The Way We Were – 1961-1967

Part Seventeen

By Warren Thomas

It is a story not unknown to Woonsocket High School students of the middle 1960s. The incident was novel, effectively executed (almost) and made public knowledge in a Woonsocket News letter I wrote some 12-14 years ago. However, present editor Hillary was too young to remember my car on the bridge story, so I told her I’d repeat the account in a future “The Way We Were” column. Present readers likely have not heard the story either.
It began like this. An excited student entered the typing room in the southeast corner of the second floor of the high school building. As I was preparing for my first class of the day, I learned from that student that several boys had picked up my red Volkswagen Beetle parked on the west side of the lake and placed it between two good-sized trees. Really? There were no windows facing the lake in that room, but I soon determined that the kids had done no damage to my car. I told the messenger that I’d get some boys to lift it out when school let out in the afternoon and went about my morning classes.
After lunch, sophomore students had just filed in for my second typing class of the day. I looked up to see Superintendent Marvin Jared standing in the doorway. He came immediately to the point. “Mr. Thomas, the mayor says that he would appreciate it if you’d remove your car from the bridge.” I was dumbfounded! On the bridge?!! I had thought it still rested in automotive repose between a couple of trees! I’m not sure what prompted me to turn around and look at the 20 or so silent students watching  this unprecidented development. My first thought was who in the world could have accomplished such a feat? In that moment of indecision, I saw a grinning face in the far southeast corner of the room. “Bill (Merriman), do you know anything about this?” He sheepishly nodded his head and looking further around the room, there was Lynn Hegg looking equally guilty. His response was the same as that of his car-nabber friend, as was also true of one or two others in the room whose names I do not remember.
It was quite fortuitous that the culprits were right there in front of me. Otherwise, I would have had no idea which boys scattered throughout the school might have been drawn into mischief. Complying with the mayor’s directive, I recall saying, “OK, guys, let’s go,” and the boys and I left the classroom and headed toward the lake. As we crossed the grass at the south end of the lake, we could see my little “Bug” slanting up the east approach to the narrow arched bridge to the island. When I asked how they had engineered the job, one of them said that while the car between two trees was a clever idea, a later idea emerged and they lifted the car out and then pushed it onto Highway 34 for about a block. Then they wheeled it north and onto the east bridge approach, which was exactly wide enough to carry out their plan.
Lynn or Bill explained the failure of their escapade when he said, “When the bridge began to crack, we ran!” When I found out which boy had been inside steering my car, I told him to shinny over the bridge railing and through the still-open window from which he had emerged earlier as his buddies were running away. With him again at the wheel, the others pushed and pulled the car back on grassy terra firma. Taking the keys from my pocket, I drove back to the school while the boys followed.
Decades later in Huron hospital, nurse Cheryl Forbes Schmiedt told me her husband Darwin, back then a junior as I recall, had been a co-ringleader. I wondered if he had felt left out because in my much later letter to the Woonsocket News, I had omitted his name from the list of car nabbers! I don’t recall scolding those lads. No damage was done to my car and I was intrigued by their youthful ingenuity. They almost succeeded and what’s more, when a 16-year-old myself, that is something I most certainly would have tried! A car on the island? Wow! And in reminiscing later, I could imagine the anticipation of those high school pranksters as they envisioned telling their own kids, “We were the ones who……”
This account is the second time I’ve told the story in the News/Journal. During whatever year funds were being solicited for the replacing of the original bridge, I sent a contribution with a note of explanation. I suggested that since my car some decades before had contributed to the demise of the venerable bridge, I felt I should help in its replacement. Did the engineers for the present bridge make it sufficiently narrow to prevent modern rascals from doing something similar?!
“Boys will be boys,” might be trumped only by, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

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