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Gravity on display in Duluth

Yesterday I was driving down some side streets near Chester Creek Cafe with my family when we watched a soccer ball cross the street in front of us. At first, it just seemed to be out on a walk, or a roll, I guess, as it headed down the street and on its journey toward the lake. A few seconds later a young man appeared from behind a fence and ran — looking for cars and being careful — after his ball. It was a close contest but the ball was finally intercepted a couple of blocks down the hill.

It got me thinking about the other hill-related events I’ve witnessed over the years and thinking serious work should be done in documenting such events. (Plus, I’m procrastinating on a big project I should be doing.)

I remember driving down Hawthorne Road in Duluth following one of those psycho longboarders as he picked up more and more speed before deciding he needed to abort the ride. He steered toward the grassy on the side of the road and ejected, rolling faster than he thought he would, toward a street sign that he T-boned with his body. He quickly jumped to his feet, suggesting that he was just fine and still had all of his cool in tact.

My son will never forget the day we were driving down Fourth Street near the Coop when we saw a car “parked” on a steep slope with its front end wrapped around an old oak tree. At the top of the slope, standing in a parking lot, you could see the owner of the vehicle staring down at the car that apparently didn’t have its emergency brake on. A small evergreen was also tucked up under the car — or at least the top part that had been taken out on the car’s trip down the hill.

I remember walking out of the Salvation Army downtown once and hearing sirens and walking to the side of the steep hill and seeing people standing outside all along the street. At the top, there was a bent stop sign. Another place, more damage. And, at the bottom of the hill, a car smashed into an electric pole.

I know that cyclists in Duluth have celebrated the hills by spending one day trying to ride up every single one of them. But maybe we should have some events that celebrate going in the other direction, like these people do in Chile.

VCA 2010 RACE RUN from 052″>changoman on Vimeo.

So, got any hill stories?

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33 Comment(s)

  1. I’ll be the first to post everyone’s favorite icy hill video. This is 19th Avenue East.

    Barrett Chase | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  2. Which is exactly where the ball made its journey.

    jhatcher | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  3. Every time I drive down the hill, I keep in mind that if I lose my brakes, I need to embrace the horror and crash on purpose quickly, before I pick up speed. I’m sure it’s difficult to accept that you’re going to crash; it’s just a matter of how hard. Would I recognize what is happening quickly enough to save myself?
    So that’s my hill story. It’s imaginary, and I hope it stays that way.

    Beverly | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  4. Beverly, I’ve used that tactic on ice/snow before… “Oh shit I can’t stop/am going to crash perhaps I can just plow into that snowbank instead of the nice shiny sports car!!!”

    edgeways | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  5. I think this story from the DNT Attic qualifies: Bus crashes into Fourth Street Market, 1984.

    Bad Cat! | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  6. Wow. What a great story. And the Attic’s comments mean there is even reaction from one of the kids on the bus 20 years later.

    jhatcher | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  7. About 30 years ago a dump truck or cement truck lost its brakes on Highland Street in West Duluth, jumped the curb next to the blue house at the bottom of Highland, landed on Eighth Street and plowed into a house, lifting the house from its foundation. The house was torn down and never rebuilt. I think the driver died.

    I was about four blocks away when this happened. It shook the whole neighborhood.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  8. Gravity & Street Lamps are always at war in Duluth.

    Sjixxxy | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  9. Curses. The Image attach feature is now gone and the Preview button doesn’t seem to work anymore?

    I’ll just link instead.

    Sjixxxy | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  10. And my personal favorite gravity story was when my seven year old nephew from the flatlands of Wisconsin was in town with my family. When he got out of their truck in front of Washington Gallery. His little toy blue ball rolled out and screamed in horror as it made its escape down Lake ave.

    Oh how he was traumatized by that until someone was nice enough to catch it around 1st street and brought it back up.

    Sjixxxy | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  11. I don’t know if this exactly qualifies as a hill story, per se, but when I first moved to Duluth, I drove a stick shift. I figured that I had basically mastered it when I could make it onto Mesaba from 2nd Street--I think that’s that super-short, super-steep right turn lane--without either rolling back or killing it.

    jessige | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  12. A Duluth ball-rolling-down-the-hill story from PDD, May 2009:

    Andrew | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  13. I would like to know about intentional gravity experiments. Personally, I would like to get a dump truck filled with exercise balls and dump it at the top of lake street. Maybe it could be a fund-raiser. Each ball could have a number on it and we could see which one would win.

    john | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  14. @Sjixxxy That poor street lamp. It just can’t catch a break!

    I remember a story from when I was a kid that a gas station (or some building) was wiped out when a semi-truck drove into it. The building was on Piedmont/South 53. There was always a weird cement patch that looked like a building was once there. Then again, I was 8 and believed everything.

    Rae | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  15. My grandmother said that they used to close Lake Ave in the winter and let kids slide down. She was a kid herself, so it must have been around the early thirties.

    Hans | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  16. Also, don’t forget the concrete blast barriers protecting Lillian’s. I think I saw three cars go into that building the summer before they went up.

    Sjixxxy | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  17. The old Scott Graff Lumber Co. used to get runaway vehicles from 24th Ave. West on a regular basis years ago. Lots of semi trucks too.

    Les Nelson | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  18. I do like the idea of the dump truck of exercise balls racing down Lake Ave, but only if the Exercise Ball Slasher was there during the event.

    moosetracks | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  19. pingpong balls on piedmont.

    zra | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  20. Hans: It was called coasting, and it was likely the No. 1 cause of death for children 100 years ago in Duluth as autos were added to the street cars in posing hazards on cross streets. The city banned “coasting” in 1896 but had no way to enforce the law since they weren’t allowed to arrest minors back then. So each winter into the 1930s, the debate raged on whether sledding out of control down city streets was a wise practice. And each year a child would be crushed or maimed by a streetcar or auto.

    Eventually, certain streets were designated to take out the element of surprise at crossings and then, lo and behold, people realized you could make sledding hills in parks.And for some reason the term “coasting” sort of disappeared from the language.

    spy1 | Jul 28, 2011 | New Comment
  21. I witnessed an intentional gravity experiment about 10 years ago on the hill above downtown.

    I worked at Nettleton Elementary, and after school one day I was climbing into my car on 1st Ave East about six blocks up that very steep hill from Superior Street. A couple of 6th grade boys I knew — far from model citizens — dashed out into the street, looked furtively around, failed to see me, and one of them pulled a golf ball from his pocket and gave it a healthy underhand roll down the middle of 1st Ave. I opened my mouth to yell some sort of protest, but they ran off between a couple of buildings before I could even react.

    The adult in my brain was horrified at the image of a speeding, ricocheting golf ball crashing through a window on Superior Street or pegging some unlucky pedestrian in the head. “That could kill someone,” I thought.

    And the adolescent boy who still lurks in the back of my brain thought, for just a moment: “I bet that sucker was really flying when it got to the bottom of the hill. Cool!”

    Chris Julin | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  22. Not as fun as ping-pong balls, but about five years ago a truck lost a load of what appeared to be metal bowls going down lake ave. Some made it pretty far. The rest just got hit by other cars and made an awesome popping sound.

    Sjixxxy | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  23. Last week I witnessed an accident at Second Street and Lake Avenue. A truck flying down the hill ran a red light, hit another vehicle, then flipped and landed upside down on Lake. Stuff in the bed of the truck went flying when he flipped over. It was like some scene out of an action movie. Given his speed I had to wonder if he had some sort of brake failure (hard to imagine someone would really miss a red light that had been red for quite awhile). It was a pretty bad accident, so I hope he was OK.

    wildreed | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  24. About 10 years ago, I was waiting to take a left onto Lake Ave from Superior St. The light turned green and I was waiting for the car going the opposite way on Superior to go through the intersection. Thankfully, they must have seen this coming… ’cause all of a sudden this “Cousin Eddie” Winnebago pulling a boat comes flying down Lake Ave and blows through the red light. Sparks flew when they crossed Superior St. and I watched in awe as they somehow managed to veer off onto the 35 southbound ramp without flipping over, tires screeching like crazy. Amazing that nobody got hurt or killed.

    matty-pizza | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  25. Rae, I also remember the story of a truck crashing into a gas station on Piedmont/53. It would’ve had to have been in the mid to late ’80s. I seem to remember it being a pretty big news story, but I was also probably about 8 at the time, so maybe it was just a big news story to me because it was exciting to a little kid.

    Cynic | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  26. I was once driving up Lake Avenue when I saw a skateboarder fall off his board on 7th street. Luckily it only made it about half a block before his friends were able to run and catch up with it.

    Nathaniel | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  27. wildreed: If my facts are sound, the red truck rollover was a case of a ran red light, and not the tale of gravity. The driver looked shaken as expected, but there didn’t appear to be much panic as he walked away from the crash.

    Sjixxxy | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  28. About 12 years ago, on a wintery February day (3 days before I left home for basic training) I was showing a friend how to get back out of town to return to the cities. I was driving my mom’s Mercury Tracer with my friend following closely behind. While driving down Mesaba I lost control of the car. I hopped up on the median a bit and was suddenly terrified that I would cross into oncoming traffic and a.)hit an oncoming vehicle or b.)end up off the road on the other side. I managed to swerve back into my lane, but still hadn’t gained control of my car. Not knowing what else to do (and fearing that he would rear-end me) my friend tried to go around me. Just as he did I plowed into his driver’s side door. This seemed to slow me down and sort of point me in the direction of the opposite curb. I was able to skid to a stop and no one was hurt. Sorry about your car mom.

    kanedaddy | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  29. About 12 years ago I was at 4th Street and 6th Avenue E when I noticed a tire on fire that was rolling down the avenue. I watched it roll down from about 7th street, past me, and into the parking lot of the funeral home on 2nd and 6th. I drove down and, with the help of a couple other folks who stopped too, pushed the still burning tire away from the building with some lang handled garden tools someone had in their car. (Then I went home and watched Backdraft and felt like a hero).

    todobrillante | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  30. that wasn’t my flaming tire.

    kanedaddy | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  31. I live off 19th Ave East and have long wanted to send a semi-rotten jack-o-lantern down the hill post-Halloween.

    Craig Gustafson | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  32. I live off 19th as well and have witnessed the icy vid situation countless times over the year, and off 18th as well as there’s even less sand/salt dropped there. Fun stuff! Some never learn. I never tire of that video and have shared it with many others -- IMO the song is perfect, and one of my faves too!

    Ditto on the exercise ball slasher being present! -- That’d be hilarious!

    Not sure what year it was anymore -- but within the last 10 or so, I recall one very winter stormy day crawling down Mesaba Ave in my lil old FWD Honda Civic in low2, and watching all the larger vehicles (cars, trucks, and a dark blue van) careening off down the icy roadway into the medians or curbs of the turn lanes around 1st and 2nd, no control -- glare ice. The blue van in particular had a really spectacular mash up.
    All of them were going way too fast for the road conditions considering, most likely relying on their size or 4WD, but failing miserably. Several trying to go up Mesaba had their issues as well.

    Another time, I was gonna head down to Mpls for TG. Leaving Duluth heading down Thompson Hill in the very same car loaded up with all sorts of stuff to bring down to my bro’s house, there was a bunch of black ice and cars and trucks were just whizzing past as they do after speeding up just out of town, so many sliding every which direction off the road, into the ditch or median, a few rolling over or hitting others as they slid or came to rest/smash together in the ditch/median. As I slowly crept forward to the shoulder trying not to slide and sneak by to safety (I felt like a cartoon character tip-toeing past the carnage hoping to not have an anvil drop from above, so to speak), several large pick-ups/SUVs just missed sideswiping me, or bashing full-on into me. White knuckle time for sure. Even after I pulled off onto the shoulder, I feared for my car/life as they were still just narrowly missing me. Freaky to be in and wonder if I would become collateral damage as a sitting duck, and how long to wait before moving again. After a break in the cars, I crawled slowly back onto the roadway, past all the carnage, turning off on Midway Road and going the back way home. I gladly waited a day to drive down to Mpls. safely. *whew*

    Alternately, there were many times that lil old Honda made it swiftly up 21st Ave E in deep snow when all the larger vehicles just sat and spun. I miss that car for those times, but it sucked a lot too when you’d come up 19th and the cars were parked on the lower side of the cross streets or the giant snowbanks were obscuring the view of oncoming vehicles as it was so low to the ground. That I don’t miss at all. I often wanted to put monster truck tires on it for fun.

    ruby2sd4y | Jul 29, 2011 | New Comment
  33. really folks:

    pingpong balls.

    visualize it.

    zra | Jul 30, 2011 | New Comment

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