…Under the Bridge & along the River
Under the Borman (80/94) Expressway Bridge; near the town of Munster’s border, runs the Little Calumet River. This river separates the town of Munster from the city of Hammond. And as teenagers, we would hang out along the river under this expressway to drink beer & smoke pot. Depending on where you stood along the bank of the river (back then), you could always see this humongous blue water tower in the distance. In the evening, you were able to see the bright blinking red light that was at the very top. It was pretty isolated from the street (173rd), the heavy brush shielded us from being seen by the Hammond Police.
This water tower is an icon to the city of Hammond and it was time that I introduce myself to it.
As usual, my friends and I came up with a plan. We were going to climb the water tower and walk completely around it.
Back in 1982
It was like any other night, hanging out behind the Hammond Water Tower. Empty cans of Keystone beer litter the ground around the older McDonald brothers’ GTO. The smell of marijuana came from the slightly opened windows of another friends mother’s station wagon. The “boom box” belted out tunes from bands like Van Halen, Aerosmith and Gun’s & Roses.
But not that loud, we didn’t want to bring the cops.
With the song “Jump” by Van Halen in the background, my Mexican American friend, Pepe had a thought and said, “I wonder how messed up you’d get if you jumped off the Hammond Water Tower?”
“Dude, you’d die,” my other friend said.
“I know, but what I’m trying to say is, is like, would your head be spun around? Or would your legs break in half, or if…”
Pepe was interrupted by my friend Dougie Flesh, “Why don’t you do it and see for yourself you crazy ass Mexican? And why don’t you smoke another joint while you’re at it,” Dougie said trying to be funny. Dougie was high also.
“I should climb the Hammond Water Tower, ain’t it Jimmy?” Pepe asked me.
This is how & when I got involved.
“Come on, let’s do this!” He took off for the water tower. “Come on Jimmy, you’ll do this with me, won’t you?”
Drinking beer, smoking pot – yeah, sure…let’s go climbing!
Can’t back out now!
We approached the six foot fence that surrounded the Hammond Water Tower. It had barbed wire at the top, which is suppose to make it that much more difficult to climb. However, being a couple of “Region Rats”, it’s going to take more than a barbed wire fence to keep us out.
We managed to climb over without much trouble and ran to the ladder that led up to the top. The start of the tower’s ladder was like ten feet in the air, so another ladder is needed to get hold of and climb onto the tower’s ladder. The tower’s ladder was also enclosed with a steel cage with a hatch at the bottom that had a padlock on it. If you unlocked this hatch, you were able to climb inside this steel cage and use the tower’s ladder.
We didn’t have a key to the padlock…
…so we improvised.
The huge columns that held the Hammond Water Tower were reinforced with cross-bars. These cross-bars connected all the other columns together. We managed to climb these cross-bars to get to the steel cage that enclosed the water tower’s ladder. It was a bit tricky (and a little daring), but we managed to get a hold of the steel cage.
If we can’t climb INSIDE the steel cage – we’ll just have to climb on the OUTSIDE of it.
You read that correctly.
We drank enough beer and smoked enough pot that common sense ceased to exist.
We were young, dumb & unattached.
When I think back at some of the stupid things I’ve done – this is one of them.
This Hammond Water Tower is high. As you can tell in the photo above, it’s pretty high. Climbing on the outside of this steel cage HUNDREDS OF FEET in the air was completely insane.
I HIGHLY recommend that NOBODY ever try this!
I didn’t even get past the tree line before I started having second thoughts. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I followed Pepe, climbing further & further; it seemed like it went on forever. Being that it was night, I couldn’t see the ground. I noticed that the moment my ball cap blew off my head.
I stopped climbing as I watched it fall into the darkness.
“Come on! Don’t stop! Keep going!” Pepe yelled down.
The view from the Hammond Water Tower was remarkable
This was crazy.
Here I am, over a hundred feet in the air, climbing on the outside of a steel cage with what looks like another hundred feet yet to climb. I looked up and saw Pepe kept climbing.
This was crazy.
I gathered my nerve and continued on. I saw Pepe lose his footing for a second, but it was no big deal. He caught himself and continued on.
I want to say it took a couple of minutes to finally reach the top hatch. This hatch led to the walkway that went completely around the entire Hammond Water Tower.
Unfortunately, this hatch was also locked.
Now things were about to get crazy.
Stupid is what Stupid does
Pepe climbed up as far as he could go and waited for me to catch up to him. We were both hundreds of feet in the air, clutching to the side of this steel cage with me directly beneath Pepe. We were so close and I could tell that Pepe was determined to walk around this water tower. He was NOT going back now.
The platform stuck out a couple of feet from the steel cage we were “hanging on for dear life” to, and I couldn’t believe what I saw next. It made my heart jump into my throat.
Pepe reached out with one hand (with the other hand still gripping the steel cage) and grabbed the platform.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked hysterically. “You’re going to fall!”
“No I’m not.”
That’s all he said – I said nothing back.
Then it was like something from the movies. Pepe very quickly reached with his other hand (the one holding on to the steel cage) and grabbed the platform and was hanging from this platform.
He was hanging HUNDREDS OF FEET in the air from the platform.
“Oh my God,” I said.
Pepe started pulling himself up and was able to climb up over the handrail that also went all the way around the Hammond Water Tower.
He made it look easy, crazy also but fairly easy.
It was my turn.
I could hear Pepe cheering me on the “region rat” way, “Come on you puss!”
I finally got the nerve and reached over and grabbed the platform. God only knows how I was able to reach over with the other. When I was hanging from the platform – HUNDREDS OF FEET in the air – I can honestly say that I felt no fear.
It may sound a little insane, but I felt “uplifted” – if that makes some sort of sense…if it doesn’t – I can’t explain it.
I pulled myself up and over the handrail and stood next to Pepe. The view was awesome!
Pepe tapped my shoulder and said, “Let’s go.”
Pepe took off and started the walk around the Hammond Water Tower and I followed.
I mean, that was plan…right?
So we did.
Now guess what?
Now we got to get down.
We didn’t think about that when were hanging from the platform.
We got to do this again – but in reverse.