Behind our Chevy Chase house when I was nine was a natural playground to explore with my friends that became a forest as we wandered deeper into our make-believe fantasy land. It contained American Holly, Pin Oak, American Chestnut Trees and many shrubs that provided a natural landscape to explore. We pretended we were soldiers, cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood, or anyone our imagination desired. After about one half mile, Rock Creek crossed through our woods that eventually became Rock Creek Park. An elevated railroad track twenty feet above the neighboring backyards stood behind our house that kept slowly rising as the land sloped to the creek. A train trestle allowed the trains to travel over the creek with a drop of about two hundred feet. Large rocks and boulders rested in, and around, the small river that ran all the way to Washington D.C.
One day when Chip and I played cowboys and Indians with five friends, we decided to walk over the trestle. I trailed behind the group to throw rocks into the creek, and use a stick to hit the rocks pretending they were baseballs. They had walked nearly to the other side of the trestle when a train whistle wailed. A large locomotive with a plume of puffy smoke trailing behind was chugging right at me.
The noise quickly increased by the second as the train rushed toward me fifty yards away clickity-clacking and caused the trestle to rattle, shake, and creak. I could never reach the other side where Chip and the others approached before the train would be on me. They started running. Chip yelled, “Hurry, the train is at the trestle!” I decided to run to the nearest safety ramp attached to the trestle in the direction of the train that was barreling at me and raced on the wood planks between the tracks at the on-coming train. The conductor frantically waved a red flag and sounded a loud whistle. The ramp provided my only chance. If I failed, the train would throw me into the creek below to certain death on the rocks.
As the train approached the dangerous choice I had made shot an enormous fear through me. The train was only ten feet away. Just then, I jumped off my right foot, flew and twisted to the left onto the ramp, and landed on my side, slamming my elbow and knee on the wooden planks like a flat baseball bat smacking my limber body. The steel mass rumbled past with its whistle screeching and smoke puffing like a monster lunging at me. Chip told me later that he screamed, “Move your foot” because it looked from his view like it was still on the track.
Due to the booming blast of the train I never heard Chip’s warning but luckily moved my foot as the train zoomed past. With a bloody elbow and knee, I smiled for my survival.The conductor shook his head in dismay and wore a scowl on his face for my foolishness. My heart thumped wildly from the narrow escape that cheated death. Years later I took my family for a visit to Chevy Chase and showed them the spot. Although they originally thought I had embellished the “story” when I first told it to them, they were astonished at the dangerous and long drop.