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Column: ‘Kids Went Here’ - That’s what you could say on bronze plaque

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first appeared July 10, 2004.

WORTHINGTON — No mail ever has been addressed to 16th Street, Worthington, Minnesota. No house ever faced on 16th Street.

Sixteenth extends only from the Union Pacific railroad tracks to First Avenue and then from First Avenue to Second Avenue. It is 1.25 blocks in length, at most.

Sixteenth Street has come into the news for the fact that UP is in the process of eliminating the 16th Street crossing. There now are barricades and detour signs along First Avenue. Railcars block the crossing through all hours.

Although no one had a 16th Street address, it should not be assumed this is a street where nothing happened. If someone were to erect a historical marker, I suggest the plaque should say, “Kids Went Here.” Perhaps no one would understand, but this is the case. Sixteenth is a street where kids came and went through many years.

In the decades before all school kids rode buses, half the east side kids made a daily trek across the 12th Street crossing. The other half took 16th Street, walking to school mornings, home again at noon, back to school before 1 p.m., and home once more when the school day was done.

If footprints could be restored, there would be footprints beyond counting along 16th Street. Oh — the Gingrich kids went there, and the Peters kids. The Beck kids, I think. Clair Cunningham. Harriet Cunningham and Betty Lou Greve. Monica Smith, sometimes. The Sorenson boys. I believe Eileen Gerdes’ boys went that route — up 16th Street, then over the tracks and onto Nobles Street. It was a long hike, uphill for a mile both ways, as people sometimes joke.

Sixteenth Street was not paved in that time. Sixteenth was cinder-covered and rough. At the intersection with Second Avenue, there was a triangle of grass and weeds that shaped a Y, one traffic lane going to the right, the other to the left.

I have recalled before the elevated coal chutes that once lifted above the west side of the 16th Street crossing. In its way, the coal chutes was an awesome structure, a wooden warehouse raised high above the tracks on huge timbers. Steam locomotives would stop beside the structure, firemen would pull open chutes with chains and tons of coal would spill into the tenders.

In the hard times, in the times of the Great Depression, a different bunch of kids came to 16th Street just after the winter sunsets. A lot of those kids were from Grand Avenue and Omaha Avenue. They came with sleds and coaster wagons and gunny sacks, and they picked up coal that had fallen to the ground. They came every winter night. This is what kept their houses warm through another 24 hours.

There was an elevated track which lifted to the coal chutes — the switch engine climbed this track, pushing cars of coal into the shed-like building. In one era, Menno Vander Veen was in charge of the crew that shoveled coal from those cars and filled the individual chutes. In later years, I asked Menno about this. “Yes,” he said. The guys always directed some coal to the ground. They knew about the kids.

There was another thing about 16th Street. There are not a lot of slopes in Worthington where a kid can drop belly-first on a sled and sail downhill. Creamery Hill on Second Avenue is steep and long, but there always was too much traffic there.

That quarter-block of 16th between the tracks and First Avenue was made to order. It was even steeper before the paving. A kid could run across the tracks with a sled, do a belly flop when his feet hit 16th and then coast. If the snow was right, if it was packed, and if a kid had a good run, he might coast all the way to First. There were no buildings along the intersection with First in that time; you could always know if cars were coming.

I think my brother was the champion of that slope. Golly, he learned to coast a long way. Kids walking to school, kids coming home. Kids getting coal. Kids and their sleds. That is what the sign would mean when it said, “Kids Went Here.”