It’s not a place most would associate with great physical or emotional pain. The location, one mile west of my hometown of Viking, Minnesota, marks a spot along the railroad tracks that’s seen pain you can feel and the pain you can only describe. On the lighter side, this spot has also seen good deer hunting and was the site of a water tower used by a railroad once powered by steam. There’s still a dam where a stream provided water for the steam engines to feed their boilers. It’s a spot with history and it’s very own story.
People like to hunt; it’s great recreation and generally a safe hobby. It was 1948 and Wayne Hanson plus a few friends were walking the tracks near the water tower bird hunting. It had been a good day and a good hunt but things would soon change. One boy used a pump 12 gauge and after taking a shot he racked the next shell like always but this time the gun accidentally fired. Wayne Hanson now lay bleeding on the ground. No 911 phone call to make, no ambulance-just the help of a neighbor and his parents who sped him off to the hospital in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Wayne, just fourteen, lay there and peered at both sides of death for better than a week. Forty-four days into his hospital stay, Wayne felt a tremendous pain and felt like his heart was creeping up his throat. When the pained reached its pinnacle, something finally gave and Wayne knew from his relief that he would live.
In 1995 I was walking along the railroad tracks near the water tower gathering wood. My dog, Rudy, was along for his good company. I noticed a train approach so I gathered Rudy in my arms and waited. When the trained neared Rudy squirmed away and just stood on the tracks. I thought about jumping for him but the train was too close. He just stood there until the last moment when he turned to die. My first marriage was failing at the time but I’d always had my little dog to listen to my problems. I wouldn’t compare the loss of my dog to the loss of a child but I would compare it to losing my connection to everything good in my life at the time.
Today Wayne Hanson is healthy and my little dog is buried in the ground and in my mind. The water tower is gone and the dam is hard to find. I drive by that spot near my hometown and it’s a striking scene; railroad tracks that inspire imagination, woods to either side and a little creek just to the south of the railroad grade. But that’s not what I see when I close my eyes and remember.