[This story, written chiefly for my Yakima, WA friends, almost didn’t get written. When I did my research by visiting the “Growing up in Yakima Wa” Facebook page, I quickly learned that just about everyone who ever lived in that pretty little Eastern Washington town has a Franklin Park story. And I thought, “Well, there’s no need to write mine down.” — All I can say is, here I am, at 11:30 pm, and something told me to get out of bed, and write it all down, anyway!]
Yakima’s Franklin Park, which at one time, if not now, was Yakima’s most-visited park, had a great swimming pool, which I can assure you I took advantage of hundreds of times, during our iconic, hot summers. I understand it still has a pool. It had sweeping, beautiful green lawns where the townspeople, young and old, could play, picnic, or just relax. There was a ball park (baseball has always been very popular in Yakima) and a running track. Not to mention a wonderful historical museum, where my older brother Al III and I spent many happy hours viewing its amazing exhibits and curiosities. (I remember it even displayed someone’s preserved gallbladder in a jar! Who else remembers that?) — But I would have to say that Franklin Park’s premier feature was and is a huge, grassy hill, known as The Terraces. The hill offers thrill-seekers the chance to have fun and/or defy death, on a year-round basis. It consists of a middle section of smooth grass, flanked on each side by terraced lawn. It’s a lengthy hill, and the terraces are really quite pronounced — they’re not just little bumps.
Over the course of many years, the young and young at heart have devised several innovative ways of turning the act of going down the hill into a major thrill ride. Various winter activities have included sliding down on pieces of cardboard (yep, just good old cardboard), sledding, and riding the very hard to control aluminum “flying saucers”. — I remember once, how a man — a neighborhood dad — invited a bunch of us kids to ride his really big toboggan down the hill. We all piled on, and had a great ride! — In the summer, we changed things up a bit, by riding our bicycles down the middle section of the hill.
While all of these activities provided a really great, fairly safe experience, there was one thing you did not want to do: you did not want to attempt to ride your bicycle down the bumpy part — The Terraces! And just how do I know this? Well, from experience. Right around 1959, my brother Al, and one of his friends — I want to say it was one of the Beeson boys; but I won’t name which one I think it was, in the event my memory has failed me (after all, it’s only been 60 years). I was young, gullible, trusting, and perhaps a little stupid. For I let my brother and his devious friend talk me into riding my bike down The Terraces. Al said, “Hey, you should ride your bike down The Terraces. It’s really fun!” Not knowing any better, and being an adventuresome young lad of 10, I rode my beautiful red Roadmaster, that I’d actually won on the Uncle Jimmy show, over to where The Terraces began, and without thinking about the ramifications of this venture at all, I commenced to go down them — The Terraces!!
Well, I went over the first bump just fine. I thought, “Wow, what a thrill!” But when I encountered the second bump, I immediately went airborne. Yes. Up into the air. I flew through the atmosphere, screaming at the top of my lungs; and I landed many yards down the hill, crashing into a heap — knocked out cold.
It’s a wonder my ill-fated flight didn’t continue, right up to Heaven itself. But, I guess the good Lord wasn’t ready to put up with me just yet; plus He knew I’d like to enjoy a few more adventures (thank you, Lord!). So yeah, I lived. I eventually came to. And, when I came to, I noticed I’d bitten at least half-way through my tongue. Blood was dripping from my mouth. That pain alone was really bad; but then, I hurt everywhere. — I remember how great it felt, at first, to be flying down the hill — how the view was so very beautiful. How exciting the thrill of going so fast was. — OK. No, I don’t. I don’t remember anything except waking up with my tongue barely attached.
I could honestly say I knew what it was like to be a ski jumper; however, I was on a bike, not a pair of skis. So, I didn’t stick any kind of a landing — more like, I was stuck upon landing…. Sort of like the guy on the old Wide World Of Sports show — “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat”. I certainly had shaken hands with the latter.
Or, maybe I was like (the craziest man who ever lived) Evel Knievel when he tried to fly across the awesomely beautiful Snake River Canyon, on a “jet bike” and nearly drowned. That’s a nice comparison…. Truth be told, I was just a very regretful 10-year-old.
Al and his friend (yeah, I’m 90% sure it was a Beeson) came running to me, as if to see how I was — to show mock concern. But really — they got just what they wanted, which was to see me nearly kill myself. — Just to see what that looked like.
I don’t know how I got home — I don’t know if I was able to bring my Roadmaster home with me, or if I just left its crumpled wreckage on the hill, with its bright red handlebar streamers, which once were so beautiful, now just a mockery…. But it was a long, long walk from Franklin Park to our abode, situated at 5207 Cascade Drive. Thankfully, my mom, Jeanie Bowles was a nurse, and she went right to work on me as soon as I staggered in the door and laid down, bleeding, on our nice new carpet. — I don’t remember if Al got punished; but boy, I hope he did.
This was just one more episode in my life as Al Bowles III’s younger brother. And thereafter, I put as much distance between the two of us as I could. Let’s just say, he had a “high threshold for other people’s pain”. — I actually learned a lot from Al. For instance, it’s very difficult for someone to scam me, to take advantage of me, to pull the wool over my eyes. You see, I lived with The Master of those activities, until, thank the Lord, he went off to the Army, where he lasted about four months.
Whenever folks talk about how great it is to recreate on Franklin Park hill, I try very hard not to wince, when the memory of that summer day in Yakima comes flooding into my noggin. H-E-Double-Toothpicks! I’m lucky I still have a noggin, after that flight!
When I was 22, I fell in love with a beautiful young Yakima woman, whom everyone called Cricket. She was a Davis grad. We planned on getting married at Franklin Park, garbed in velvet overalls, at our own little hippie wedding. — Instead, we broke up. Ah, youth.
P.S. I did have fun with my bro once: when he was about 23 and I was 21, he took me for a ride in a little single-engine plane. We took off from McAllister, and flew around Yakima. He did an “astronaut stall”, where we went totally weightless. The contents of my shirt pocket floated into the air, right in front of my face. Then, he did a pretend “bombing run”, where we swooped down and followed the train tracks out of town, heading north toward Ellensburg. All the while, Al’s flight instructor was hiding his eyes with his hands, in the back seat. — I’d have to say, Al was a damn good pilot for someone who only had two lessons.
Now, this is how to ride a bike (which I still do, all the time, BTW). I took this photo at Seattle Center’s skate park, near my home. This brave biker took on a dozen skateboarders, and totally held his ground.
Hello and goodbye, Yakima, from your Ramblin’ Randy, who is signing off. And leaving you with a great song! Just click on the arrow.