Palatka Waterfront Fun

 How lucky can one young gal be.  Here I sit on the St. John’s River bank checking out the boats as they go by.  Sailboats, motorboats, tugboats pushin’ barges filled with oil headin’ to Sanford from Jacksonville.

 The bridge tender is still necessary along this stretch of river.  He must raise and lower the bridge for the sailboats, tugs and larger houseboats to pass through.  Three blasts on a ships horn will summon  him to his post.  He takes coffee breaks 2 blocks away at Angel’s Diner, an old railcar stationed on Hwy 17 reported to be the oldest diner in Florida.

 On occasion, the bridge will stick and not open as it should.  This will require a trip from the county prison with enough men to climb down under the bridge and use the hand crank to open it up and close it again after the boat passes between the raised portions of the highway.

 Some days, the boy across the street will trek to the fish house situated next door right on the St. Johns and return with a catfish head.  This he ties to a long string and we lower it beside the dock into the dark water under the boathouse.  The hope is we will entice a nice size blue crab to attach himself to the head and with dexterity we will slowly raise the head enough to allow a net to be placed under the crab and catch him.  It is quite a feat of patience and cunning to keep him from letting go of the smelly ole catfish head and go back to the bottom instead of in our net.

 On the other side of the fish house is a row of old buildings housing stores.  One block over from Hwy 17 is Main St.  The train comes right down the middle of the street and proceeds across the wooden train tressle that spans the St. Johns.  This also has a moveable section to allow the boats to pass thru it.

 The law of the land says, boats have the right of way always.  Next comes the train, then cars and people.  There is a need for ordering transportation methods, just like our staying in our own lane on the highway.

 Progress came at last! A new four laned bridge replaced the old bridge and the bridge tender could retire.  The train tracks across the river were taken up and the trains used an alternate route.  Kind railroad men left some of the pilings along the bank just a bit off shore.  These made great fishing places for people without boats.  The kid across the street had a habit of making his own doughball and takin it down when he went to fish.  Other folks were amazed that he caught fish when they couldn’t.  Time would come for lunch.  He would be able to sell his ball for $1 as he left his spot.  In the afternoon, he would return again with another fresh doughball and proceed to fish, catchin his share and again upon leaving he would sell that one too.  The secret to his success was the bacon grease he added to the bread ball he had made.

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Copyrighted 2009, Fran Smith