The Van Buren Street Bridge showed signs of disrepair in 1970 when I opted to cross it with my bicycle one sunny fall day. Once on the other side, I encountered an idling freight train.

I hoisted my bike up, wedging it between two box cars, then levered myself up onto a couple linking the cars. The moment I sat on the couple the train shuddered with a resounding boom, then lurched forward. I watched with horror as one couple telescoped into the other beneath me. Miraculously, I sat on the correct couple.

I watched with dismay as my bicycle wheel bent, accordion-like, as the two box cars pinched together. My body still intact and my bike severely damaged, the train headed south toward Hellgate Canyon. Where to? Butte? Helena? Fortunately, it stopped 50 yards down the track.

I jumped off with my broken bike. A photographer from the Missoulian snapped a photo that appeared in the paper with a caption calling for a safer bicycle corridor across Van Buren Street Bridge.

Today, such a corridor exists. The bridge has been renovated and the freight yards replaced by a green belt. I was almost a martyr for this cause.

Woody Wheeler,

Seattle, Washington

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