1953 Swift Creek bridge washout. /LLOYD JECK
1953 Swift Creek bridge washout. /LLOYD JECK

By Lloyd Jeck

Early morning is my best time of day. However, the 1953 date on the submitted photo indicates that a soggy problem confronted me early that morning long ago. As dawn was breaking after an all-night dance, what occurred affected not only me, but most residents in the Valemount area, visitors and locals alike. I was one of the visitors, having travelled from McBride to attend a dance in Valemount. There were others who made that one-hour drive over the unpaved road, between the two communities. I do not remember a great deal about the dance, except that we were well entertained until the music stopped just before sunrise.

The vehicle I had at that time was a 1952 Austin A-40 sedan, kind of a fancy little rig that was fun to drive. One of the other cars from McBride was driven by Tom Fleming. Tom was a bit older than I was. Our start for home, after the dance ended, came to a skidding halt at the Swift Creek bridge. During the night, even the stream had been celebrating, and, in its rambunctious way, it had removed a large section of the bridge. The unaffected southern section of the bridge has a tall teepee-type framework over it (see photo). A crowd soon gathered, and we held an on-site meeting right there in the refreshing morning breeze. Tom decided that, if he could get his car into the streambed, he would be able to drive through the water to the other side. The highway was then located on the east side of the railway, so the bridge was upstream from the higher CNR structure.

You can be sure there were noisy revelers encouraging Tom on. Tom may already have been married to his lovely Barbara, who had come into the valley as a young school teacher. So, Barbara may have been in the car as the tires got wet. As the vehicle moved upstream, they soon encountered deeper water as well as a faster current. A big gulp of that chilled water forced its way through the grill and the fan quickly doused the engine which gurgled to a stop. Tom had good height, and a daring level of energy, which allowed him to get out of the car. He stood out there in the water, hanging onto the car so it would not float away, and he shouted for a tow-truck.

It just happened that there was a small bulldozer nearby, which someone was able to crank up and go to the rescue. It must have been a warm spring morning, as evidenced by the lightly-dressed person on the dozer. My memory of the rest of the action is a little blurry, but someone must have been able to hook a line, from bulldozer to car, and the crossing process continued.

Fortunately, I did have a camera with me and was able to snap the photo included with this week’s story. Being so fixated with Tom’s situation did not allow me to absorb my own predicament as indelibly as the impression of Tom standing out there in the fast-flowing water. I am quite sure that I did not drive my car through that water. In the background of the photo, we can see the railway bridge. High-clearance vehicles may have been able to sneak across on that structure, but the Austin would not have had clearance enough to straddle a track-rail. A couple of days’ wait may have provided lower water and a safer fording experience.