The Great Yocona River Bridge Caper
By David Freeman
Ken (we called him Kenny back then – I still do) Gunion and I roomed together our first semester at Ole Miss. It was the first and only time we stayed in a dormitory. Ours was one of those older three story jobs up on the hill.
It was a week night in the fall and I had an accounting exam the next morning at 8:00. About 11:00 or 11:30 pm I was in the room studying and going stir crazy. Kenny came in from wherever he had been socializing and made an announcement. “I want to do something!” he said.
“I want to do something, too,” I let him know. I was ready; Anything would do, just something to get out of that room. I figured he had something on his mind like going to Kiamie’s where we could write a counter check for $1.50 to get a couple of grilled hot dogs, then try to figure out how to get some money in the bank before the check was cashed.
But that wasn’t what Kenny was thinking about. “I want to go pee,” he said, and turned to walk out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom.
“Wait!” My mind was racing through possible adventures and suddenly hit on one. “You can’t just pee anywhere,” I told him. “It’s got to be somewhere different . . . somewhere interesting.”
It came to me. “How about the Yocona River bridge?”
“Great,” he responded. “Let’s go!”
We both knew what bridge I was talking about. It wasn’t just any Yocona River bridge. It was THE Yocona River bridge; the one you could no longer cross. The one that had roads leading up to either end, but no planks, no concrete, no girders in the middle—the dilapidated bridge that had long ago fallen in. We knew about it because of our plinking adventures. You know plinking . . . it’s when you take a .22 rifle or pistol and shoot at cans, bottles, or twigs just for the fun of it. You couldn’t drive across that bridge anymore, but you could walk out way out on it, throw off a few beer cans and shoot at them as they floated down the river.
There were two ways to get to that bridge. If you wanted to go to the north end, which was the end closest to town, you went down the Fudgetown road and turned south on another road that near Yellow Leaf creek. I can’t find that road anymore, so apparently it’s no longer there or it’s on private property.
The other way is to go to the south end of the bridge by driving down Highway 334, the Old Pontotoc highway, to Yocona and turning right on the road that goes to Tula. (By the way, if you’re not from around Oxford, Yocona is pronounced “Yocknee”. Either the Indians couldn’t spell like they called things or the white folks that translated their place names into words tried to make them fancier than the people around them could talk.)
A little ways down the road to Tula, you turned off on another gravel road that took you to the bridge. Naturally, that’s the way we went. We were in my 1950 Ford truck, the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. It was in its white stage at this time, as I recall. Later the truck was metallic gold and after that red. Paint jobs didn’t cost so much in those days and I was forever trying to get the dent’s and rust out of that old truck’s body and after I got it all bondoed and primered up would decided to try another color. Lonnie Dunn painted it for me a couple of times. Lonnie was Jimmy, Terry and Linda Dunn’s daddy. I think he charged me about $35 for a paint job.
We got to the bridge, must have been around midnight by now, and walked out on its girders to make our contributions to the waters of the Yocona River. When we got back in the truck, it felt kind of funny as I went to turn it around on the narrow gravel road. We got out to take a look and discovered a flat tire. I didn’t have a spare.
Now if we had been on the north end of the bridge and thus the north side of the river, the walk to civilization wouldn’t have been all that far. But we were on the south side of the river and a long, long way from Oxford by road. Crossing the bridge wasn’t an option. There weren’t enough girders in place to make it to the other side. We weren’t about to wade the river, either. It was dark and we knew that river to be full of snakes and leeches and such.
We set off walking, figuring that we would just go to one of the houses along the road and ask to borrow a phone so we could call someone for help. The first house we came to was all dark and when we started up the driveway a whole passel of dogs started barking. We chickened out and headed on down the road. The same thing happened at the next house and the next until before long we found ourselves back on Highway 334 and headed toward town.
The label “highway” is generous for this road, especially back in 1966. At that time, after you got just a few miles out of Oxford, only half the road was paved. The other half was gravel. Further out towards Toccopola, it was all gravel.
We were young so the walking didn’t bother us all that much. But I did have that accounting exam at 8:00 the next morning and missing it wasn’t an option. There were more houses along 334, but since it was now around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, somehow approaching one of them to ask for help seemed like a good way to get shot. We walked past quite a few houses, not sure what to do.
It was around 2:30 when, from off in the distance a car approached, heading toward town. We stood in the middle of the road to flag it down in the hopes of getting a ride. Sure enough, the car slid to a stop when the driver saw us waving our arms and standing right in front of him. Much to our surprise, it was a taxi.
The driver was more than happy to give us a ride to town. We asked him what he was doing out there that time of night and he explained that a fellow from near Toccopola had lost his car in a poker game and had hired the taxi driver to take him home.
That car owner’s misfortune was great luck for us, though between us we didn’t have enough money to pay the fare$3.00 fare the guy quoted us for a ride into town. We had a plan, though. There was a Phillips 66 station on the corner of North Lamar and Jefferson Avenue (next door to Jitney Jungle’s parking lot and across from Kelly’s Chevron or Amoco or whatever it was station back then. The Phillips 66 station was open all night and had cashed checks for us on previous occasions.
Once we arrived in town and had taken care of our $3.00 cab fare, we still had the problem of how to get my truck home. Naturally, we devised another plan. My parents lived a block away, and their ’63 Chevy was in the driveway. In my pocket was a key. We decided to borrow their car for a bit. So as not to awaken my parents and thus have a million questions to answer— the kinds of questions that we certainly wouldn’t be able to produce reasonable answers to, like “what were you doing out there in the middle of the night?”, “why don’t you have a spare for that truck?” and so on—we pushed the car out of the driveway and down the street before starting it up.
The next problem was how to get the truck’s flat fixed without having to make two trips out to the south side of the Yocona River. Naturally, being college boys, we had a plan for that. Wesley Salmon had a truck just like mine, and he probably had a spare. His truck normally sat on the street outside his parent’s house in Avent Acres. We decided to borrow Wesley’s spare to put on my truck so we could drive it to town. Then we would get my tire fixed, put it back on my truck and return Wesley’s spare. He would never miss it since he was more than likely sleeping soundly.
That part of the plan worked fine. We found the spare in the bed of the truck and it wasn’t chained down. We drove out to the truck, swapped the tires and headed to town with Kenny driving my truck and me driving my mom’s car. We hadn’t gotten very far when I had a flat. I flashed my lights at Kenny and he came back just about the time I had gotten out of the car to discover not one, but two flat tires on the Chevy.
This is where college minds are so much more sophisticated than regular high school minds. We knew that we were going to have to get all of the flats fixed at the Phillips 66 station and that meant we were going to have to write at least one more rubber check to go with the three dollar check we had already written there that night. Plus we had another problem. The one jack we had, which was the one that went with the Chevy, would only allow us to change one tire at a time. We decided we needed another spare.
Kenny’s mom had a Chevy. It was a different year, but surely all Chevy wheels would be the same size, wouldn’t they? We made our third driveway snatch of the night, this time stealing the spare from Mrs. Gunion’s trunk. The hours wore on as we put the two Chevy spares on my mom’s car and drove to the Phillip’s 66 station where we had all three tires repaired. For this I wrote a $6 counter check. Our band would play sometime later that week, so surely I could get $9 in the bank to cover both checks before they bounced.
With the tires on my parent’s car fixed, we quietly returned that car to their driveway. It was daybreak when we returned Wesley’s spare, but apparently no one was up yet, or at least they weren’t looking outside, so we weren’t caught.
Mrs. Gunion would be going to work soon, so getting her spare returned was going to be tricky. We parked next door in Crack Wilson’s driveway and rolled the tire through the bushes, quietly opened the trunk and slipped it in, the raced back to my truck and sped off toward campus.
It was almost eight o’clock, time for my accounting test and not only had I not studied enough, I hadn’t slept a wink that night. It’s so great to be young. The lack of sleep hardly phased me and I went to class. I don’t remember how I did, but it must have been all right as I didn’t flunk any accounting classes until my junior year when I tried Cost Accounting, Auditing, and Advanced all in the same semester.