on the other side.
My mode of negotiating the barbs was the belly crawl for more years than I care to admit. Along about the fourth grade, I did try to use the bottom rung method and caught my shirt and back on the middle rung. I had to have my sisiter help me out. After this painful embarassment, I adopted the general rule of making an excuse to go last after all the others had passed through, or to get on the trail before the others got out of the garden and do my bellyh crawl. I practiced on my own, ripping a few shirts and getting some scratches, but I did master the bottom rung before we moved to Mossyrock my 9th grade year. A few years later, while in high school, I would drive back to see my Gramma and visit the swimming hole. On those occassions, as a 17 year old, I would take a look at the fence and give a thought about doing the Rich Cook jump. Then, reality set in and I remembered I could not yet even touch the basketball rim, let alone dunk. Jumping that fence was not going to be on my completed bucket list.
Once past the fence, next was the trail itself. The trail was first blazed by the dozens of Talbot’s cows that grazed the fields. The field between our house and the creek was about 60 acres of what was once the site of one of the largest lumber mills in southwest Washington. It had fallen on hard times early in the 1900′s and closed down sometime around 1930. The field was still full of old metal twisted into weird shapes, railroad spikes, rails and ties, huge wood beams, thousands of boards with rusty sharp nails sticking out, bricks, tires, and all sorts of parts of turn of the century engines, tools and equipment used to run a large mill. Grown up around this conglomeration was a jungle of huge evergreens vines, blackberr bushes, knettles, Canadian Sword ferns, small cottonwood trees and various other vines and trees all covered with moss. This was like a Mayan ruin amid the Amazon jungle and was a haven for little kids in the 1950′s. If this same place existed now, there would be dozens of “KEEP OUT -DANGEROUS” signs posted and every parent would tell their kids to “STAY AWAY FROM THE OLD MILL.” For us it was Disneyland.
The various sharp and sticky things did tend to make us stay on the trail if the intention was to go swimming without nails in your foot or some kind of sticker in your body. Around Independence Day there was another hazard trail walkers had to worry about. The cows that used the trail invariably left some very juicy, green cow pies on and close to the trail. Independence Day meant firecrackers. When walking along the trail, the older kids who usually were first on the trail, would light a red, white and blue firecracker and casually toss it into a cowpie, hoping to time the fuse so that it would go off just as one or more younger kids would be passing. An exploding cow pie would spread “cow schrapnel” at least 20 feet in all directions. I was “cowpied” more than once and it was not a pleasant experience. I have had the delight of seeing my older brother, Jim, misjudge the fuse and cowpie himself. On that day I knew there was a God.
Once past the cow pie mine field, the trail widened and went past a huge sawdust and brick pile. By, huge, I mean the pile covered about 1/2 acre and was as high as a house. Over the years, as a result of dozens of kids making hundreds of forts and tunnels, the pile was spread out and only a few feet high. Mingled in the sawdust were thousands of bricks of what must have been the mill’s original burner or some other kind of large brick building. The combination of the sawdust and bricks, along with various beams, boards, rebar, and other metal pieces, made for a great play area for kids with imaginations. This is worth another whole story later.
Passing the sawdust pile, the trail started its incline to the creek. The trail walker had to walk down a steep hill which was continually slippery and wet from a spring that flowed from the top of the hill. More than once, kids slipped here and slid down 20 or 20 feet. If you missed big rocks it was acutally kind of fun. Once at the bottom of the hill, the walker had to walk across a huge cedar log about 40 feet long, careful not to fall because three feet below were lots of things that could do harm – berry vines with huge sticker, boards with large rusty nails, thistles and the normal large rocks, mud and more cowpies. Once the log was maneurvered safely, the creek was in site. All that was needed was to walk about 20 feet down a large cedar log that was on a 45 degree angle into the water. Some kids would just take off running and dive in the water as they reached the end of the log. Others, would carefully walk down and step off to the right onto a small dirt area about four foot square. All in all, about 45 present day safety codes would be broken by just getting to the swimming hole.
Irregardless of how difficult it was (for some) to reach the swimming hole at Mill Creek, it was worth it. I have great memories, which I shall tell about in future blogs, of berry fights, the diving board and diving contests, the great cliff jump, the falls, the platform, underwater brick roads, under water hide and seek, home made scuba gear, and so much more. Every kid should have memories of the “old swimming hole.”